President Obama's health care website is not the only one creating nightmares this week.
Lingering glitches bedeviling an online college-application service continue to haunt this fall's admissions season, prompting dozens of colleges to extend deadlines and threatening to throw off carefully crafted timelines for notifying students of decisions.
"I'm not in that crisis mode yet, but I don't feel we're at anything close to a permanent solution," says Chris Lydon, director of enrollment management at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. As of Wednesday, he had been unable to access applications, even though he could see that more than 1,000 had been submitted electronically.
More than 40 colleges, including Stonehill, have rolled back fall admissions deadlines, many of them set for Friday, to ease anxieties raised by a balky website for The Common Application, a Virginia-based non-profit that manages applications for 517 colleges. Among those announcing extensions Wednesday were Furman University and the University of Pennsylvania.
In recent weeks, The Common Application has acknowledged a range of problems, including students receiving error messages and teachers unable to upload recommendations. Senior policy director Scott Anderson said the website, which was launched in August, could not handle the volume of activity but that most problems had been resolved by Monday. "We did a significant amount of testing but what we can't test for is volume," he said. "We can simulate, but we can't test how it is going to respond to tens and thousands of people using it at the time, with all different browsers, plug ins and operating systems."
By midnight Tuesday, 208,578 students had successfully submitted 527,811 applications, 20% more than had been submitted by this time last year, he said. "We're confident that we're over the major hurdles," he said.
Hundreds of comments posted this week on The Common Application's Facebook page suggest frustrations persist. "It's just stressing a lot of students out unnecessarily," says Eric Delehoy, a counselor in Portland, Ore. One of his students tried "at least half a dozen times" to submit applications this week, he said, only to be logged off.
Not all students are experiencing problems. Alexandria Stryker, 17, of Horseheads, N.Y., hasn't run into any glitches but says she welcomes Cornell's decision to push Friday's deadline to Nov. 8. "There's so much going on, being a senior," she says. "Just the extra week takes a lot off my shoulders."
Nor are all colleges moving deadlines. At Boston College, where Friday's due date remains unchanged, officials plan to begin reading applications this weekend as scheduled, says admission director John Mahoney. Other schools, including Princeton and Washington University in St. Louis, are allowing students to apply through a different service called the Universal College Application.
Stonehill's Lydon fears delays could hurt his staff's ability to finish this round of applications before a new round begins in January. That means students who had hoped to know by December whether they had been admitted may have to apply to more colleges to hedge their bets. "With each passing day, the pressure becomes that much more acute," Lydon says.
Rick Clark, admissions director at Georgia Institute of Technology, which moved its Oct. 15 deadline to Oct. 21, said he expects to know by mid-November whether he can notify students in December as planned. The technical glitches are "unfortunate and a challenge, but not a crisis," he says.
Cornell University will add more staff to keep the admissions-review process on schedule, says vice provost Barbara Knuth. Of greater concern, she says, is whether frustrated students — particularly those whose families are unfamiliar with the admissions process — will give up and apply to schools that don't use The Common Application.
College admissions "is fundamentally a complex process," she says. "To then have technological barriers put up, it does concern me how this could turn off students."