George Mason, Wisconsin and Indiana join the Common App for 2016–17

GMU joins the Common App for 2016–17.

Facing down whatever competition is waiting in the wings for next year, the Common Application recently announced the addition of 47 colleges and universities, bringing their total to just under 700 institutions for 2016–17.

Among the newest Common App members are George Mason University, Baylor University, Bowling Green State University-Main Campus, Indiana University-Bloomington, Ohio University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. These six universities alone represent nearly 160,000 applications for undergraduate admission.

And in the competition for supremacy in the application industry, numbers count, as colleges seek to offer options that are most likely to attract increasing numbers of applicants.

Sadly, ease of use, customer service and overall quality of the application experience appear to be secondary considerations when it comes to offering one or more products as vehicles for reviewing applicant credentials.

Since problems with the Common App shook-up the industry a couple of years ago, most colleges moved away from application “exclusivity” and opted to offer multiple applications. This allows prospective applicants to decide for themselves which form is easiest or best represents their qualifications for admissions.

And it was mainly for this reason, 92 colleges initially came together and formed the Coalition Application, due to launch this July.

But rather than simplify the process, the proliferation of application products threatens to make things even more complicated.

For example, George Mason will continue to offer their “house” application (a Hobsons product) along with the Common App. Virginia Tech will offer the Coalition Application (a CollegeNET product) and their house application (another CollegeNET product). Indiana University will offer the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and their house application. Harvard will accept the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and the Universal College Application.

In fact, it’s entirely possible that with the availability of paper applications, there may be colleges offering four or five different options.

For students, the choice of application usually revolves around economy of effort — they don’t really care which product they complete. That is, unless the high school intervenes with a preference based on connections with Naviance. That’s a whole different story. All things equal, the goal is to complete as few individual forms as possible.

But even that decision for Virginia students seeking to apply in-state is threatening to be a bit more complex.

This fall, a student applying to UVa, William and Mary, Virginia Tech and James Madison University might want to go with the Coalition Application, since all four schools will be accepting the new application. But UVa and William and Mary also take the Common Application, which might become more desirable if the student adds George Mason and VCU, both of which also take the Common App but don’t take the Coalition Application. If the student elects to apply to all six state schools, he or she will most likely complete both the Common App and the Coalition Application, as Tech and JMU are not accepting the Common App and assuming no one wants to be bothered with house apps. Then it will be up to the student to decide which application form — Coalition or Common — goes to UVa and William and Mary.

Confused yet?

Although these institutions swear that all applications will be treated equally, sometimes evidence of preference creeps in on their webpages or in their presentations. Recent information sessions at the University of Virginia have failed to even mention the Coalition Application, even though it’s an option for next year. Other colleges are talking up the Coalition Application and ignoring others they have available.

In the meantime, all major application providers are marketing to colleges in hopes of expanding their spheres of influence with the goal of reaching a tipping point that may very well determine future directions for the entire industry.

A complete list of new members for 2016–17 may be found on the Common Application website.

This article appeared in Examiner.com on April 8, 2016.