Gas station without pumps

2013 August 22

Difficulties with the new Common Application

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:01
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The people who run the “Common Application” process for students applying to colleges rolled out an entirely new system for students, schools, and colleges this month, and it has the usual problems of any insufficiently thought-out and insufficiently tested new software system (which means almost every software system).

One change they made this year was to eliminate the homeschool supplement.  Homeschool parents are now expected to behave like school counselors and enter information through the school profile, the student transcript, and the counselor recommendation letter, but without any of the database tools that are provided to schools.  This was actually a reasonable decision, as I’ve been told that the old homeschool supplement mainly consisted of questions best answered with “see the school profile”, “see the transcript”, and “see the counselor recommendation letter”.

There is, however, a Catch-22.  The only way to get an account to enter this information is to be “invited by a student”.  But the Common Application does not define that phrase.  It seems that just having one’s name and e-mail address entered as the counselor by the student is not sufficient (my son did that, and I did not get an e-mail from the Common Ap).

In trying to figure out what went wrong, I sent a message using their help system, and got the reply:

To complete the online recommendation this season, you must first be invited by a student (on or after Aug. 1, 2013). They do this within their application.

You will receive an email with a link to the site and your login data. Any accounts you had before August 1, 2013 are no longer active.

If students have invited you using a different email or different spelling of your name, a new account was created and you should access this account to submit your school forms.

If the above does not answer your question, please reply to this message or check our FAQs at

This did not quite answer my question, as it did not tell us what he needed to do to “invite” me, beyond what he had already done.  So I replied:

Please define “invited by a student”.  Does having them fill out the name and email of the counselor on that part of their application form constitute an “Invitation” or is further action on their part needed?  I have heard on one homeschooling mailing list that the student not only needs to fill out the counselor information, but must also select a college and designate the counselor as a recommender before the counselor gets the invitation to fill out the school profile.  Is this additional series of steps indeed necessary, or was that counselor just lucky in getting an invitation when others did not?

The documentation for new counselors seems particularly poor—maybe it is better once we can actually log in, but getting the initial log in to set up the school profile seems to be a barrier.

This gave the response

Dear Recommender or Counselor

We want to help you but we’re not able to respond directly to emails sent to this address.

One of the best ways to get answers to your questions is to go to the following website to browse our knowledge base or submit a request.

If you have a problem accessing your account, please use the forgot password link on the login page.

We are looking forward to assisting you.

That is about as unhelpful a response as one can get to a followup on an answer about not getting the information needed to log in!  The pairing “please reply to this message” and “we’re not able to respond directly to emails sent to this address” is particularly insulting.

Despite the “we’re not able to respond” auto-message, they did respond

There is a section in the Application, called, ‘Assign Recommenders’. This tab can be found in each school they have in their list. Once they click on that, they will see how to invite the recommenders. If they list you in the Education section, that does not invite you to fill out the forms.

So now we know what needs to be done, though I suspect that many home schoolers will struggle with this rather circuitous route for becoming designated as a counselor.  I did thank them for the information:

Thank you, that clarifies a particularly murky aspect of the new Common App that has been confusing a number of homeschool parents.  You might want to clarify the documentation (perhaps adding a line to the Education section that says that the counselor must be invited to be a recommender for a specific college before they can fill out the school profile or enter the transcript).  Even better would be to remove that restriction, so that transcripts can be entered before the student has selected colleges.

I again got the incorrect auto-reponse “We want to help you but we’re not able to respond directly to emails sent to this address.”

Update 2013 Aug 22:  My son was not able to list me as a recommender, because he had not finished filling out the “education” tab.  He needs to figure out what honors and awards to include before he can list recommenders.

Further update 2013 Aug 22: After listing his honors, he tried listing me as a recommender.  Before being allowed to do this, he had to decide whether to waive his rights to review the recommendations.

We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of waiving the right to read recommendations.  It is an issue I’ve thought about before, as the same issue comes up with grad school applicants all the time.  What I recommend to them and what I recommended to my son are essentially the same: if you don’t know roughly what your recommenders are going to say, you are asking the wrong people to recommend you.  Having the recommendation letters be confidential gives the reader of the letters a little more confidence that the recommender is being honest.

After our discussion, he decided to waive his right to read the recommendations (which is by far the most common choice for grad school applicants).  Once he had finished filling out that form, I finally got e-mail from the Common App allowing me to log in as a counselor.  Note: I think that it was important that he requested me as a counselor on the recommendation form, and not as a teacher or parent, since those roles don’t allow uploading the transcript, school profile, and counselor letter.


  1. Thank you for this. I was wondering what we were doing wrong. Not too impressed with this new common app.

    Comment by s — 2013 August 28 @ 11:17 | Reply

  2. Many thanks indeed! Your explanation is the only true information we have at the moment… We were not even fortunate enough to get semi-reasonable answers from the common app support people as you did! We were told to work with our home school resource (and what if we do not have one?). I read through what I could find on, but nothing is there in an obvious way… Maybe one needs to read between the lines…

    Comment by Stella Veretnik — 2013 September 8 @ 13:36 | Reply

    • It would not have occurred to me that the student would have to complete large fractions of his or her application before they could name the counselor—that seems like one of the first things they should be able to do, so that transcripts can be uploaded promptly. I found the same problem with the National Merit Fellowship forms—perhaps even worse, as you have to enter all the course names into the school profile, which is then frozen, before you can start entering information about the student. Then the student has to complete their application (including the essay) before the one recommender can be invited. It seems to be a process designed to filter out students by purely bureaucratic barriers.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 September 9 @ 05:42 | Reply

  3. […] to figure out how to get stuff done—the interface is far from intuitive.  I posted earlier about how a home-school parent gets to become the counselor, but that only gets access—figuring out how to fill out all the parts of the application is still […]

    Pingback by Common App transcript | Gas station without pumps — 2013 September 22 @ 23:40 | Reply

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  5. Thanks for this article! I had this exact same problem a few weeks ago but now there’s a new one on the horizon. Maybe you could help?
    I’m a great student but as a homeschooler it’s really only to a few great teachers :) I asked my ballet teachers to give me recommendations (under the ‘teacher’ sections) because I have ballet as part of my transcript. Unfortunately they said that they weren’t able to do it because the first thing they have to fill out is what “school” they teach at. I feel like it would be rude to ask them to call themselves teachers from my school, but this is really frustrating.. . Any advice? :)

    Comment by Baylee — 2013 November 3 @ 19:23 | Reply

    • My son has 4 recommenders: two from university math courses, one a long-term theater teacher, another a high school history teacher. The closest equivalent is the theater teacher, who has not submitted a letter yet. If the ballet teacher teaches, they probably have a studio that they teach at. That is what they should enter—whatever business name that they use for their teaching. There is no need for them to be affiliated with a public school!

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 November 3 @ 21:58 | Reply

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  8. Thank you. It’s 2016 — and it’s still not clear! We could not figure it out. I have spent hours trying to figure out how to get an invite to be a counselor. You are the first place I’ve found an answer!

    Comment by Jenny Mullin — 2016 October 11 @ 05:25 | Reply

    • I recommend subscribing to Yahoo group where a lot of home-school-to-college concerns are addressed, including (every year) how to get the counselor invitation on the Common Application.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 October 11 @ 08:13 | Reply

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