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 Any accounts you had before August 1, 2013 are no longer active.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 http://recsupport.commonapp.org.
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.