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Problems With Truncation On the Common Application

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the when-idiots-set-limits dept.

Bug 135

jaroslav writes "A combination of rigid caps on space and poor documentation of the space limits is adding stress on students applying for college using the Common Application, the New York Times reports. The story explains that the application lists word limits for questions, but actually enforces space limits. As a result, an answer with wide characters, such as 'w' or 'm,' may run over space even without reaching the stated word limit. It is not explained why an electronic submission must have such strictly enforced limits."

cancel ×

135 comments

1st guess, Printing? (2)

Umuri (897961) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663404)

My guess would be they use a non-fixed width font, and therefore they limit based on whether it would print (or display) on one page. Which i can actually agree with, however the solution is to use a fixed width font, and specify a page/character limit.

However if it's not for this reason, i agree it seems rather arbitrary(and lazy programming) to have the electronics differ from the stated rules.

Re:1st guess, Printing? (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664050)

however the solution is to use a fixed width font, and specify a page/character limit.

Problem is a lot of these fonts, while working great for code, are hard to read in narrative forms. If they are printing these out, they probably want to use a font that doesn't "look weird" for the sake of the people who have to read all this shit.

I'm impressed they actually restrict it based on printed width. I've seen a _lot_ of form type apps where it'll let you enter the data, and then just cut it off when it gets printed.

Might be printing, might also be a simple bug. (1)

Terje Mathisen (128806) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664842)

My daughter has dual (US/Norwegian) citizenship, she is currently applying to both US and Norwegian colleges.

She's a _very_ avid reader (~200 books/year, most of them from the main branch of the Oslo public library), so when Berkeley asks for the books she has read during the last year (3/6 months?) there's no way she can fit the list into the given number of words, right?

By trial and error she discovered that using a colon (:) as the separator between author and title would not count as a word separator, unlike a space, a comma, or a dash.

Terje

Re:Might be printing, might also be a simple bug. (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664996)

She should send a detailed letter telling them why their admissions process is fucked up, giving the colon WTF as an example. Finish off saying that since they obviously prefer less read candidates, she won't miss them. Oh, and add "PS: a bit of usability testing goes a long way".

1024? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663412)

they have something closer to 1,000 characters

So reading TFA this bit in the summary As a result, an answer with wide characters, such as 'w' or 'm,' may run over space even without reaching the stated word limit. seems wrong. The fields on screen are sized for lots of w and m characters but you only get about a thousand characters regardless of the width.

It would obviously be better if the form or whatever it is told you how far you had to go. Something like you have used 125/1024 characters.

Re:1024? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663688)

Maybe they expect someone smart enough to apply for college would have a handy shell terminal open in another window in which they can run wc and copy-paste the application text from time to time to track their count?

Re:1024? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663820)

Because being smart means knowing linux commands. Because everyone applying to college is majoring in Computer Science or other tech related fields. Fuck off, troll.

Re:1024? (2)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663834)

Everyone applying to college is using Linux, majoring in tech fields, and fucking trolls... holy shit, it's a post from the future!

Re:1024? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665036)

Why would everyone be having sex with trolls in the future? Was there some sort of nuclear holocaust that mutated the entire gene pool in a freakish way or something?

Re:1024? (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664136)

Replace the shell stuff with "any word processor." And there are online, free word processors.

You'd think anyone smart enough to apply for college would at least know how to copy and paste.

Re:1024? (1)

Trebawa (1461025) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664004)

It does. Each field has a number of characters listed, and it counts down as you type. It's not really all that bad; it just doesn't make sense, for a college application, for it to be a hard limit.

Re:1024? (1)

DarkVader (121278) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664018)

Of course it makes sense.

Somebody has to read those, and it's a way to force you to be concise.

Re:1024? (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664212)

Meh, conciseness is an important part of tech writing. If you are wordy you should be punished for it: state at the top to please be concise, and toss any applications that are too long.

Harsh, but too many people are applying to college these days anyway. Gotta thin the herd any way you can.

Re:1024? (1)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665392)

Being concise is great, but in English class, it can sometimes get you in trouble when your professor requires that a paper be longer than $WORDS. These sorts of limits encourage redundancy, taking larger quotes than necessary, and replacing shorter words and phrases with longer equivalents.

Re:1024? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664358)

it's a way to force you to be concise.

I knew this guy who would hand in documents a centimetre thick, having worked all night on it, after the lecturer stated clearly that nothing over a few pages would be accepted.

Re:1024? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665198)

But, if you have, unlimited space, you might be tempted, to overuse punctuation!.

Answer (2)

AnonGCB (1398517) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663430)

Most college admissions offices print out the electronic application, and then go by that. It's incredibly ridiculous, the limits they enforce.

Re:Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34664090)

Further proof that the educational systems in America are run by morons. Both the administrators and teachers are to blame.

Re:Answer (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664442)

"Both the administrators and teachers are to blame."

Teachers have absolutely nothing, zero, zip, zilch to do with either admissions or IT infrastructure.

I wish that weren't the case; teacher input to college governance is decreasing all the time. The ultimate goal, it seems, is to have teachers be fully fungible line workers (admittedly like every other job in America).

Re:Answer (1)

ClubStew (113954) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665184)

But even that doesn't always work. When was the last time you filled out an application that required (otherwise I don't give it) your email address and there wasn't even enough room to write it? Limitations are found even on physical paper.

Re:Answer (1)

WarPresident (754535) | more than 3 years ago | (#34666088)

It's ridiculous to print out an electronic application! There are document management database systems out there that have access controls and workflow that help keep the processing and admissions departments from drowning in a sea of folders and paper. Try OnBase, for one: today's document management system with a GUI from 1992.

Limits are there for a reason. Not just because conciseness is important, but because the admissions office has to read 30K apps in a reasonable amount of time.

The limits that Common App doesn't enforce are staggeringly stupid. Could someone tell them that 1990 called and wants their free-form date field back? I'm tired of finding and fixing the one idiot in a batch of 3,000 apps who was born on 9/31, or who entered this year as their DOB. No sanity checks at all!

Indians (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663458)

Only an outsourcing company in India or an Indian working in the US could come up.with something this stupid.

Not really a big deal. (3, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663464)

You print out your application, check to see if it truncates, and fix it if it does. They could say - "the essay must fit in an x by y printed space"; but then that would be confusing as well. I wouldn't be surprised if re-reading and editing actually improves the essay.

Re:Not really a big deal. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663600)

The point is that they could very easily change their requirement to ACTUALLY be "150 words" rather than "fits in an x by y printed space." It's an electronic application. It's not as though it has to be cut out and pasted into a marked rectangle on a piece of paper; the document could be generated automatically to have enough room.

Instead, they choose not only to inconvenience the students by forcing them to go through the process you describe, but also to be completely non-transparent about what the actual requirement is.

Re:Not really a big deal. (1)

jc42 (318812) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663620)

You print out your application, check to see if it truncates, and fix it if it does. ...

That's easy enough if you know the font and font size they'll use. Does the application give that information? If not, how might an applicant learn the font name/size?

Re:Not really a big deal. (1)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664008)

I always edit PDFs like this so that they use the font size I need them to, to fit my answer in the space provided.

Re:Not really a big deal. (2)

drew30319 (828970) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665576)

from: http://s3.parature.com/ics/support/KBAnswer.asp?questionID=596 [parature.com]

Knowledge Base > Completing the Application > General questions >

My text is cut off when I preview my application.

Not all answers that ‘fit’ on the online application will ‘fit’ on the PDF of the Common Application. While the answers you provide on the online application are below the character limit for a given field, it is possible that those answers may be truncated when the PDF of your Common App is generated. There is often very limited space on the PDF of the Common App. In these cases every attempt has been made to fit the maximum amount of text but still preserve the readability of the information.

It is critical that you preview your Common App and check for truncated information using the Preview link in the top menu bar and the Print Preview link on the Signature page. Because your colleges will see exactly what you see, if you preview the Common Application and find some of your text is missing, you should attempt to shorten your response to fit within the available space. If necessary, you can add more information in the Additional Information section of the Common Application. Colleges that use the Common Application are aware that there is limited space on the PDF.

Re:Not really a big deal. (1)

SVDave (231875) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665982)

This is why people hate computers. The Common Application is basically lying to its users, because its developers are too lazy to handle a situation that is both easy to stumble into and can produce really bad results. And your solution? Put the burden on the user to work around the developers' laziness.

If the limit is 1000 characters, then tell the user it's 1000 characters. Don't say "150 words". And make sure that you really can fit 1000 characters on the printed version of the application 100% of the time. This really isn't that hard.

Lots of forums have to big spaces and to small one (0)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663466)

Lots of forums have spaces that are to big spaces and ones that are to small.

Other ones just go on and on.

http://www.goodexperience.com/tib/archives/2006/10/auto_zone_job_a.html [goodexperience.com]

Re:Lots of forums have to big spaces and to small (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663514)

Do you read what you type? Do you even speak English? Do you mean "forums" or "forms"? WTF do you mean by "spaces that are to big spaces"? Or for that matter "and ones that are to small"?

Re:Lots of forums have to big spaces and to small (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663802)

Chill out. You dont have to rage on some random comment fust because you lack mod point. Also, get a life, it christmas eve.

Re:Lots of forums have to big spaces and to small (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34664056)

I "raged" on an illiterate that shouldn't be allowed near a keyboard. I presume you meant, btw,"it's" christmas eve. But nonetheless, why should some holiday that celebrates a myth induce me to be kind to illiterates?

Re:Lots of forums have to big spaces and to small (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34664254)

[...] why should some holiday that celebrates a myth induce me to be kind to illiterates?

It is not suppose too, but you should have better thing to do. Merry christmas faggot!

Re:Lots of forums have to big spaces and to small (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34664334)

Presumably you intended to write "supposed", and "better things". Perhaps you should learn to write English before fondling your keyboard. Faggot, you say? Is that supposed to be an insult, coming from a semi-literate? And precisely who are you to decide that I should have better things to do than laugh at illiterates?

Re:Lots of forums have to big spaces and to small (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34664870)

Not me. The mods are the one deciding.

Re:Lots of forums have to big spaces and to small (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665760)

It's wordy, unclear, and redundant, but the only actual mistake there is using "to" instead of "too".

He almost certainly meant "forms" as well, given the context, but one cannot say for certain.

Are you an asshole, or do you just hate life?

E-mail address? (1, Funny)

Skapare (16644) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663480)

They want an e-mail address? That's so 1990's.

Re:E-mail address? (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663520)

The fact that that may not be a joke for much longer scares me a little...

Re:E-mail address? (4, Insightful)

jc42 (318812) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663682)

Nah; we'll still have email for a long time. The only thing is that it'll be called by lots of different names. This is one of the standard marketing tricks to convince the suckers^Wcustomers that you have something new.

For example, SMS, IM, and their ilk are crippled, nonstandard implementations email, repackaged with a different name so you'll think they're something new. Intentionally not making them interoperate with existing email systems is further "proof" that they're not really email; they're something that spelled entirely differently. But that (and their character limit) is about the only material difference. And the fact that you have to pay a lot more for email that's not called "email".

It's one of the oldest propaganda tricks in the book. It's sorta like saying "We didn't kill him; we just Terminated him With Extreme Prejudice." (Remember that one?;-) If you make up a new name for something, people will often believe that you haven't done the something that you're not naming; you've done something else entirely new that isn't yet covered by and laws, rules, or regulations. (The people who used that TWEP euphemism still haven't been tried for their crimes.;-)

But back to email; if you have a good email package installed, you may find that it also knows how to talk to most of those nonstandard "not-email" message-passing systems. It's not all that different for a message package to have a set of modules that interface to different message systems, whatever they call themselves. It's all the same job; you just format the headers differently.

Except that sometimes you have to truncate messages, because some of the non-email email systems have byte-count limits. Not much you can do about that idiocy except complain.

Re:E-mail address? (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663702)

What worries me is the rise of these "walled garden" social networking websites. Last I checked, you couldn't send a "Facebook message" to an email account, or visa versa -- Facebook's internal messaging system is just that, internal, not meant to interoperate with anything else.

I think things will play out like this: some college admissions staff will say, "Hey, all the kids are on Facebook [or whatever the popular social networking website is at the time], let's use that in our admissions process! We shouldn't demand an email address, the kids don't use email anymore. Let's just do everything by Facebook!" There will be so few people not on Facebook that nobody will care about leaving them out, especially since they could just get a Facebook account at no cost. Other colleges will probably follow suit -- after all, everyone wants to be "hip" and whatnot -- and eventually, the idea of asking for an email address will seem laughable.

The give me your FB "address" problem (2)

vlueboy (1799360) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664036)

That nobody is getting FB yet is proof enough that it will not be done; it's even less useful than asking for your blog since that URL is short and unambiguous. Let me explain the FB "address" problem: Facebook and some others repackage "you" so you're no longer some short ID, you're no longer just your e-mail address. Often, even if you are activating a FB-to-FB "friend request," to the person planning to find you, an e-mail address is needed to find an exact match. If your contact is unknown or lurking, your full name is needed. If they aren't even on facebook, then to truly "share" your exact profile long alphanumeric URL unfit for memorization / business cards is sent. That's something even smart students student cannot achive because the college's FB account is lurking in the shadows. Most people outside show-biz never activate their custom facebook.com/shortHandle link

We know from FB and web search engines that most names are ambiguously shared with many candidates, or 100% absent from the internet. Unlike a business card or an e-mail address, knowledge of your location, age and so on are tricky if you've made some info private and someone is trying to decide which John Smith they went to school with out of 300+ truncated results. Some particularly annoying searches show 3 or 4 profiles with a missing photo and zero public data, and you end up wondering if your target is one of a) those b) one they missed among the other 300 c) not on FB after all.

Doctor's medical records forms ask for a name, address, phone, and recently, e-mail. Come emergency time or your next pre-appointment reminder --your phone is still the only thing they use. They would never replace all that for a FB account. In the event that they intend to *spy* over the prospective person, they will fear that asking for a profile blunthly will alert the person to clean up their profile, anyway.

Re:E-mail address? (1)

Alex Zepeda (10955) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664082)

Last I checked you can send a message from facebook to an e-mail address. Last I heard (but didn't bother to check) you can reply to an outside e-mail sent from facebook as well.

Re:E-mail address? (2)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664174)

Actually, IM is legitimately different than email, which has no presence notification, and certainly isn't instant in pretty much any implementation I've seen. We also have Jabber now, so IM doesn't have to be a walled garden.

I do agree about SMS, but once upon a time, it actually made sense to have something entirely different for the cellular networks. My original problem with SMS was that it was a way to nickel and dime you to death -- but now I've got an unlimited SMS plan, so it doesn't matter. It's still significantly easier for a cell network to handle a quick SMS message than an always-on Internet connection, so it's still cheaper for me to send text messages than spring for internet access on my phone.

And while I've never seen anyone tie email to Jabber, it's certainly possible, though I can't imagine it'd be fun to use.

I actually agree with the other poster's comment about walled gardens, and I do agree that making a new walled garden that's deliberately not interoperable is backwards and evil. However, just because something is a way to exchange messages which happen to be composed of text doesn't mean it's the same medium or deserves the same protocol.

Case in point: Wave was an attempt to unify forums, email, instant messaging, basically all online communication, and I really wanted to like it. It failed miserably.

Re:E-mail address? (2)

stinerman (812158) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663590)

That's only there because of federal anti-discrimination laws regarding older Korean-Americans.

Re:E-mail address? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663816)

What to you propose they use for formal correspondence? Snail-mail? Faxes?

Email is very simply the best system we currently have.

Re:E-mail address? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663938)

What to you propose they use for formal correspondence? Snail-mail?

Yes, absolutely.

Re:E-mail address? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664138)

It's pretty rare that an organization will refuse to correspond with you with snail-mail instead of email.

in the west, it's time to shun college (-1, Offtopic)

ziggyzaggy (552814) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663490)

The foundation of the economies of most the world are continuing to collapse, the spending of the common man that drives it continues to decrease. Never mind the central banks efforts to pump the markets with their injections, the ability to generate real wealth is being destroyed. Already young college degree holders are already either unemployed or waiting tables. If your college won't be 80% or more paid for, take your money and buy tangible goods that will hold their value as everything paper based collapses. Spend your time learning a skill that will be worth something in a depression.

Solution: fix it. (3, Insightful)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663534)

My favorite bit is the fellow quoted in the article who laments that he doesn't think there's a solution.

Not to be too arrogant, but anyone who knows basic geometry and how to stick two lines of code together should be able to at least imagine that there exists a solution. Is there really such a wide gap in the Two Cultures that not only does the other side not know how to fix a software problem, they can't even fathom that a fix is possible?

This reminds me of the Cargo Cult mentality mentioned in an article quoted a few days ago, here [fordham.edu] , where the view of the cult is that technology is an immutable force of nature, not a tool mastered by man, and the idea that man can wield it is so foreign as to be unthinkable.

You'd think that university administrators in the US and their ilk would be advanced beyond that. I feel embarrassed for the poor dumb bastard.

Re:Solution: fix it. (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663658)

Ultiately, I think that the isest anser ill be to just rite hatever you need to rite ithout using any ide letters.

Re:Solution: fix it. (5, Insightful)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663812)

Solution: Use a fixed-width font when printing and change the limit to a character limit rather than a word limit.

Then again, these types of issues are often steered by people who have no idea how to manage a project or engineer a system. They fail to understand the problem or research a solution and instead pick the first solution they find regardless of how well it meets the needs of people involved.

Case in point: I work for a public school district. There is a county-wide initiative which requires additional testing forms to be filled out to determine if each district is meeting goals of the county-wide entity. The tests are all multiple-choice selections. Do they use a web-based form which submits to a database? No. Do they perhaps leverage the tried-and-true scantron forms that students have used for multiple choice tests for the better part of 30 years and the school has reams and reams of? No. Do they perhaps use the Canon copiers which they just leased and got a service contract for this year and are district-wide and have built-in document scanning? No.

Here's what they do. They want teachers to administer the tests. No problem there. Then they need to fill out specialized bubble forms which are downloaded using special login and passwords on a vendor website we don't control in any way. If passwords don't work then the teacher is out of luck for about a week. Then they use custom software and individual document scanners to scan these forms and encode the data for collection. These scanners are expensive, and the software is per-install licensed. There is only enough money for one scanner and software license per high school. So each high school -- some of which have 50 or more teachers collecting data -- now have a single kiosk computer set up to scan these forms which the teachers have to reserve time for. The few middle school teachers who also need to do this need to come to the high schools to do this work. The high schools and middle schools are not located close to each other at all. But it gets better. They alloted money for the scanners, but nothing for the computers. They're forced to cannibalize one computer from a computer lab in each school... all of which had classes at max capacity. I don't know what the teachers in those classes are doing for the student who has no PC. Additionally, the software is really picky. It requires you to calibrate the scanner. To calibrate the scanner, you must download another form and fill it out as requested using the same pen or pencil you used on the other forms. You must do this for each class -- that's right not each teacher, but each class -- because the forms can vary from class to class. The only saving grace of all this is that the scanners themselves are really nice and work very well, but they ought to at the price we're paying. We're just hoping that the volume these scanners will need to handle doesn't cause jamming. We don't have a service agreement on these scanners, so if they break we'll have to figure them out ourselves or buy more scanners.

This is what happens when you make a technical decision without consulting with technical people. You make everyone's life a living nightmare and waste hundreds of hours and thousands of tax dollars. You virtually guarantee that the data will not be gathered in a timely manner and that the project is likely to fail.

that is what golf course meetings get you (2)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664240)

that is what golf course meetings get you.

Re:Solution: fix it. (2)

IICV (652597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664426)

Seriously, sounds like pork. Figure out what ties the company that makes the scanners has with your local representatives, and bring it up at whatever passes for local government. Be sure to include something like "We pay the average teacher $x per year, which works out to $y per minute. This system makes teachers wait z minutes every months, which means that, along with the horrific cost, the ridiculous inefficiency is costing us z * $y."

Re:Solution: fix it. (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664486)

Tower of Babel indeed :(

Re:Solution: fix it. (1)

Pootie Tang (414915) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664568)

I think that's it. I get the impression that "can't be fixed" might well mean "no way the idiots around here are going to get that fixed".

Re:Solution: fix it. (1)

guyminuslife (1349809) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663916)

I have long subscribed to the notion that sometime in the 21st century, we will see "holistic" tech support. Your computer has bad chakras. We must induce it towards happiness with healing jingling orbs.

It's the natural result of increasingly complex technology, coupled with a large number of people, even in the West, who still believe in magic.

Re:Solution: fix it. (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663956)

We must induce it towards happiness with healing jingling orbs.

Tech support staff in the future will be all female? With healing jingling orbs?

Progress as promised!

Re:Solution: fix it. (1)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664272)

I don't know, I find jiggling orbs quite 'healing', but if they start jingling you've got issues. Or you're in Japan.

Re:Solution: fix it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34666076)

It's the natural result of increasingly complex technology, coupled with a large number of people, even in the West, who still believe in magic.

What do you think the average tech support is doing to most people? A quick reformat, a quick reinstall, wow, everything is fine until they fuck things up over the next few months.

Just watch for that PC speedboost commercial or whatever it is.

Re:Solution: fix it. (1)

grcumb (781340) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665102)

This reminds me of the Cargo Cult mentality mentioned in an article quoted a few days ago, here [fordham.edu], where the view of the cult is that technology is an immutable force of nature, not a tool mastered by man, and the idea that man can wield it is so foreign as to be unthinkable.

It's not so uncommon as you think. I live in Vanuatu, where most of the remaining South Pacific cargo cults exist. You and the learned professor give too much credit to the rest of the world, and not nearly enough [imagicity.com] to the ni-Vanuatu people.

Re:Solution: DON'T fix it. (1)

itismike (582070) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665802)

This is simply a preview of the real world. As someone who has just gone through the agonizing process of filling in multiple, often horrifically-designed online job applications, I wonder how perfecting a 'Common Application' for colleges serves to prepare students for the future job market.

Am I the only one? (2)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663552)

Am I the only one who is really bothered by the scope of information requested on the "Common Application?"

Much more than half of the information requested is either woefully subjective, completely irrelevant, or none of the school's damn business.

Re:Am I the only one? (1)

mtmra70 (964928) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663630)

Exactly. For starters, what do they care about my parents and family? Especially if I am an adult with parents that have been dead for years? I was also confused because towards the beginning it said items with gray backgrounds are optional, yet I see a "required signature" with a gray background....

Re:Am I the only one? (2)

khchung (462899) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663638)

Much more than half of the information requested is either woefully subjective, completely irrelevant, or none of the school's damn business.

Exactly the kind that makes it impossible to proof any favoritism, discrimination or unfairness after they have picked whom to accept and whom to reject.

After all, with so much hard to compare information, it is really hard to pin down the reason that they accept Johnny to the school was because of his impressive subjective information in the form, or was it because his dad's huge donation to the school in last few years....

Am I just being cynical to think that this is exactly why the school administrators love to ask for those information?

Re:Am I the only one? (1)

WarPresident (754535) | more than 3 years ago | (#34666142)

Yes, you are being cynical. While it is important to know if the applicant is an alumni relation (big points!) or employee dependent (extra point!), if daddy made a big contribution to the school admissions would already know about it one way or another. So called development cases, or "dean specials" (read: Dean of Basket Weaving's golf buddy's son needs a second chance after getting expelled from a better school), always get flagged for special consideration.

The solution: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663582)

Use fixed-width fonts instead. No more pesky wide characters.

Not new; irony. (4, Informative)

kainino (1042936) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663608)

This problem has existed at least since last year (I applied last year) and presumably ever since the invention of the online Common Application. I find it amazingly hilarious and ironic that the problem is only getting publicity in the year in which the Common Application added warnings about the problem to the website. The obvious solution is to use a monospaced font and allow exactly the correct characters on the online form. (Note: some sections of the application already are in monospaced fonts. This should be easy.)

It is not explained why an electronic submission must have such strictly enforced limits.

It is because the form is actually just an online interface to a paper form. The warning tells you to look at the preview of the printed application to check for problems.

Re:Not new; irony. (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665348)

It is because the form is actually just an online interface to a paper form. The warning tells you to look at the preview of the printed application to check for problems.

It is obviously not just an interface to the paper form. The paper form allows you 150 words. Not 1,000 characters or something similar. If you write in tiny tiny letters, you're still only allowed to use 150 words, even if you could fit 500 in the space allotted.

Educational Forms are horrible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663660)

The needs access form everyone uses for financial aid has horrible documentation, a little better than the kind you see as halfway decent in a manual on a cheap chinese import written by someone who doesn't know English. Good enough to put the fan together, mostly... but nowhere near as well-written as it has to be to know what number goes in the box.

There is little incentive to cater to user needs. The adverstising has been done. Making the actual application process easier or better, for some reason, doesn't occur to them.

I actually saw a school application online that asked you to enter your SSN without a secure connection.

Worse, the schools that one doesn't attend keep records from your application. They have no need of your SSN, but keep it on file anyway, along with your other materials, for years.

Re:Educational Forms are horrible (2)

jc42 (318812) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663704)

I actually saw a school application online that asked you to enter your SSN without a secure connection.

I've seen any number of people point out that US law forbids the use of the SSN for any purpose not related to the Social Security system. Unless the application is for a job at the school, requiring the SSN is almost certainly illegal.

Of course, the school's answer is the standard one: You don't have to supply your SSN, but we also don't have to accept your application. Lots of luck trying to get us to change this; by the time you've spent a few million dollars to appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court (where you'll probably win), you'll probably be retired and using your SSN to collect your Social Security checks.

Re:Educational Forms are horrible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663734)

The SSN isn't required. You won't go to jail for not giving them your SSN.

Re:Educational Forms are horrible (4, Informative)

jc42 (318812) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663946)

You won't go to jail for not giving them your SSN.

Yeah, you're right. But you probably won't go to college there, either.

That's the problem with a lot of setups like this. Yes, you have a right to privacy. But they also have a right to not let you on their private property if you don't hand over the information they want.

We see this pointed out on /. all the time. The most common is the auto example: You don't have to hand over information like SSN to get a driver's license. But they also don't have to give you a driver's license. In the state I live in (which one isn't relevant here since lots have done this) the US government cracked down a few years back and ordered them to stop using SSNs as part of the driver's license number. Before this, mere citizens couldn't refuse to tell them the SSN, because this would mean that you couldn't legally drive in the state (or in any other, actually).

Ultimately, this sort of "forced" giving up of ID numbers is the reason we're having more and more problems with identity theft. Nearly anything you want to do to live normally in society requires that you give your id number to lots of organizations, who keep it in insecure computer systems. We're reaching the point that all the numbers needed for me to pretend I'm you are available for a reasonable price from lots of corporations, because you've "voluntarily" given them your numbers (and they've shared them with each other).

Re:Educational Forms are horrible (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665792)

>>The SSN isn't required. You won't go to jail for not giving them your SSN.

At my college (UCSD) SSN is not only required, but it is legal for them to demand your SSN on the application.

I wanted to do the same backseat lawyering as you, until I actually looked it up and saw they had a grandfather exemption.

Re:Educational Forms are horrible (1)

crankyspice (63953) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663752)

I've seen any number of people point out that US law forbids the use of the SSN for any purpose not related to the Social Security system.

Except, U.S. law says no such thing. There's no prohibition of businesses requesting your SSN, and they can legally refuse to do business with you if you don't provide it. CA has a law prohibiting publicly posting SSNs or using them as identifiers, but other than that...

Re:Educational Forms are horrible (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665238)

Right. All that Federal law does is ban the use of the social security card as ID.

Re:Educational Forms are horrible (1)

roju (193642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665640)

Back when I was applying for university, the form in Ontario (Canada) asked for a SIN (social insurance number, our equivalent to the SSN) which I declined to provide. It seemingly made no difference to my application, it just meant that when it came to tax form season, I realized why they ask for it.

The article pissed me off (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34663786)

Asked why the problem had not been fixed, Mr. Killion said, “Believe me, if there’s a way to do it, we’d do it".

When I was fooling around with QBasic at the age of 10 I knew how to solve this problem. How the fuck did the spokesman of the organization that created this form, trusted by 400 colleges and universities, get to his job and still be so ignorant? Almost everyone here on slashdot could code up a fix. All they have to do is relax the character limits in a few places and respace the destination form that the system generates. Also, make the text input box accept carriage returns as characters.

But this should be illustrative of the collective institutional arrogance of these people : they let this problem persist for 10 years. And, instead of fixing it, they added some legalese disclaimers that put the burden of deciphering their website onto the shoulders of the average high school student.

From my time in higher education, I saw this kind of arrogance in many places. Usually from school administrators : the actual professors were usually much better. Part of the reason is, like nearly every other fucked up activity in the American economy, big name colleges effectively have a monopoly. They don't really produce better graduates than lesser known places, but because a given employer or grad school admissions officer can only remember so many names in his or her head, their graduates have a huge advantage for no other reason than the name of the school.

Furthermore, these places have enormous funds of money, all of it completely tax-free, and can charge any arbitrary amount of money they want, since the government will pay it via student "loan" programs.

This problem is like a progressive disease, or a cancer, that eats away at America. It's joined by tumors from the medical system (another example of a de facto monopoly), the legal/court system (ditto), and others. More and more of the wealth of America gets funneled into giant legal monopolies that squander it.

Slashdot Sigs (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663798)

give one plenty of practice in keeping the character count down.

Re:Slashdot Sigs (1)

vlueboy (1799360) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664078)

give one plenty of practice in keeping the character count down.

Yeah, but our comment box is so insanely big!
By the time we're done filling it up (OCD!!!)
people say tl;dr sigs :~/

Or Twitter (1)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665688)

A slashdot signature I set occasionally; Twitter messages I send all the time. :P

You misunderstand college (5, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663930)

College isn't the ability to do something in a given field well. That is part of it, sure. But not the biggest part. What college teaches you is how to perform a long and difficult and often times utterly pointless task and be stubborn enough to see it through to the end. That's why lots of jobs have "college degree" as a requirement but they don't care which one you have. What they are looking for is someone who would move an entire bag of rice into a bucket and use chopsticks to do it and not complain. College will teach you this. This entry form is an example.

That's why the poster is confused about the bizarre space width requirement. It's a hurdle. That is its function. It doesn't have to make sense. It would be unrealistic if it did. PLENTY of things along the way in your education will not make any sense at all. It is important that you learn this. The task, whatever it is, must be done. And it must be done, and done in the way asked - regardless of how bizarre it seems. Or even if you have a better idea that would be faster/better/more efficient. No. Do it this way, in the way asked and the time allocated, and get it done.

It is the perfect training ground for life in the job market into which you will be dropped into here in a few years.

Re:You misunderstand college (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663970)

Yes, it's better to do it the long way, and then when it comes to the workplace afterwards, you won't have the inclination (or dare I say imagination) to find a quicker way to do it. After all, work is supposed to be tedious, and it's cheating if you find a way to automate the job, even if it saves the company millions.

Re:You misunderstand college (3, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664420)

After all, work is supposed to be tedious, and it's cheating if you find a way to automate the job, even if it saves the company millions.

Exactly. Wanna know why?

Because your boss and his co-workers that have worked there for fifteen years before you hired in made that system. Last thing in the world they want is some kid out of college making them all look stupid.

Sucks, I know.

Re:You misunderstand college (1)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664456)

Well, in that case, companies who embrace automation will kill off the weaker companies who are too proud to adjust.

But it doesn't have to be like that - my brother worked on producing automatic spreadsheets and programs for the company he worked with. Gradually, the staff began to appreciate the immense amount of time they were saving through doing that.

Re:You misunderstand college (1)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664668)

Sure, sometimes if you land in the right environment it can go well for you. Rather fortunately I'm in just such a place. All of the things I've typed here today apply to former employers.

Sometimes you can wind up in a place where people are treated well for their energy and enthusiasm. Sure.

Most places though? Exact opposite.

You're not aware of it yet but there is a network in place of established people in established positions who work very little and get paid a lot. And are deeply interested in maintaining the status quo. Because it is working out very well for them.

So why change? If you're making six figures and playing golf at your company meetings...what on earth would make you want to change anything at all? Especially since any single change could possibly shift power and resources and make your cushy position irrelevant?

It's like a mutual stalemate. Two fiercely competing companies will both be loaded up with dozens of these suit wearing lampreys. As much as they would like to ace the other, they can't do too much. Shake the trees hard enough and perhaps everyone will fall.

The system has reached its point of minimum energy. Equilibrium. To move it to some other state would require a massive change and that might not work out in your favor.

So the suits ding at each other, firing off dinky patent lawsuits or back room deals to each others customers or whatever. That's the network. That's how it works. Once you're in, you're in. At that level the game becomes "how do I keep this ball rolling". Anything that might stop the game is the enemy.

Look at the RIAA for an example. Guys in suits. They make nothing, provide nothing, do nothing. Other than maintain their position. Strategic lawsuits, giving pennies on the dollar to the artists they claim to represent, pushing the DRM du jour on the public, lobbying, bogus lawsuits and intimidation. All for what? Because they like music? Hell no! To maintain their gravy train. I'll bet out of any thousand RIAA employees you interview you'll find no more than 3 that actually give a crap about music. The rest care more for their Lexus.

This being Slashdot, this is well known. What isn't as well known is that 99% of all businesses are the same.

Re:You misunderstand college (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664910)

Two fiercely competing companies will both be loaded up with dozens of these suit wearing lampreys. As much as they would like to ace the other, they can't do too much. Shake the trees hard enough and perhaps everyone will fall.

'Twas ever thus.

"And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."

-- Macchiavelli - The Prince.

but why don't they look at cheaper college degree (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664268)

but why don't they look at cheaper ways that people to perform a long and difficult and often times utterly pointless tasks then just say college degree needed and then have look past all the tech , community , and online schools? Is people who did work and not go to class for jobs that don't need degrees can get a job there? What about people who are in the army and want to work after the army and not go to 4 years of classes to do (some time some of same stuff they did in army).

Re:but why don't they look at cheaper college degr (1)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664436)

Tech, community and online schools don't have as many hurdles. They are convenient and quick. That is part of their charm. It's in their sales pitch. But it defeats the purpose. They are looking for stubborn thick skull bastards who walk uphill both ways in the snow.

Sitting in a coffee shop with your laptop getting a degree online doesn't show what they are looking for. Sorry, but that's how it is.

Re:You misunderstand college (5, Interesting)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664352)

"College isn't the ability to do something in a given field well. That is part of it, sure. But not the biggest part. What college teaches you is how to perform a long and difficult and often times utterly pointless task and be stubborn enough to see it through to the end. That's why lots of jobs have "college degree" as a requirement but they don't care which one you have. What they are looking for is someone who would move an entire bag of rice into a bucket and use chopsticks to do it and not complain. College will teach you this. This entry form is an example."

How do you explain the fact that companies turn down people with length of experience well beyond the length of a college education then? I think you're wrong: it is just laziness. Sorting by degree is a quick and dirty way to sort applicants. Want someone normal? Batchelor's. Someone to be a contact person on complex matters? Masters. Someone to clean the toilets? Highschool. Having a big name university then puts your name higher to the top of the list. Experience, references, and having a degree in a relevant subject only matters after those two factors are taken into account.

Of course, then the company goes and wonders why all their workers are clueless and always accomplish things brute-force, and their so-called experts are less capable than Yahoo answers responders... so maybe there is some truth in what you say.

"It is important that you learn this. The task, whatever it is, must be done. And it must be done, and done in the way asked - regardless of how bizarre it seems."

So you're saying that the purpose of "education" is actually to teach you to shut up, sit down, and not question if things could be done better? Exactly what I have been saying for years. Why do we still put any kind of faith in degrees?

"It is the perfect training ground for life in the job market into which you will be dropped into here in a few years."

And yet no one seems to have any serious issues with this. I guess that is because everyone who is "smart enough" to be taken seriously knows how to shut up, and anyone who doesn't bend over probably is "too dumb" to matter.

As a society, yeah, we're screwed.

Re:You misunderstand college (2)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664482)

How do you explain the fact that companies turn down people with length of experience well beyond the length of a college education then?

I suspect you already know the answer, but I'll offer my opinion anyways. People with that kind of experience are higher maintenance. They know what they can and can't get away with, having been in the system a while.

Your job is a kind of poker match, with each side gambling on the point where the other guy will fold. Experience makes you a better player. So naturally companies avoid the better players. If you were playing poker for money would you rather play someone with no experience or 20 years worth?

I think you're wrong: it is just laziness.

Oh sure, I agree. That figures in too absolutely.

So you're saying that the purpose of "education" is actually to teach you to shut up, sit down, and not question if things could be done better? Exactly what I have been saying for years. Why do we still put any kind of faith in degrees?

You do get an education along the way, which is nice. And occasionally useful. And if you are clever and subtle you can create change. But by and large - this is the case.

And yet no one seems to have any serious issues with this. I guess that is because everyone who is "smart enough" to be taken seriously knows how to shut up, and anyone who doesn't bend over probably is "too dumb" to matter.

Exactly. Intelligence is figuring out it is a game, figuring out what the rules are, and then playing to win. Winning in this case means a roof over your head, food and water, and heat in the winter.

Sure, you can buck the system. I've experimented with it. Know what changed? Guess. It's like pissing your pants in a dark suit. Gives you a nice warm feeling but nobody notices.

At one job I had I reported theft, unexcused absences where people were covering for each other, people rifling through each others desks to take credit for work they haven't done, you name it. What changed? Nothing. I quit the job and two months after that the HR lady I complained to at my exit interview in a fit of desperation quit without giving notice one Tuesday after sneaking out for a three hour lunch and getting bombed on Margaritas.

That's how it is. Sorry. YMMV, I hope.

As a society, yeah, we're screwed.

Pretty much. But with that in mind, how do you proceed? Self interest. Get paid and cover your ass.

Re:You misunderstand college (1)

RocketRabbit (830691) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664724)

Your post should be required reading for each and every person entering high school.

Why are they using a PDF form in 2010? (4, Insightful)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664064)

This BEGS to be an online form. As a matter of fact, I initially assumed (from the summary) that it was an online form, and the issue was the form created an FDF file for a PDF document that used proportionally spaced fonts - but then I saw the link to the PDF.

Our university does its grad applications online (maybe undergrad too, but I haven't worked with those). I put together an web-based system that ties into the university database - all the document handling and review activities are managed online. We used to shuffle around crates of paper (quite literally) - that's all gone, and the faculty and staff love it.

Why on earth is this "common application" not electronic, in the real sense of the word rather than this almost-as-bad-as-paper PDF abomination?

WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34664140)

You mean that with all the available methods, universities across the nation can't understand the notion of properly programming and documenting a simple electronic application. It's feels as though we are going back in time to a point in time where the "look" of a page better determines weather a student can get into a college or not. The reason for a "w" or a "m" causing said problems has nothing to do with available data space but rather screen space. what's more is why do they have a need for a PDF file in a day and age where it's is easier and often more secure to use a html form. I remember some old forms that couldn't fit some names correctly, imagine a student who is entered who's name is entered into a database incorrectly because some genius professor decided that the look of the application was more important than correct information. heck with today's technology you can actually enforce a word count rather than a character or space requirement, and you'd think a university would think to enable such technology.

For now, those of you who are effected by this act of stupidity, all i can say is use more "i"'s and "l"'s.

Why? Easy to guess (1)

VincenzoRomano (881055) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664264)

To save paper and ink/toner. Yes, they are going to print them all!

It can be worked around but... (2)

Peganthyrus (713645) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664336)

Suddenly I am very glad that my habit when filling out PDFs is to download them, open them in Illustrator, make a new layer, and start putting down text. Sometimes I'll even move lines around on the form a little if needs be.

Sadly, most people don't have this capability.

Microsoft Application Form (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664348)

Bill Gates said 640 words on the Microsoft application ought to be enough for anyone.

Waste of time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34665124)

Well, I won't be wasting my time trying to comment on slashdot anymore. My Anonymous Coward post are never showing up. I am not one to waste my time doing something for nothing.

The explanation is easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34665478)

It is not explained why an electronic submission must have such strictly enforced limits.

The explanation is the same as the reason why so may e-commerce web forms state "no spaces or dashes" for credit card entry fields.

Programmer incompetence

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