Everyone’s favorite all-in-one college application, a.k.a. the Common App, created a free app last fall to help students manage and keep track of their college applications. I had a chance to test run “onTrack” on my iPhone last week…and the results? Two solid thumbs up (or 4 out of 5 stars, if we’re using the App Store’s rating system)! Should you download the app? Take a look at the top features below to decide for yourself.
First off, let’s consider what Common App’s onTrack can and can’t do.
- You can see your progress in completing the Common App, including the status of your recommendation assignments and college-specific supplements
- You can’t access your actual Common Application, or enter data on any of the six basic Common App tabs
- You can see a complete record of the colleges on your “My Colleges” list and add new schools to (or remove old schools from) your list
- You can’t submit your application, or pay any application fees
- You can’t invite teachers or counselors to complete their recommendations online
- You can set reminders to alert yourself of upcoming application deadlines as well as your own self-imposed deadlines (e.g. Write Georgia Tech essays this weekend!)
While some of these can’ts seem to be particular downers, keep in mind that the good folks at the Common App created onTrack based on the feedback of high school students. And, according to the app’s developers, students didn’t want an app that would allow them to submit their applications from a mobile device; they just wanted a smart and easy way to manage their application progress. From this standpoint, onTrack absolutely delivers.
When you first log into the onTrack app (using your Common App username and password, of course), you’ll see the full inventory of colleges on your “My Colleges” list; their deadlines; what application plan you’ll be using (early action, early decision, rolling, etc.); and whether or not the application is “in progress” or ready to submit. And when you click on a particular college in that list, you’ll see the complete breakdown of which components of that application have yet to be completed. These two screens provide applicants with a clear, at-a-glance view of their application progress—and one that’s arguably more user-friendly than the “Dashboard” located on www.commonapp.org.
Let’s say you change your mind about a school being on your college list. With a quick swipe to the left, you can eliminate that college from your roster. And if you’re ready to add a new school to your list, the app’s rudimentary search feature allows you to do just that. I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly my computer-based Common App updated after I made changes through the app (and vice versa). It usually took mere seconds for the two applications to sync with each other.
If there’s one downside to onTrack it’s that not all students will be able to manage their teacher recommendations through the app. However, this is an issue many students face when using the Common App through www.commonapp.org as well. Students whose high schools use Naviance eDocs to submit transcripts and letters of recommendation will see an aggravating message alerting them of their need to contact their school counselor for assistance with recommender assignments. If your high school doesn’t rely on eDocs, though, rejoice! You can see the name of every recommender you’ve already assigned to your applications, as well as the status of those recommendations. And if you’re worried that your teacher hasn’t received your invite, swiping left on her name on the “My Recommenders” page will allow you to send a follow-up invitation.
All in all, Common App’s onTrack seems to be a success. For students who are knee-deep in the application process and eat, sleep, and breathe with a cell phone in their hand, onTrack is an intuitive and easy-to-use app that will help students monitor their Common App status. Non-iPhone users take note: While onTrack is currently only available through Apple’s App Store, an Android version of the app should make its debut sometime this fall. Then nobody will have an excuse for not staying organized while applying to college!