With early admission deadlines looming for hundreds of thousands of students, the new version of the online Common Application shared by more than 500 colleges and universities has been plagued by numerous malfunctions, alarming students and parents and putting admissions offices weeks behind schedule.
"It's been a nightmare," said Jason C. Locke, associate vice provost for enrollment at Cornell University. "I've been a supporter of the Common App, but in this case, they've really fallen down."
Colleges around the country have posted notices on their admissions websites, warning of potential problems in processing applications.
The problems have sown worry among students like Lily Geiger, a 12th-grader at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York, increasing the stress level in an already stressful experience.
When she entered her essays into the application, what appeared on her computer screen was a garbled mess.
"I was completely freaked out," she said. "I spent the whole weekend trying to fix it, and I kept thinking, what if I can't fix everything by the deadline, or what if I missed something?"
For the nonprofit Common Application company that creates the form, it has been a summer and fall of frantic repair work, cataloged on its website, and frequent admissions of fault.
Rob Killion, the executive director, readily acknowledged in an interview a wide range of failings. But he said that they were being fixed and that the number of applications was up more than 20 percent from last year, indicating that students were successfully navigating the system.
Problems became evident as soon as the application was released in August, including some confusing wording that was later changed.
Students who thought they had finished the application found that it was incomplete because questions had been added after its release. As changes were made, some who had started their applications early found themselves locked out of the system.
"This software needed beta testing and needed vetting, and it probably needed to wait a year," said Nancy Griesemer, a college admissions consultant based in Fairfax, Va.
Hundreds of colleges use software from the Common Application. That software is usually delivered in mid September, but this year's version arrived at the start of October.
Many colleges are still testing it and have not yet put it to use, and most of those schools have Nov. 1 or Nov. 15 early admission deadlines.