College Common Application Harms Students, Rival Claims

Common Application Inc., an association used by colleges and universities to streamline the admissions process, exists to increase application volume for member schools while keeping competitors from entering the field, a rival company claimed in a lawsuit.

CollegeNET Inc. accused the nonprofit consortium, which counts all eight Ivy League schools among its more than 500 members, of violating U.S. antitrust laws, in a complaint filed last week in federal court in Portland, Oregon.

Common Application allows students to apply to several colleges with one form, using its website. Many colleges require applicants to submit supplemental essays.

The standardized application process makes it “easier for students to ‘press the button and pay’ as they file more and more forms,” according to the complaint. “As submission volume consequently increases, next year’s applicants are compelled to file still more forms in an attempt to increase their odds at acceptance.”

At the same time, Common Application restricts member schools from offering cheaper ways to apply and penalizes schools that don’t use its form exclusively, limiting competition, according to CollegeNET.

In its complaint, Portland-based CollegeNET describes itself as a company that offers Web-based administrative services including customized online application forms and processing services for higher education and nonprofit groups.

Money Damages

Claiming that Arlington, Virginia-based Common Application is trying to monopolize the application process, CollegeNET is seeking unspecified money damages which might be tripled under U.S. antitrust law. No schools were sued.

Scott Anderson, Common Application’s senior director for policy, declined to comment on the allegations today by phone.

Last month, Common Application issued a four-page summary of an outside consultant’s assessment of its operations that said its pricing structure “may be at odds” with its mission.

Students using the Common App to apply to schools with early deadlines last year experienced technical difficulties because of new software rolled out in August.

Afterward, colleges also began joining a competing group, the Universal College Application, which has 43 member schools including Harvard College and Duke University, according to its website.

The group last week announced additional members for next year’s application cycle, including Brandeis University, the University of Chicago and Colgate University.

Almost 723,580 people used the Common Application in 2012-13, an increase of more than 309,000 since 2008-08, according to the organization’s website. They submitted more than 3 million applications.

The case is CollegeNET Inc. v. Common Application Inc., 14-cv-00771, U.S. District Court, District of Oregon (Portland).

(A previous version of this story was corrected to reflect the date the four-page summary was issued.)