Los Angeles, Castle applicants left hanging

by Beacon Staff • October 8, 2008

Hundreds of students were sent into a panic last week when online applications to the Kasteel Well and Los Angeles external programs stopped functioning, students and administrators said.

The application process, which began at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, was foiled by one errant line of computer code which kept e-mails containing students' information from reaching their destination, according to Jason Beals, director of Web services.

"I clicked 'accept' at 12:05 a.m.," said Laura Sreebny, a marketing communication junior who attempted to apply for the fall semester in Los Angeles. "I don't know anything about computers. I had no idea that the problem was unfixable, so I kept trying. I didn't go to bed until 3 a.m."

Student reaction ranged from outrage to shock and disappointment.

"I was at a friend's party and locked myself in a room for like three hours to do the application," said Joseph Ferreira, a junior film major who also had trouble applying. "I didn't get to eat any cake because I was trying to get the application in."

Upon pressing the 'submit' button, the server sends two e-mails-one to the department of international study and external programs, and one to the applicant.

Beals said he actually received partial applications from each of the 40,000 attempts students made to apply that night, and fixed the problem at 9:30 a.m. the next day.

"We had every confidence that it would go smoothly this time," Beals said.

"This [process] had gone off flawlessly the past couple of years," Beals said, although David Griffin, director of external programs, said difficulties arose last year for different reasons.

Last year, the applications had incorrect dates for the programs, and students had to start the process over. That mishap was minor in comparison to this year's, Griffin said.

The application process was moved to the following Monday, Oct. 6, to allow all applicants to have a fair chance, Griffin said. He expressed disappointment to have the application go wrong a second year in a row, although last year's issue was unrelated to this year's mix-up.

"We're always trying to make the process as seamless as possible," Griffin said in an interview. "But there's always room for improvement. I'm certainly willing to change [the application process], but I don't want to rush into it."

While the department of external programs doesn't have the resources necessary to evaluate applicants based on their merit, Griffin said the office is tossing around the possibility of making the choice a random lottery as opposed to first-come, first-serve, to make the process as fair as possible.

Merit-based applications would involve finding a committee of people who have the time to read 300-plus applications, he said. The problem, he said, is that external programs department doesn't have the time or manpower to do that.

"I don't know if students would be any happier with a lottery approach [than first-come, first-serve]," Griffin said. Students would have even less control that way."

Junior Amanda Zepka felt that the current system was a way for Emerson to avoid reading each individual application.

"It's almost like they don't want to devote the time to go through people's essays," the marketing communication major said.

Zepka estimated that she submitted her application a 12:18 a.m., and later discovered that others had submitted theirs even earlier.

"Now I'm worried that I might not get in because I applied five minutes later than someone else," she said. "Is five minutes really going to determine whether or not I go [to L.A.]?"

Unfortunately, many of the students that were attempting to apply early Tuesday morning were unaware of the technical catch in the coding of the server, and frantically reattempted to submit their application into the wee hours of the morning.

"Because of the problems with the Internet, there was more anxiety," said freshman theatre studies major and Kasteel applicant Andrew Bear in an e-mail message. "We ended up staying up late for no real reason."

One student clicked 'submit' 2,000 times, Beals said. Soon after everyone realized their attempts were unsuccessful, a flood of frantic Facebook updates, text-messages and phone calls among people who were also having difficulties applying began.

One student's Facebook status read at 12:53 a.m., "20 enraged status updates and counting. Shall we burn Emerson to the ground?"

"EVERYONE IS FREAKINGGGGG OUTTTTTTTT," wrote another.

In the first day the new application was made available, Griffin said he received 120 applicants for the fall 2009 Los Angeles semester, 169 for the spring 2010 semester, 184 applications for Kasteel Well's fall session and 155 for the spring.

The cap for the L.A. Center program is approximately 100 people, while the Netherlands residence accommodates 85 students.

Even without the stressful technical issues, applying for these programs is anxiety-inducing enough, some students said. "I'm definitely worried about getting in," said Jen Flaxman, a junior acting major who applied to L.A.'s spring semester. "Everyone I know is applying."