Based on informal feedback from students and counselors, it’s going to be another record-breaking year for early applications. And if you’re one of many thousands of high school seniors still trying to beat a Day of the Dead (November 1) early deadline, Halloween might seem really scary at this point.
But before you start trying to make up for lost time by mindlessly pushing out applications, remember that errors due to carelessness or misunderstanding can be costly.
To avoid ghoulish results, here is a list of common mistakes made by applicants trying to hurry the process:
1. Not reading instructions. Before starting any application, take the time to read instructions or view instructional videos. The application dictionary provided by the Common Application is a handy reference tool for understanding various terms you might encounter while completing your application.
2. Waiting until the last minute. Stuff happens. Your computer crashes, electricity goes out, the internet goes down, or servers are reduced to a crawl. Why chance it?
3. Not entering a valid email address. And you wonder why you haven’t heard from any colleges?
4. Forgetting to disable pop-up blockers. And whose fault is it that you can’t see those parts of the application displaying in pop-up windows?
5. Using the wrong browser. Most online applications require more modern versions of Internet Explorer or other specific browsers which are clearly identified in the instructions. Make sure you’re working with a compatible browser to ensure optimum results.
6. Not checking EACH individual college’s requirements and deadlines. The information is all there—deadlines, fees, and supplementary information. But don’t rely on information gathered last summer. Go back and confirm that nothing has changed.
7. Forgetting to save data and log out. You usually have no more than 60 minutes per web page before you’ll be timed out. If you walk off for any length of time to make a phone call or have a snack, be sure to use the save/logout feature to save your application. Otherwise work may be lost.
8. Using the “back” button. This can cause data to be lost or not properly saved to the application. Navigate through the document using the buttons within the application itself.
9. Clicking on the wrong item in a drop down menu. It’s amazing how many students say they’re from Canada or Afghanistan, both of which are frequently listed right below the United States as drop-downs for countries of residence.
10. Entering incorrect data including date of birth or social security number. An incorrect date of birth may have several interesting consequences including failure to open an account (if you appear too young) and may require tech support to straighten out. An incorrect or missing social security number can affect financial aid. Double check the basics before “saving.”
11. Meant to apply early but checked regular decision. This is an easy mistake to make especially if you’ve changed your mind a couple of times about which application strategy works best for you. Be careful that your application says what you mean.
12. Not thoroughly reviewing the application for spelling or grammar errors and truncated text. Use the print preview function (if there is one) to print out your completed application or application summary before submitting. Proofread very carefully—look for omissions and typos. Make sure nothing important was cut off (this has been a reported problem for the 2015-16 Common Application). If things don’t make sense, revise and use commonly accepted abbreviations to fit in the space provided. Note that you may need to download the most recent version of Adobe Acrobat to preview your document. Do not skip this step!
13. Not submitting all signatures for the Early Decision Agreement. Be aware that the Early Decision agreements generally require 3 separate signatures—student, parent, and counselor—to be complete for most colleges.
14. Using an alternate application and failing to tell anyone. “VIP” or “snap apps,” are offers to short-circuit the process by offering special applications. Sometimes the fee is waived and sometimes the essay is waived. There are many different variations on the theme. If you go this route, don’t forget to tell your school counselor and arrange for required documents like transcripts or test scores to be sent.
15. Failing to provide accurate or complete recommendation information. If your counselor and/or teachers indicate they want to submit recommendations electronically, you must provide complete and accurate email addresses for them in the space indicated. Otherwise there will be a failure to communicate.
16. Opening multiple accounts. The Common App warns against opening a series of accounts. Maybe you want to use a different name or maybe you’ve forgotten a password and don’t want to wait to go through the password retrieval system. It’s not good, and you risk confusing the process by trying to open additional accounts.
17. Forgetting to sign the document. The completed application will not submit until the document is signed electronically. For the Common App, the submission process involves three steps: review, payment, submission. Even if you’ve reviewed the application and paid the fee, it is still considered NOT submitted until you complete the final signature and click on the submit button. Be sure to check for confirmation that the application has been submitted.
18. Not verifying that the submission process is COMPLETE before logging out. Yes, you have to click “Submit” when you’ve finished. There may be a series of screens to go through to ensure data is saved. If you close down before going through the process, you risk an incomplete application or no submission at all. Again, check for confirmation that the application has been submitted.
19. Not following up with required supplements. The application and supplements are generally separate processes. Just because you’ve submitted your application does NOT mean required supplements will “automatically” follow. One more time: check for confirmation that all parts of the application have been submitted.
20. Refusing to ask for help. If you have technical difficulties, don’t be afraid to ask the “Help Desk,” Technical Support,” or use “Contact” links.
Don’t be haunted by careless mistakes. Leave lots of lead time and carefully review everything you submit.