Avoiding Problems with Online College Applications

by Megan Dorsey on August 28, 2014

laptop with pen and books

Most colleges and universities have adopted online methods for submitting applications. Some schools use shared systems such as the Common Application, which is accepted by more than 400 schools, while others accept a state-specific application that’s accepted by public universities,and some private schools, (ApplyTexas). Whether using a specific college’s application or a common version, there are steps students can take to avoid problems with the online college admissions process.

1. Wait a couple of weeks after open date to begin submitting online applications.

Many online applications open to students on August 1. While it is tempting to complete and submit applications as soon as possible, students may benefit by waiting a week or two. As with other online programs or newly released systems, online applications commonly have bugs or system glitches that need to be worked through. Some bugs are minor annoyances, but some have been major flaws requiring students to reenter information multiple times. Students who can wait a couple of weeks will reduce their frustration because they’ll allow time for system problems to be fixed.

2. Record and save login details for every online application.

Forgetting usernames and passwords is one of the most common reasons students are delayed in submitting online applications. Because each college and university’s online application may have a different login requirement, students frequently end up with a variety of usernames, student identification numbers, and passwords. Creating an electronic or paper list of login details and keeping it in a safe place can help students avoid frustrations and delays.

3. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply online.

Online college applications are notorious for freezing up in the hours or days before the submission deadline. Too many students wait until the last minute, all try to log in in at once, and the system gets overloaded. Avoid the panic that comes with last-minute technical delays by starting applications early: Never wait until the week prior to any deadline to submit an online application.

4. Read all instructions for every application.

Yes, this suggestion seems simple; however, many students expect questions to be obvious and answers to be intuitive, when they often are not. Some questions are reserved for out-of-state or international students, and others require school codes that are not listed in the application itself. Students should take time to read all instructions and when in doubt consult the help guide or explanations videos included with most online applications.

5. Preview finished applications before submitting them.

Each online application system has its own preview or print options. Because what students see on their computer screens may not match what will be submitted to colleges, it is essential to preview responses before completing the application. A common problem is that some applications truncate too-lengthy answers to match word or character limits, but students may not realize these changes have been made until they reach the print preview screen.

Completing online applications for college can streamline the admission process. Most high school students are familiar with submitting information online, but for something as important at college admission, students should take care to avoid problems and insure they submit the strongest application possible. Being informed about application dates, prepared for the types of questions that will be asked, and paying close attention to the details of online applications all will help students present their best-possible work and have the highest chance of acceptance to the college of their choice.


Fun Fact:

The Common Application launched its first online version in 1998; at that time, 191 colleges and universities accepted it. In 2013-2014, the Common Application introduced its fourth-generation online system, completely retiring the paper version of its forms. In 2013, 517 institutions accepted the online “Common App.”

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