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How To Handle Common App Complications

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This article comes to us courtesy of U.S. News & World Report, where it was originally published.

Many students who tried to apply to colleges early this fall hit a snag with The Common Application. Major technical glitches tied to the rollout of the platform's latest edition in August, used by more than 500 universities, were widely reported. But the larger problems that plagued the system – and caused many schools to push back early application deadlines – have been fixed, officials say.

Despite the improvements, experts say that students may still run into some technical issues. High school counselors, college admissions officials and representatives from The Common Application – the nonprofit organization behind the application system – encourage students to remain calm and take the following advice if they have trouble completing or submitting college applications.

1. Start applications early: If problems arise, students will have time to make sure their applications are submitted correctly.

When Raj K. Rana noticed that the paragraph formatting on his personal essay and the additional information section of the Common App wasn't saving properly, he tried to insert spaces manually, he told U.S. News on Facebook. When that didn't work, he submitted his application and hoped for the best.

"I am worried that college officials might fall asleep just by looking at my essays' format," Rana wrote.

Rana said that he's concerned about the outcome of his applications, but didn't reach out for tech support because he was a few days from deadline.

"The single most important piece of advice that any of us can give to a student right now is for them to be working and ideally submitting their application before their high school and before colleges close for the holidays," says Kelly A. Walter, associate vice president and executive director of admissions at Boston University.

Students should also avoid submitting applications on popular deadlines like Jan. 1 and 15. The large volume of applicants then can increase wait time for students who need assistance from the Common Application support team, high schools and colleges, experts warn.

[Avoid these 10 common college application mistakes.]

"Given what we have seen this year, the likelihood of problems, of submissions delays, of complications with fee payments are most likely to happen in those last few hours prior to a deadline date," Walter says.

2. Submit detailed requests for help: Experts recommend students go to the applicant help center on the Common Application website to search the FAQs and submit a help ticket before they reach out to colleges and universities for assistance.

Scott Anderson, senior director for policy of The Common Application, says students should log in to their accounts and submit tickets that thoroughly explain their problem from the same computer that was used to complete their applications, as this will help techs solve problems more quickly.

"The more information that they can provide at the outset the more quickly we can assist them," Anderson says.

[Learn how to manage the application process.]

3. Reach out to high school counselors and college admissions offices: Jim Montague, program director for guidance and support services at the Boston Latin School, advises students to talk to their high school counselor in person as soon as they run into problems.

"It makes it easier for us and more efficient if they come by our office. They can open up The Common Application with us and show us exactly what the problem is," Montague says.

Students with concerns about their application after they have submitted a ticket should also reach out to their universities, college admissions officials say.

College officials can outline any additional steps students can take and make note of any complications on the student's file, but students may need to reach out to multiple schools about the correct process.

"That answer may be different from one college to the next. What's right and what works for Ithaca College may not be what another institution wants them to do," says Gerard Turbide, director of admissions for the school.

4. Review, submit and verify: The Common App's Anderson says that it's important for students to make sure they've completed the entire submission process. Students should review their applications, pay any fees, sign an affirmation and hit "submit." After doing so, Anderson recommends they go back into the application's dashboard to make sure that all materials were submitted correctly.

Students should also receive an automated message from the Common App, and colleges typically email students to acknowledge a submission. College admission officials say it's important for students to contact schools immediately if they don't receive a notice.

[Get more tips on applying to college.]

Walter, of Boston University, also advises students to check the websites of any colleges where they've applied for any updates about deadline extensions.

Meanwhile, The Common Application is still at work to resolve any lingering problems.

"We want to help you, we want to give you the assistance that you need and answer the questions that you have," the Common App's Anderson says.

"We really need you to go to the help center to do it."

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Briana Boyington is an education Web producer at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at bboyington@usnews.com.

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