I Told You So: The Common App Hammers Home the Side Effects of Procrastination

10/15/2013 05:38 pm ET | Updated Dec 15, 2013

This month I had a huge "I told you so" moment thanks to the Common App. It wasn't a good feeling, especially given that plenty of high school seniors and their parents were having down-to-the-wire panic attacks over the system's software fail. But these glitches have hammered home the fact that when it comes to important and inflexible deadlines, the early bird catches the worm and a lot less anxiety.

When the latest version of the Common App resulted in jumbled essays and inadvertently incomplete applications for some users, everyone, including colleges and the company that created it, jumped to address the issues. But there was no taking back the college-bound panic for applicants.

Not all last minute Common App victims were procrastinators. Senior year is action-packed and students and parents are scrambling to cover all of the bases. Still, the stressful circumstance was the same, and I suspect there were more than a few raised voices across America asking, "Why didn't I/you do this last week?"

While the Common App glitch was a big one and a national situation recognized by admissions professionals, there are other last-minute problems that can land an applicant in bad or incomplete application limbo. And because these situations aren't shared by thousands of other applicants, there may be little to no room to beg for forgiveness and an extension. I outlined many of these worst case scenarios in my book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind. At the risk of sounding all doom and gloom, sometimes you need to anticipate potential disasters to keep you on a timely track. I'm sure some of the Common App college-bound casualties would agree that, when it comes to college applications, planning for the worst isn't the worst part of the process. Here are a few reminders:

Give others in the equation plenty of time.
Ask for teacher, counselor and employer recommendation letters early. If you're using a reviewer give them enough time to thoughtfully look over your application.

Back up your work.
As many who've gone before you know, it's wise to create your own documents for your essays and short answers. Completing these directly on the applications can prove disastrous should the system or your computer crash. Take extra precaution and print out your materials.

Build in a time safety net.
Prepare for the unexpected like computer crashes, power outages, system glitches, family and health emergencies. Create your own deadline that is at least two working days before the actual deadline so that you can contact the admissions office with concerns or problems.

Plan an early celebration.
Hit the "send" button early and celebrate your timely submission. That's an accomplishment.