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Applying to College? Time to Triple Check Your College Website

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There's been ample coverage of the start of the college application season, and some of the news is shaky. The new version of the Common Application has brought technological challenges to some students who want to apply. Many of their college-bound friends saw the frustrations others were having, and decided to hold off on applying until the Common App kinks were worked out of the new system -- but some haven't been back. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Common Application Outreach Advisory Board.)

This response is causing some understandable concern among the colleges, institutions that really only work well when they have, well, students. With the first round of application deadlines coming up for some colleges, many admissions offices are concerned they may be throwing a party students want to attend, but can't get there because of a busted GPS.

Seeking to ease everyone's stress, the colleges you've applied to may have changed their application rules since you last looked at their website. It's time for a review, paying close attention to these three key pieces of information:

Did they change their application deadline? One of the simplest things colleges can do at this point is give students a little more time to submit their applications. This gives students time to smooth out their Common App wrinkles, and it inspires students on the sidelines to get in the game, which now goes into overtime.

When you check this information, read it meticulously. Some colleges are extending the application deadline for everyone, but some are only giving more time for counselors and teachers to send in transcripts and letters of recommendation. This kind of makes sense, since the grown-ups have to send information out for many applications to the same college, but a student only has one application to get in on time at that college. Different deadlines are changing to different dates, and those announcements are coming out at different times. Check early and often.

Did they change their response date? Many colleges guarantee students a quick response if they apply early -- for example, a college may encourage you to apply by November 1st by promising to give you an admissions decision by December 15th.

It's easy to see why it would be harder for colleges to stick to that commitment if they are giving students more time to apply. Some admissions offices may work weekends to catch up, but others just may be too far behind -- especially if they have some of the same challenges getting Common Apps out of the system that gave students challenges to students putting the apps in. Pay close attention to this change. If you're going to hear later rather than sooner, it could have a big impact on when you apply to other colleges.

Check Out the Website, Not Your Phone-Dialing Skills Seniors who have submitted applications may have many questions for the college, and colleges want to answer them to ease your stress -- without raising their stress in the process. That's why you check the website before you call. This important information will be easy to find on the college's admissions page, and there may even be an online help desk where you can submit questions.

This approach gives the admissions office a chance to focus on reading applications and sending out decisions, something everyone wants them to do. If the web can't help you, there will be time to call -- but put that thought on hold for now, and take a walk on the web.