06/26/2013 05:48 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

Urgent News From Common Application

My favorite time in the college selection process is the late spring, when juniors come into my office and talk about their college plans That's what college counseling is all about -- understanding who they are, what they've done with their lives, and what they'd like to take on once high school is over -- and there's nothing better than getting the unvarnished view of that plan in early May.

But that earnest interest in applying to college may be doing more harm than good right now. Common Application is reporting a high number of students tweeting Common App to ask when they can start their applications. This may be due to the new version of Common Application that has a different look and updated guidelines.

It's natural that conscientious students want to get everything right, and avoid mistakes, but in this case, an early start is one big mistake all by itself. All current Common Application accounts will be permanently closed on July 12. This means anyone who wanted to get a jump on the new Common Application is actually working on the old Common App, and you won't be able to access any of this work come Monday. You won't be able to transfer the old information to the new Common Application when it opens August 1, either, since the server for the new Common Application is also new.

If you're looking for something to do that will move your college applications along, you could start work on their Common Application essays. The essay topics will also be new for this fall's Common App, but they've already been released. Just remember, these new topics have a new word limit -- between 250 and 650 words -- and that limit will be enforced. This wasn't the case with the old Common Application, so if you have an older brother or sister telling you it's cool to ignore the limits, it's fine by me if you tell them they are old school -- but don't stand too close to them when you say that.

You can find the new essay prompts here, so you can start writing -- but let me encourage you not to. Eager students are to be admired for their advanced planning and industrious view of college applications, but there is some evidence to suggest that all of this early writing is leading to very plain essays. There's only so many times a student can revisit the same topic and not lose interest, and that isn't the kind of writing colleges want to see. Instead, I would recommend you follow some solid advice about when and how to pursue a thoughtful essay--advice which directs students to start writing no earlier than August 1. You can find that advice here.

It's also a good idea to have your counselor's email address on hand. Common App will ask you for your counselor's contact information so your school can send the required Secondary School Report and your transcript. Your counselor is probably gone for the summer, so check your school's counseling Web site for their e mail address, and for the school's six digit CEEB code--that's the code you needed from the school to register for the ACT or SAT. If the school has the e-mail addresses for the teachers writing your letters of recommendation, get those too -- but DON'T ask your teachers for them -- it's time for a break.

Finally, in case there are "external forces" compelling you to get your application done in July, pass this news along to Mom and Dad -- it could accelerate your arrival at the beach.