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A(nother) Common App Outage – How To Avoid A College Admissions Meltdown

A(nother) Common App Outage – How To Avoid A College Admissions Meltdown

Yesterday I was working with one of my students. We’ll call her ‘Bethany’ (named changed to protect the innocent). Bethany was admittedly scrambling to submit a last minute Common Application to meet a December 1 Boston University scholarship deadline. At approximately 10:42pm, Bethany pasted her essays and writing supplements into the app, hit ‘submit’ and then this happened.

She received an error message about a Common App outage.

I got Bethany’s email at 10:43 pm yesterday, a mere 76 minutes before the 11:59 pm ET deadline.

Below is a screenshot showing the spike in the number of outages reported on the Common App last night:

Common App Outage 12-1-2021

Can you say Panic! Well, I’m sure for many students, but not for Bethany.

Of course she was rightfully worried, but she seemed to take it in stride. Here’s why. One, she had a real, live and knowledgeable, been-there-seen-that, go-to person (me) who she knew would advise her – even at literally the eleventh hour. Two, she knew that I had put great emphasis on having my students establish relationships with the admissions counselors at the schools to which they apply. And three, she knew that I often counseled that snafus and questions could often become great opportunities to establish and/or nurture those relationships.

During our quick conversation I reassured her that this has happened before (more on that below), and that she should take action by doing the following:

  1. Continue trying to submit the app until midnight. 
  2. Take a screen shot of the Common App outage. Email the admissions officer at the school and explain the situation in the hope that she can receive an extension.
  3. Don’t panic – Admissions Officers are human beings who experience the same frustrations and occasional technical difficulties as we all do.

In fact, Bethany’s experience quickly brought me back to the (now, infamous) Common App Crash of October 14, 2013, merely hours before the deadline for UNC-Chapel Hill and other schools. Students across the country panicked that evening, posting their frustrations on social media and desperately seeking assistance from the Common App, which had absolutely no response nor any call center to handle the myriad inquiries. The short term response by many colleges was to extend their deadlines. Back then, there was no alternative to the Common App – they were the only game in town. The long term response was an effort by a subset of colleges to create the Coalition App, which continues to this day albeit supporting fewer schools (150 schools vs. 973 on Common App), Boston University among them.

But last night at 10:43 pm there was little time to begin a new Coalition App. Communicating with her admissions rep seemed like the most appropriate response. After all, and again, it’s important to remember that admissions officers are human beings, and they recognize that technology sometimes breaks at no fault of our own. Extensions have been granted in the past.

Bethany emailed the BU admissions rep and continued to try submitting her app. Good news was that at 11:30 pm Bethany’s submission was successful. And, she had re-introduced herself (in a very mature manner) to her admissions rep just a few minutes earlier as a precaution.

The lessons here are twofold:

1. Obviously, don’t wait until the last minute to submit your college application. Snafus and glitches can happen, and in the world of college admissions, assume they will happen. 2013 isn’t the only outage on record. There have been additional outages since, including October 31, 2017 on the eve of the Early Decision deadline. While these outages are beyond our control, we can control our work pace and when we are ready to submit. While the occasional last minute addition can happen, it should be the exception (never the rule). Plan to submit all applications at least several days prior to the deadline.

2. Establish communication with your admissions officer waaaay earlier in the process than an hour before the deadline. I frequently share this advice with students and parents, and if you’re a long-time reader you’ve heard it here before. Admissions officers are people, human beings with emotions, and they chose their job because they enjoy communicating with interested students (parents, perhaps not so much) about their institution. There are ample opportunities for students to communicate and connect with admissions, even in a COVID-restricted world. These include email, phone, Zoom, website, virtual sessions, and more. Many colleges are open for visits and tours.

I frequently tell students, “Don’t be a stealth applicant by flying under the radar!” Connect with your admissions rep early, so that if such a snafu occurs, or perhaps if you need something later (additional financial aid?), you have an ally to help you in your cause. Recently I wrote about the importance of relationships, specifically in the context of teachers writing recommendations. The idea can just as easily apply to admissions officers. Relationships can and do make a difference, both in admissions AND in financial aid/scholarship decisions.

In Bethany’s case, she had the tools, preparation and guidance to avert real (and the stress of imagined) disaster. If you’re the parent of a 10th or 11th grader, it behooves you to help your child avoid unnecessary stress by planning, and applying, earlier in the process. To get a head start, simply email me ( and let’s connect.

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