Nov 29, 2010

What to Do When Words on Your College Application Get Lost in Transmission

In case you missed the email, some gremlins sneaked in to the Common Application website last week and finally added a few prominent warnings that “your response may be cut off” in key sections of the form. As one mom lamented on Facebook, “Little late for my child.”

Unfortunately several hundred thousand applications have already been submitted through the Common App system, many of which no doubt had bits and pieces left off. And if you think you might fall into this group, you’re probably wondering what to do.

First, don’t panic. Most colleges know this happens and understand the quirks inherent in the electronic application system. It’s an imperfect technology with lots of opportunities for missteps—on both ends.

But if you’re concerned that the application you hurried to submit in advance of early deadlines reads like someone forgot to finish a thought, there are steps you can take to make corrections and provide colleges with information that may have gotten lost in transmission.

Start by going back to your original application and print out the PREVIEW. This will show you exactly what colleges will see when reading your application.

Review your responses, particularly in the Extracurricular Activities/ Work Experience and Short Answer sections. Then decide if important information was cut off making your answers unintelligible or incomplete. It’s most likely that your responses were clear enough, in which case you don’t need to do anything.

If you feel that the application seriously misrepresents you or if you believe colleges may be missing significant information, consider doing the following:

  • For colleges to which you have NOT yet applied, create an “alternative” version of the application. Follow the instructions carefully and make appropriate corrections. If necessary, use standard abbreviations or continue responses in the “Additional Information” section of the application. Note that you cannot resubmit an application. The new versions may only go to colleges remaining on your list.

  • For colleges to which you have already sent applications, email or write the admissions office. Be sure to indicate in the subject line or at the outset of your letter that you writing to provide information that may have been cut off in the transmission of the application. If the problem involves an extracurricular activity or work experience, you might want to send a resume or activities sheet. If you’re concerned about a short answer or essay, simply forward a complete or corrected version.

Most colleges will welcome the additional information. According to one admissions dean, “Sometimes we follow up with the applicant to request this but when things are really busy we do not always follow up.” He adds, “It would be very helpful for the student to take this initiative.”

Note that all the information, as you originally wrote it, remains in the system. It’s just difficult to access, and most readers won’t bother. But colleges understand the problem, so don’t sweat the small stuff.

If you still have questions about the application or how to address truncated text, contact the Common Application Support Center.

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