Oct 29, 2011

20 Very Scary Online Application Mistakes to Avoid

It looks to be another record-breaking year for early action applications. If you’re one of many thousands of high school seniors trying to beat a November 1 early deadline, Halloween might really seem a little scary at this point.

But before you start trying to make up for lost time by dashing out applications, remember that errors due to carelessness or misunderstanding can be costly. Thanks to some insider information from the makers of electronic applications, here is a list of common mistakes made by applicants trying to hurry the process:

1. Not reading instructions. Before starting any application, take the time to read instructions or view instructional videos. Consider printing out directions and having them handy as you work through the application.

2. Waiting until the last minute. Stuff happens. Your computer crashes, the internet goes down, or servers are reduced to a crawl. Why chance it?

3. Not entering a valid email address. And you wonder why you haven’t heard from any colleges?

4. Forgetting to disable pop-up blockers. And whose fault is it that you can’t see those parts of the application displaying in pop-up windows?

5. Using the wrong browser. Most online applications require more modern versions of Internet Explorer or other specific browsers which are clearly identified in the instructions. Make sure you’re working with a compatible browser to ensure optimum results. For example, the Common Application may not support Chrome, but the Universal College Application (UCA) does.

6. Not checking EACH individual college’s requirements and deadlines. The information is all there—deadlines, fees, and supplementary information. Application software generally doesn’t allow you to submit after deadlines have passed. It’s really smart that way.

7. Forgetting to save data and log out. You usually have no more than 60 minutes per web page before you’ll be timed out. If you walk off for any length of time to make a phone call or have a snack, be sure to use the save/logout feature to save your application. Otherwise work may be lost.

8. Using the “back” button. This can cause data to be lost or not properly saved to the application. Navigate through the document using the buttons within the application itself.

9. Clicking on the wrong item in a drop down menu. It’s amazing how many students say they’re from Canada or Afghanistan, both of which are frequently listed right after the United States as drop-downs for countries of residence.

10. Entering incorrect data including date of birth or social security number. An incorrect date of birth may have several interesting consequences including failure to open an account (if you appear too young) and may require tech support to straighten out. An incorrect or missing social security number can affect financial aid. Double check the basics before "saving."

11. Failing to upload a document. In the dash to meet deadlines, students sometimes forget to upload that carefully crafted essay. This is a particular problem if an “alternative” version of the Common Application has been created. Check and double check that all answers are complete and all written material has found its way into the correct place.

12. Not thoroughly reviewing the application for spelling or grammar errors and truncated text. Print out your completed application or application summary and proofread before clicking “submit.” Make sure nothing important was cut off. If things don’t make sense, revise and use commonly accepted abbreviations to fit in the space provided. Note that you will need to download Adobe Acrobat to preview your document.

13. Not submitting all signatures for the Early Decision Agreement. Be aware that the Common Application ED Agreement requires 3 separate signatures to be complete for most colleges, and that your counselor cannot submit the form (electronically or by mail) until both the student and parent complete their parts.

14. Neglecting to leave time for payment to clear. Some colleges want you to show them the money first. The Common Application warns that processing of credit cards and echecks can take up to 48 hours and the application will not be processed until payment has cleared. Note that the UCA does not hold applications up for payment.

15. Failing to provide accurate or complete recommendation information. If you are working outside of the Common App/Naviance system and your teachers indicate they want to submit recommendations electronically, you must provide a complete and accurate email addresses for them in the space indicated. Otherwise there will be a failure to communicate.

16. Not following directions for the Arts/Athletic Supplement. If you indicate on the Future Plans section of the Common Application that you intend to electronically submit an Arts/Athletic Supplement, you’ll need to complete it and submit it before you can submit the rest of the application. The UCA provides a form but requires all Arts/Athletic Supplements to be submitted via mail.

17. Forgetting to sign the document. The completed application will not submit until the document is signed electronically.

18. Not verifying that the submission process is COMPLETE before logging out. Yes, you have to click “Submit” when you’ve finished. There may be a series of screens to go through to ensure data is saved. If you close down before going through the process, you risk an incomplete application or no submission at all. Even if you’re relatively certain it’s all been done correctly, check the application “status” function to be doubly sure.

19. Not following up with fees and required supplements. The application, supplement(s), and payment submissions are 3 distinct processes. Just because you’ve submitted your application doesn’t mean your payment and required supplements will “automatically” follow.

20. Refusing to ask for help. If you have technical difficulties, don’t be afraid to ask the “Help Desk,” Technical Support,” or use “Contact” links.

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