5 Last Minute FAQs for Common App Procrastinators
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First and foremost, a disclaimer: We at CollegeVine do not recommend that you begin your college applications at the last minute. It is one of the riskiest moves that you could make with your application, and it puts you at a significant disadvantage against other applicants who have had weeks and months to prepare their materials.
That being said, sometimes one thing leads to another, and before you know it, you’re stuck before your computer on the day of the deadline, frantically filling in boxes for the Common App. What now?
Not to say that colleges go easy on procrastinators (they really don’t), but the Common App and its member colleges do allow for a little bit of wiggle room. If you do happen to be one of the people described in the above paragraph, here are five pieces of news about the Common Application colleges that will probably make your life a little easier.
When is my actual deadline?
The short answer for this question is “consult the school.” Colleges usually have exact deadlines specified on their websites, and those are the ones you should follow.
The long answer for this question is that it actually depends on a lot of things, but most colleges will accept applications within a reasonable margin of 11:59 PM on the date of their deadline because of timezones. For instance, if a college’s deadline is January 2nd, you actually have until 12:00 AM January 3rd in your local timezone to submit your materials.
Though the Common App tracks all of its application submissions in Eastern Standard Time, most colleges will acknowledge and compensate for timezone differences. So if you’re a Californian applying to Yale, don’t worry: you have until midnight Pacific Standard Time to submit the application (even though it’ll already be 3 AM in New Haven by then). Unfortunately, the reverse is also true: if you’re a New Yorker applying for Stanford, don’t expect to gain three extra hours from the time difference.
However, if your school’s website denotes a specific deadline including time zone (11:59 PM EST on January 2nd, for instance) — do not take any chances. They aren’t messing around, and neither should you.
Help! My recommenders have gone AWOL!
Yeah, this happens. Sometimes, in spite of students’ best efforts to get to know these recommenders and follow the right protocol, some students are still left with two gaping letter-shaped blanks in their applications come submission time.
If this is you, don’t worry. It’s not your problem anymore. The Common App knows that these things are out of your control — what’s more, they don’t penalize you for any of it. All you’re responsible for by the application deadline (for your recs section) is your recommenders’ names and their contact information. The recs themselves can be submitted after the application deadline. The same rule also applies for the counselor rec; if it’s something that someone else is writing for you, it doesn’t have to be in by the deadline. If the colleges find a problem with this, they’ll know to contact the teacher or counselor for the missing pieces of the application, so you can take a breather.
I messed up and forgot to order my transcripts/SAT scores until the day of…
First, check with your college to see if there are any specific instructions for scores and transcripts. If your college absolutely has to have the grades by the deadline, most transcript processing services and College Board have overnight options. Use that — it’s the closest you can cut it at this point. To be safe, call the admissions office about your situation the day after to make sure they know where to find the pieces of your application. Have your Common App ID and Social Security Number (if applicable) at the ready.
But if you check the college’s site and it says nothing, don’t panic and don’t rush. This applies to both you and your documents, and SAT scores especially. Do not rush these unless the college explicitly asks for rushed scores. Send your scores and transcripts with the normal delivery, but do it ASAP.
“But why?” you ask, “These people must be out of their minds!” (We’re not.)
A little background: colleges usually digitally download your transcripts and scores, and this is how they prefer to do it. It’s a lot easier to manage files on a computer than it is with physical paper copies, and so they try to stay as far away from filing papers as humanly possible.
When you ask for a rushed or overnighted document, these document processing companies print out a (paper) copy of your transcript or scores and snail mail it to these colleges. And since most other people’s scores and transcripts are digital, it may actually be quite a long time until the adcoms get around to sorting through their paper mail and finding your files. By then, the batch of late normal delivery scores have already arrived digitally; though they’re late, they’re certainly much less of a logistical nightmare to locate (for colleges), and much cheaper to order (for you).
Since both rush scores and normal delivery scores get to the adcoms at about the same time, it really doesn’t matter to them that one’s technically gotten there on time and one didn’t. What does matter to them is that one is in their preferred digital format and the other isn’t. So in terms of penalizing applications, they’re more liable to be bothered by the paper file that took forever to find than the digital scores or transcripts that were just a little late.
So I’ve just submitted…and I’ve made a mistake.
It happens; you won’t be the first and you definitely won’t be the last. But first, do some damage evaluation — how severe was this mistake? Did you completely mismatch the organization name and description of an extracurricular? Did you mess up your Social Security number? Or did you just misspell something?
The rule of thumb here is to leave it be unless it is a mistake that will cause something to be missing from your application. With the wrong SSN, colleges will not be able to find and identify you. Mismatching the names of your ECs can result in you losing credibility when adcoms can’t recognize the organizations that you belong to. The difference between “privilege” and “privelege,” on the other hand — while not a great mistake to have on your app — does not keep the adcoms from knowing the information you were trying to convey.
If you’ve made a serious mistake, email the admissions office with a list of your corrections (and be sure to proofread your application properly this time). Be sure to include your full name and your Common App ID so that they can easily locate your app.
Don’t send a follow-up for minor mistakes like word choice or spelling; it makes you look petty and will annoy the staff members who are processing and reading your application. Don’t send a second email of corrections after the first one. And don’t resubmit the Common App a second time to your intended colleges — this just makes things twice as confusing. Calm down and be patient; at this point, freaking out and sending multiple emails will only worsen the situation.
Okay, I’ve submitted everything and it looks fine. But I think the stress of procrastination is keeping me from calming down. I’m freaking out!
If you’ve filled out your app to the best of your ability and submitted it within a reasonable time, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. You’ve done the best you could with the situation you have.
At the end of the day, it helps to remember that adcoms are people too — people who were likely once in your shoes, applying for college and scrambling to meet deadlines. They’re not alien to what you’re going through. Though they may be annoyed by the effects of your procrastination (the extra emails they have to read, the waiting time for scores and transcripts), it’s still the content of your application and the person you are that plays the biggest role in your admissions decision. Minor logistical annoyances definitely don’t play in your favor, but if your essays, extracurriculars, scores, and grades are all fairly strong, they are far from being a dealbreaker.