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Answers to Common FAQs About the Common App

High school students across the country are busily wrapping up their Common Apps this month to make the first round of deadlines in a college-application season that, for many, will not end until Dec. 31.

So much for the plan to do it over the summer. The reality is that there will be many late nights ahead for applicants, which means last-minute questions and the potential for errors. So I asked Scott Anderson, director of Common Application Inc. in Arlington, Va., about some of the common mistakes and FAQS that the support center at the Common Application for Undergraduate Admissions receives.

1. Students often forget to preview the application, which allows them to see exactly what the college will see. Once they hit "submit," they cannot retrieve the application—but they don't discover errors until it's too late. However, students can create up to 10 versions of their application. So, if they want to fix a mistake, revise an essay, or add more activities for their next submission, they can. Anderson notes that 97 percent of applicants have three or fewer versions, and about 90 percent just have the original.

2. The application, supplement, and payment submissions are three distinct processes. Students sometimes misunderstand this and think that submitting a payment or supplement also submits the application. Their "My Colleges" page will always show the correct status for each submission at each college. Some students fail to check this information and incorrectly assume a college has received an application when it has not.

3. If counselors are submitting their school forms online, the forms will not arrive at the destination college until and unless the student submits a Common App to that college. About two-thirds of member colleges accept alternative applications, so it's important for students to communicate with counselors if they elect not to submit a Common App.

4. How long can that essay be again? Because the essay is an uploaded document, the online system cannot enforce a word count. Nonetheless, applicants are expected to adhere to 250-500 words.

5. Even if counselors and teachers elect to mail school forms, students can still submit online. And it doesn't matter which is submitted first—the Common App or the school forms.

6. If students have questions, the support team usually responds in about 35 minutes. The email responses come from the "commonapp.net" domain. Anderson says that sometimes SPAM filters can get in the way, especially for America Online users. All applicants and school officials should make sure that email domain is on their safe list.

This year, 463 colleges and universities are accepting applications through the Common App. Anderson expects as many as 3 million applications will be filed through Common App this year, up from 2.39 million in 2010-11.

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