Twitter and the Common App Crash

Well, the 1/1 Common Application deadline has come and gone, and I wanted to share a few of the reflections I had on this oh-so-stressful day for oh-so-many applicants.

The first reflection is this: submission struggles are elevated to a particularly interesting level due to the advent and ubiquity of Twitter.

Picture yourself in this scenario. It’s 11:45pm and the application is due at midnight. You have one remaining college application to submit, and it’s the dream college app. Why have you waited so long? Maybe you procrastinated, but maybe, because this is your dream college, your perfectionistic tendencies took over and you read and re-read the essay countless times throughout the hours and days and weeks preceding this moment. You’ve deleted the contractions for formality before reinserting them for conversational voice countless times, and even now are paranoid about whether you’ve used too many semicolons. But now it’s 11:45pm and you have to give in – you have to submit. And then you try to log in to your Common Application account…and you can’t.

Since Twitter entered our world, the following reaction has increased in size and vigor. As that same high school senior, research colleges and submitting applications via the wonders of the Internet, you certainly have a Twitter handle. What do you do when you see the clock clicking down on your chances to submit your application to your dream college on-time, and over and over again, the Common Application website tells you that you’ve entered the wrong login information, or that the page you are trying to load has, once again, failed to load? If you haven’t done so already, you open your Twitter account in a new tab, share your feelings, and absorb the commiseration of your thousands of peers experiencing the exact same problem.

From 11:45pm till about 2:35am (both EST), the Common Application website was in a gridlock, with students frantically refreshing and reloading pages until eventually, they were able to get through. Or, as the swarm on Twitter revealed, not. But what Twitter provided – even for myself, a counselor who feels very invested in not only my own students, but in the coming-of-age thought processes that the application process can trigger for every student – was a community of support. Yes, often angry raging, but the kind of angry raging that feels like someone understands me, that I’m not the only person going through this, and that somehow makes it better. As one applicant wrote:

The second reflection is this: you’re not the only one. For counselors like myself, of course, it’s also a stressful day. However, I think that the people for whom it’s most stressful are the people who work at CommonApp. In the early afternoon on January 1, Common App tweeted that it was receiving 7-10 requests for assistance per minute. At that time, honestly, I can’t imagine what sort of help students were seeking. There were no problems with the website and the early application periods had given Common App the chance to fix the glitchiness of CA4. But if 7-10 requests per minute were happening at that point, I can’t fathom how many requests they were getting when the website crashed at 11:45pm EST. The level of hatred directed at Common App was pretty impressive during those dark (literally) hours. I don’t know how many people work for Common App, but I’d guess that it’s a large number, and I’d also guess that at least one night per year, many if not all of them are required to work through the night.

I find it sad that the very people who were working frantically all day and into the night to help as many students as possible are those most demonized on Twitter. Through Twitter, one group bonded over their shared struggles, but at least as a part of that bonding, lambasted others. It’s both sad and amazing, the power of alterity in it’s ability to create a bond.

But these reflections aside, there’s another important piece of the puzzle at play here. High school students aren’t privy to this because they only work on applications in a single year, but counselors like myself, people and the Common App, and admissions officers around the country all know that the deadline is never strict. There are always glitches, always mistakes, always technical problems that unfairly impact one or another student’s ability to submit on time. The 1/1 deadline is a deadline. But if disaster strikes, the whole team will be sympathetic.

A side product of the increasing competitiveness of college admissions is the vision that admissions officers are “gatekeepers” who are more interested in judging and rejecting 90% of their applicants than in grudgingly accepting 10% who barely pass their rigorous examination. For many schools, those numbers are accurate, but (most) admissions officers could not be less like that description. Most admissions officers, in fact, are saddened when they know they’ll have to reject a student. These admissions officers go to battle in committee to convince their peers to accept students, sometimes successful, and sometimes not. Admissions offices want their applicants to succeed, and they’ll do what they can each and every year to help students become applicants through successfully submitted applications.

This year, even with the new CA4, was no different. And Common App set the tone by offering a statement in partnership with all member colleges that January 2nd applications would likewise be accepted.

But then school after school poured in with their terse, but sympathetic offerings.





Takeaway points:
1) Don’t procrastinate.
2) Stop your perfectionism at least the day before the deadline. Such over-analysis really does not help.
3) Take responsibility for #1 and #2.
4) Remember that Common App AND the colleges that you’re targeting are really, authentically, working hard and sacrificing any semblance of a New Year’s celebration to help you.

I love my work. It’s powerfully rewarding because of the deep relationships I get to build with talented high school seniors, hopefully guiding them to deepen their understanding of their value systems and goals. But with those rewards come negatives. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all fall in the busiest weeks of the year. For me, these are always holidays, but never vacations. And the same is true for the people working at Common App. Give them some respect.

But if at some level, you really, viscerally need to see some venting, you’ll have a friend (or a hundred) on Twitter.

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