For those familiar with the Common Application, portal to more than 500 college applications, the flaws and foibles of a most imperfect tool are self evident.

To the unsuspecting and newly initiated -- as almost all high school seniors are, it being their first foray into the wild and crazy world of college admissions -- Common App is fraught with pitfalls and hazards, not to mention the occasional stealth essay.

Take, for instance, the Activities section, where a simple click to open, without making a single entry, results in a green check mark next to the category, signifying that the section has been completed. To think, a student could, technically, submit her Common Application without having listed even one extracurricular, work or volunteer experience. Imagine that.

Then there's the trouble that often accompanies attempts to copy -- say, your essay -- from a Word document, and paste into one of the spaces provided for that purpose in the Common App platform (watch the gap). It doesn't always work, much to the frustration of students and parents alike. [HINT: Rather than to retype within the confines of the Common App box, try Notepad.]

And now an old issue raising it's still ugly head, this despite Common App's $8 million renovation (which most of us would have been delighted to similarly mess up for a mere $4 million). Apparently, Common App develops an intermittent distaste, from time to time, for particular browsers, leaving students hanging while the spinning wheel spins, deleting information and data thought to have been saved, or summarily kicking applicants offline when they press "Continue," without having saved a darn thing. [And you just finished entering all ten of the allotted activities. Ouch!]

Common App's antagonist du jour is Safari, the browser utilized by Apple's Mac Books. [HINT: Try using Internet Explorer or Mozilla Foxfire, at least until Common App decides it doesn't much care for those browsers, either!]

Other sundry issues have cropped up on the latest version of Common App, the so called CA4. [Where are C3PO and R2D2 when we need them.] Missing college Writing sections. College supplements that appear, disappear, and may or may not reappear. Credit card payment snafus. [Gee. They can't even get the part right where you have to pay!] No doubt there are other quirks and kinks, some being worked out, a few having been resolved, and still others, or so we are told by the gurus at Common App, that will have to "wait until next year." [Maybe another $8 million would help expedite the fixes needed to bring Common App into the 20th Century, now that we are well entrenched in the 21st!]

Ah, to err is human. To really screw things up, you have to be a nearly monopolistic pseudo not-for-profit corporation raking in millions!

Bottom line: Be wary and aware of Common App's many faults (earthquake prone regions don't have as many faults), both the open and notorious and, most especially, those that may be hidden from view. [Just try finding that PDF Preview of the Common App.] And be ever so careful BEFORE you hit that "Submit" button, from which there is no return from the eternal abyss. 

View and review. Section by section. Line by line. Entry by painstaking entry. Then, do it all again. Better yet, bring in a second set of eyes (or a third), if not an extra helping hand, to guide you through the trenches, detours, and secret passages of the new, yet still mysterious and mind-boggling, Common App. 

Remember, folks. You get but one chance to apply to the colleges you have selected. Don't just do it. Do it correctly, and with a view toward actually getting in, the many shortcomings of Common App notwithstanding!
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Plan. Prepare. Prevail!  

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