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New Year's Day crush shuts down Common Application

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It wasn’t altogether unexpected, but for those who waited until the last minute to file their college applications, the New Year’s Day crush virtually shut down the Common Application in the hours before midnight.

"Between 11:35 p.m. Eastern and 2:35 a.m. Eastern some users had difficulty using the system, particularly during the first of those three hours,” posted the Common Application on its Facebook page.

But several reports on social media suggested that the problems started much earlier and affected more than “some” users.

“…people have been reporting problems way before ‘20 minutes before midnight,’” said one frustrated applicant. “I began experiencing problems—though not as severe as a half an hour before midnight—around 10 pm.”

After a difficult launch on August 1st, the Common Application called in Amazon to work on servers and otherwise geared up to tackle what is historically the biggest day of the year for procrastinating applicants—New Year’s Day.

And until last night, things had been going fairly smoothly.

In fact, Rob Killion executive director of the Common Application told Inside Higher Ed that the system processed 154,904 applications on New Year’s Eve—nine percent more than last year.

Counting Writing Supplements and recommendations, Killion reported that the total amounted to 5.23 submissions per second all day long.

But as the clock ticked down to midnight the next evening, servers began to slow and applicants were unable to login or produce print previews of their applications. Data disappeared and green checks failed to appear, as applicants became increasingly anxious about meeting deadlines.

The frustrations were compounded by expected delays in processing credit cards and confusion about signatures and Writing Supplements.

While the Common App managed to get the system back on line in three hours, many last-minute applicants were up all night and took their anger out in posts on Facebook and College Confidential. And many still reported problems with missing data throughout the night and into the following morning.

“…this is unacceptable,” complained a student from Portland. “Error detections everywhere, nonrecognition of complete applications, and inability to submit signatures...”

But some students remained calm and tried to extend a helping hand by offering various solutions to shared problems.

“If anyone is having trouble with this, feel free to message me on Facebook since I've got it figured out,” offered a young man in Texas, somewhere around 4 a.m.

And several colleges, including the University of Chicago and Tufts, which had been following the situation closely, responded by promptly emailing applicants that deadlines would be extended.

Other colleges anticipating problems in advance of New Year’s Day made earlier decisions to extend deadlines. Cornell extended to January 9, while Lehigh extended to January 10.

Fifty minutes after going back online, the Common Application tried to sooth ruffled feathers by assuring applicants who were still on Facebook that “…all member colleges with a January 1 deadline will accept any applications submitted promptly today.”

And later posted, "Please be assured that we have safeguards in place that permit application submissions after the deadline, and we have been in communication with our member colleges to explain the situation."

For those still unable to submit applications, the Common Application promises to work "...quickly through the tickets that built up over the last few hours." If you are still waiting for a response from the Help Desk, "...you can expect a reply shortly."

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