Technical Pitfalls of Online Applications

By Ryan Hickey + updated on January 25th, 2011

Modern technology has made many things much easier, from communication and travel to business processes and finances. The admissions process is no different, as applicants nowadays can take advantage of streamlined standardized testing, detailed admissions websites, and even online applications.

All of that technological progress, however, has not been without occasional glitches. And for our purposes, one of the most important technical problems that pops up in today’s application process involves essays.

Applicants who take advantage of online applications do not write their essays on the application itself. Rather, the essay is written in a word-processing document, and then copy/pasted into the application when the time comes to submit it. This would seem to be a very simple process, but problems can still occur.

If you’re using an online application, you should be aware of problems that can pop up in an essay that is copy/pasted into a text box on that application. These fall into two main categories.

1. Clipping. Even if your word-processing program says that your essay is within the allotted length limit, you need to double-check this once you paste your essay into the applic

And that’s exactly what you might find. Some online applications have set up their essay text boxes to accept only a set number of words or characters. And if that text box counts the words or characters in your essay differently than your word-processing program did (trust me, it happens), you might find the end of your essay simply missing. Once you paste your essay into a text box, take time to read it all the way through so you can make sure everything is there.

2. Artifacts. No I’m not talking about relics left behind from ancient civilizations. Instead, I’m talking about those weird-looking characters that sometimes appear in text where a semicolon, quotation mark, or other punctuation mark is supposed to be. When you copy/paste an essay into a text box, such artifacts can sometimes appear. As with clipping, the only way to be sure this hasn’t happened (and to fix it if it has) is to read through your entire essay after it’s been pasted in the text box. You’ll be glad you did.

So the moral of the story here, just as it is with so many aspects of the essay-writing process, is to be vigilant and proofread, proofread, proofread. Whenever you transfer your essay from one setting to another, especially from a word document to an application form, take the time to read through all of your work to make sure it’s perfect. It’s definitely worth the effort.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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