College Application Website Went Down as Deadline Looms

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Flags and posters promoting hundreds of colleges at the counseling office at Midwood High School in Brooklyn. CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times

For thousands of students anxiously trying to apply to colleges, it must have felt like disaster: Just before midnight on Monday, with barely 48 hours to go before the early deadline at many colleges, the web portal used by more than a million students a year started balking, and then shut down completely.

The Common Application, the nonprofit organization that runs the web portal, posted on Twitter Monday night that, because of “technical difficulties,” it was taking the application system off line for two hours to make repairs.

Many students, admissions officers, guidance counselors and teachers reacted to the shutdown with snark and a strong dose of gallows humor. Many of them postponed their bedtimes.

Were Russian hackers to blame? That was a popular joke among admissions officers, according to Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon. “Either the Russians, or one of their competitors that’s just jealous of them,” Mr. Rawlins said on Tuesday.

University officials were taking the problem seriously, he said, but “on the other hand, we figure if we can laugh with them, it will reduce the stress” for prospective students.

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Applicants were not shy about venting in response to the Common App outage. “Scariest thing that’s ever happened to me on Halloween,” wrote one Twitter follower named Michelle.

Another person, using the handle Lost Hussein, was so outraged by the evident failure of digital technology in a supremely digital age that only capital letters would do: “Does AMAZON Shut Down Hours Before Christmas? Does it Crash?”

Jennifer Dart, a spokeswoman for the Common App, said on Tuesday that the portal ran into trouble because of “unusually large and intermittent spikes in system activity.” She offered an apology to all those affected, saying that “the last thing we want is to add any more stress” to the college application process.

According to the Common App Twitter feed, the portal was down from 11:30 p.m. Eastern time Monday until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Some users, however, said problems persisted after that time.

Ms. Dart said the site uses Amazon Web Services to allow it to handle high volumes of traffic when needed, but “what we experienced yesterday was not a server capacity issue.”

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