Mary Mei Longano, left, and Braden Longstreth, neighbors in Montgomery County, Md., have been immersed in college applications. (Madeleine Longano)

Spare a thought on this Halloween for teenagers in your neighborhood who might be wearing a haunted look. The specter that stalks them is not any ordinary ghostly apparition. It is the deadline looming Wednesday for college applications.

With that in mind, Braden Longstreth took a break from his essay-writing labors the other day to carve a pumpkin that captures the stark reality of the moment. The 17-year-old from Bethesda, Md., a senior at Walt Whitman High School, created a jack-o’-lantern likely to resonate with college-bound students across America. The face declares: “COMMON APP DUE NOV 1.”

Call it App Anxiety.

The Common Application is an online portal that hundreds of thousands of students use every year to apply to selective colleges. Another application portal is called the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. Wednesday is a key deadline for those who want to apply early in their senior year of high school. There are more deadlines later in the fall and winter. Colleges and counselors are urging students everywhere not to get spooked, assuring them that they can and will find a school that is a good match. But that is scant comfort to teenagers writing all of those essays for certain prestigious schools that will turn down seven, eight or even nine out of every 10 applicants.

“The process is stressful, considering the magnitude of the situation, as well as the fact that I have a full load of school work on top of that, but the application itself I haven’t found to be too difficult,” Longstreth told The Washington Post in an email Sunday night. “I have yet to formally submit any applications, but I have written three essays for the Common Application and one for the Coalition Application.” Longstreth said he hoped to submit all his applications before Halloween night.

His friend Mary Mei Longano, who lives around the corner from Longstreth, was busy writing one of her own college essays on Saturday while he carved. Madeleine Longano took pictures of her daughter, Longstreth and the jack-o’-lantern, and sent them to The Washington Post after reading an article Sunday about the pressure of college essay writing. The two students have known each other since they were not quite 2 years old.

Mary Mei Longano, 17, a senior at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, said she is applying to eight colleges, three with applications due Wednesday.

“I’m currently stressing out about the whole process,” she wrote in an email. She said she has to write five supplemental essays — answering specific questions from various colleges — in addition to her main Common App essay. As of Sunday evening, she said she had finished only two of the six required essays. “So I won’t be joining my friends for Halloween celebrations because I’ll be frantically trying to finish up my applications.”

The two teenagers did not disclose which schools are the objects of their interest. But that hardly seems unusual. To publish in advance where they are applying could risk a Halloween jinx.

Update 2 p.m. Tuesday: Longstreth said he, like many others around the country, ran into a snag late Monday when the Common App hit some technical difficulties.

Common App officials tweeted at 10:38 p.m. Monday that they were taking the site offline for two hours to fix the problem. At 2:03 a.m. on Halloween, the Common App tweeted that the issue had been resolved and apologized for “the frustration these complications have caused.”

A Common App spokeswoman told The Post that as of 1:49 p.m. Tuesday, 104,227 apps and 723,419 recommendations had been submitted successfully in the previous 24 hours. She said that there had been “unusually large and intermittent spikes in system activity” late Monday, with students, counselors and teachers encountering significant delays as they sought to file application and recommendation materials.

Longstreth reported some Happy Halloween news: “I got in all my applications when it came back up around 2 am.” 


At left, a pumpkin carved by a student applying to college: Braden Longstreth of Montgomery County, Md. (Madeleine Longano)