Cree Bautista’s application for next year’s freshman class at New York University isn’t due until Jan. 1, but Cree, an incoming high school senior from Pflugerville, Tex., was not taking any chances.

Just after 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 1 — when this year’s version of the Common Application, the passport to N.Y.U. and more than 400 other institutions, was first posted on the Web — Cree sat down at the computer in his parents’ bedroom and began filling out the form. The room was dark, because they were sleeping.

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