The Most Common College Application Mistakes
College applications can be complicated. Mistakes happen. But with careful attention to a few important details, you can avoid the most common college application mistakes.
Trying to be a Well-Rounded Student
Too often students are told that they need to be well-rounded. In addition to achieving a perfect GPA with stellar ACT or SAT test scores, they are supposed to play a musical instrument, letter in a sport, be captain of the math team, organize a club and volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
Colleges don’t want well-rounded students, so much as a well-rounded class. If everyone at a college played the piano, it would be boring. To assemble an orchestra, you need a variety of instruments.
Depth matters more than breadth. Colleges will be able to tell if you are passionate about an activity based on how long you have stuck with it. Genuine interest in an activity starts years before the senior year in high school. Did you have a leadership role? Did you win any awards, especially in statewide or national competitions? How did you make a difference in the activity? How does the activity relate to your other interests?
Providing Too Little Detail
Almost every college application has a question that asks, “Why this college?” Too often, students give a generic answer.
If you could have written the same essay about another college, then it is not a good essay. It is too superficial.
Personalize the essay. Say why you are interested in this college. Why are you a good fit for this college and why is this college a good fit for you? Give specific details that are tailored to this particular college. Is there something about the college’s academic programs, student activities and other unique qualities that are a really good match for you and your interests?
A good story has details. Think about answers to these questions: what, where, when, how and why. Ask why, again and again, to dig deeper and eventually reach a personal answer.
Providing Too Much Information
Sometimes, students share too much information in their essays.
Here is a list of things you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t overshare
- Don’t write about topics that will give a bad impression
- Don’t write about drug and alcohol use or criminal activity
- Don’t write about how you hate your teacher, your parents or your brother or sister
- Don’t write about bodily functions or other disgusting topics
The college admissions staff doesn’t want to know about these topics. Don’t put an image in their head that they will want to erase. Writing an essay like this demonstrates bad judgment. It can easily move your application from the admit pile to the reject pile.
Not Positioning Yourself Properly
When working on your college applications, think about how you are positioning yourself.
Why should the college invest in your future, as opposed to the future of another student? What makes you different from other students? What makes you unique? What is your superpower? What are you famous for?
Don’t be narcissistic. It’s not all about you. Good grades and test scores are not enough. How will you contribute to the college community? Why does the college need to admit you? Write about your impact on other people and their impact on you.
Another common problem is a lack of ambition. Don’t be boring. What is your vision for where you will be five or 10 years after you graduate? Avoid being too grandiose. Too many students say they want to solve world hunger, cure cancer or eliminate poverty without being specific as to how they will accomplish this goal.
Skipping Optional Questions
Banish the word optional from your vocabulary. There’s no such thing as an optional question or interview. Think of the optional questions and interviews as a test to see how much you want to go to this college. If you are really interested, you will take advantage of every opportunity to show why you and the college are a good fit for each other. Completing the optional items demonstrates a greater interest in the college.
Answer optional questions if they apply to you. Schedule an optional interview if you can.
Failing to Proofread Your Applications
College admissions staff will evaluate your written application. If it is filled with spelling and grammar errors or you didn’t read and follow the directions, it will give them a bad impression of you. You are judged by the way you write.
Do not rely on word processing software to correct spelling and grammar errors for you. Most word processing software does not correct valid spelling errors where one correctly spelled word is substituted for another. Examples include “its” vs. “it’s,” “there” vs. “their” and “they’re,” and “principle” vs. “principal.”
Print your essay and proofread the printed copy. Reading your essay out loud can help identify problems. Any place where you stumble, mark an X for later review.
Also, avoid thesauritis, a dreaded disease where you use fancy words to try to impress the reader with your command of the English language. Don’t use big words if you don’t know how to use them correctly and precisely. Don’t use a big word when a short word works. This will come across as stilted and not authentic.
Forgetting to Click on Submit
After you complete an online application, you still need to submit it to the college. If you don’t click the “submit” button, the college will not receive your application.
This never was a problem when college applications were completed on paper. When a college application was complete, you’d make a trip to the post office to mail it to the college. With modern technology, though, comes a modern problem.
It is easy to forget to click the submit button. Perhaps you’ve gotten so used to clicking on the “save” button that you click on it instead of the “submit” button. This isn’t a problem with the Cappex Application, since the Cappex Application automatically saves each question as it is completed. But still, some students seem to be waiting for something before submitting their applications.
You do not need to wait until your teachers upload their letters of recommendation or your school counselor sends your high school transcripts to submit your college applications. Don’t wait until you’ve taken the SAT or ACT to submit your application. Submit your application now so the college can notify you later if anything is missing from your application.
Some colleges are very strict about deadlines. If you’re even a few minutes late, they will not consider your application. Other colleges might be a little more flexible, especially if part of the application must be sent by mail. A deadline is a deadline, especially when most applications are submitted online almost instantaneously.
Unless you have a good excuse, most colleges will not consider applications submitted after the deadline.
Deadlines usually are based on the time zone in which the college is located. If the college is located on the east coast, and you are located on the west coast, a midnight deadline means 9 p.m. Pacific Time. If you submit your application at midnight Pacific Time, you will have submitted it three hours late.
Don’t procrastinate. If you wait until the last minute to submit your application, you might end up missing the deadline. Sometimes, students have difficulty uploading essays or encounter other technological problems. It can take time to troubleshoot application glitches.
Getting your applications in early, even if you don’t apply early action or early decision, can be a great way of demonstrating greater interest in the college. It avoids problems and will help you relax during the holidays.
Failing to Follow-Up
When you submit your application, it is not the end of the application process.
Follow-up with your teachers to make sure they submit letters of recommendation. Remind them a week or two before the deadline.
Follow-up with the colleges to make sure your application materials have been received and your file is complete.
Read the email you receive from the college. It can be very important. The email might mention that an important part of your application is missing.
Continue to perform well in school. Senioritis can affect your mid-year grades, which can affect whether you are admitted. If you goof off too much, your offer of admission could be rescinded.
Acting Out Online
Don’t treat your social media accounts like a private diary. Many colleges have Facebook and Twitter accounts and they expect prospective students to friend and follow them. They will Google your name, so you should do the same.
Clean up your online presence. Delete inappropriate posts from your timeline. Delete offensive tweets that demonstrate a bad attitude. Review your other social media accounts. Use a professional email address.
More colleges are looking at their applicants online. If there are any red flags, it can lead to a rejection. Harvard University revoked offers of admission to more than ten students who had behaved badly online.