5 College Application Mistakes to Avoid

December 27, 2023

college application mistakes

With the majority of college application deadlines just days away, it’s important to perform a thorough review of your applications to help avoid making obvious mistakes that can negatively impact your chances for admission. When you’re done with that, do it again and then have a second and third set of eyes do the same. Serious colleges want serious applicants, and a short-sighted error can spell disaster for your admission prospects. Wondering about typos, college essay formatting mistakes, or how much information is too much? Below is College Transitions’ list of the top five college application mistakes that we frequently see applicants make.

1. Typos and Formatting

Let’s start with one of the most obvious college application mistakes—the dreaded typo. In life, they happen. Autocorrected texts can turn your “dear friend” into your “dead friend” and bad grammar can mean the difference between knowing your crap and knowing you’re crap. However, you can easily avoid these types of college essay mistakes with careful proofreading.

Additionally, one of the most common college application typos we see is regarding capitalization. The standard rules apply — take care not to capitalize words in the middle of sentences, and be sure to capitalize proper nouns, like street addresses and names.

Finally, preview the formatting of your application and essays before you submit. You wouldn’t turn in a paper with crazy spacing or inconsistent indentation, so be sure to avoid these essay mistakes on your college application as well.

Reread your application, then reread it again, then ask everyone you know to read it. Because when it comes to grammar or dandruff in your 1980s perm, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

2. Lack of Professionalism

Okay, we know that your [email protected] account has served you well ever since 8th grade. While others in your social group traded in their hotmail accounts for Gmail eons ago, you’ve held steady. You’re not partystud 2, 34, or 79—you’re partystud1. We encourage you to keep your goofy/offensive/nonsensical email accounts and use them without shame…except when you are emailing prospective colleges.

College Application Mistakes to Avoid (Continued)

Your best bet is to open a new account that is as close to your legal name as possible: [email protected]. If your name is Mike Jones you might have to add a 6-digit number after your name but that’s okay. And don’t worry, partystud1 may have to lie dormant for a few months, but he’ll entertain himself—he’s partystud1!

3. Beating a Dead Horse

Of course, we’re using a cliché here and not referring to the actual postmortem equine abuse (tip: that wouldn’t look good on an app either). Admissions officers do not like to read the same thing over and over. In other words, don’t weave the same tale of overcoming adversity through field hockey into every essay topic.

Real estate on an application is as valuable as Park Place. Don’t treat it like Baltic or Mediterranean Avenue (even if hotels are cheaper to build and it’s all part of your grand plan to be a Monopoly slumlord). It’s a common mistake to leave important information off the table, so be sure to use every open space on a college application to reveal or reinforce something important about who you are. That’s what it’s there for.

4. The Never-Ending Activity Page

“Oh, you organized a potato sack race at your family reunion when you were ten? Welcome to Stanford, young man!” says the man in the tweed jacket as he hands a teenage boy a celebratory cigar.

College Application Mistakes to Avoid (Continued)

Perhaps this absurd, never-gonna-happen scenario is the fantasy driving applicants who submit activity pages and resumes longer than that of the average head of state. Keep your resumes/activity pages short but sweet, which also happens to be the title of a delightful episode of Different Strokes where Arnold Drummond searches for love. Colleges know that no matter how accomplished of an 18-year-old you may be, you’re still a teenager. The great majority of your resume-worthy achievements lie ahead.

5. Overinvolved Parents

Speak to any group of college admissions officials and tales of overly involved parents abound. Make no mistake: excessive parental intervention can harm your college admissions chances. E-mails and phone calls to the admissions office should come exclusively from you, the applicant — not your parents.

Additionally, your application should not show any traces of Mom or Dad’s middle-aged writing styles. Eagle-eyed admissions officers can spot the sections of your essay that your parents wrote from a mile away. Should this occur, your admissions prospects at that particular college may not recover, no matter how impressive you are. Remember, admissions officers want to learn more about you.

If you’re a parent, check out our suggestions for how you can support your teen through the college application process.

Final Thoughts — College Application Mistakes to Avoid

How you present yourself on your college application is of the utmost importance to your admissions prospects. A typo-free, correctly formatted, and thoughtfully crafted college application can make the difference between an acceptance and a denial. As such, staying mindful of the tips in this blog can help you avoid mistakes and put your best foot forward in the college admissions gauntlet.

Looking for more college application advice? You might consider checking out our books on the subject: