Top 5 College Application Mistakes to Avoid
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. Below is College Transitions’ list of top 5 college application mistakes that we frequently see applicants make.
Let’s start with the most obvious mistake—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.
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. Be professional
Okay, we know that your Partystud1@hotmail.com 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.
Your best bet is to open a new account that is as close to your legal name as possible: FirstName.LastName@whatever.com. 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). Use every open space on an application to reveal something new and 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.
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 an 18-year-old you may be, you’re still a teenager. The great majority of your resume-worthy achievements lie ahead.
5. Keep mom and dad on a leash
Speak to any group of college admissions officials and tales of overly-involved parents abound and make no mistake, excessive parental intervention can harm your admissions chances. E-mails and phone calls to the admissions office should come exclusively from you, the applicant, not your parents. Your application should not show any traces of mom or dad’s handwriting or middle-aged writing styles.
For a further explanation of an appropriate role for parents in the admissions process, revisit our previous blog on the subject.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).