Application Mistakes to Avoid

Your college application is the one chance you will have to put your best foot forward, prove your maturity, attention to detail, quality of workmanship, and academic competitiveness, and convince a university or college that it should accept you over all the rest. With limited seats and financial aid available, your dedication to properly filling in your application and avoiding costly mistakes is essential!

Applications Mistakes to Avoid Guidance tr

Common Application Mistakes To Avoid At All Costs

Deadlines will differ for different schools, for different types of applications (early action, early decision, regular admissions, rolling admissions, etc…), for institutional, federal, and state financial aid, for scholarships, and more. Missing a deadline can not only result in a quick rejection letter but may also cost you any financial aid that would have been awarded otherwise!

TIP: Students should maintain a detailed calendar with all deadline dates, mailing dates, and even the deadlines to request transcripts and recommendation letters, which take at least 2 and 4 weeks, respectively. TRY TO APPLY AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE to give yourself room for unexpected delays.

A mistake on something as important as your college application sends the immediate message that you are not taking the process seriously, are careless, and most importantly are not ready or academically mature enough for college. With thousands of qualified applications coming in for a limited number of spots, admissions representatives are looking for a reason to reject you…DON’T GIVE THEM ONE!

TIP: Start working on application materials early so you never have to rush. Then, spell check everything, not just with a word processing program, but also with a dictionary! Realize that the computer spell check will not pick up as wrong a misused word spelled correctly such as the word ‘there’ if you meant ‘their’ or ‘break’ if you meant ‘brake’ etc… Even check that you spelled your name or intended major correctly! Sometimes reading each word backward or printing material out to proofread helps you catch mistakes. Be sure to proof read for grammatical mistakes multiple times as well.

When you think everything is perfect, let your parents, friends, teachers, or counselor look over it too. Yes, it’s THAT big of a deal!

Like spelling and grammar mistakes, being unable to follow simple, written directions is a huge flag to an admissions representative. If an application says to include a maximum of two letters of recommendation… they mean it! If the application asks for the county you live in, do not list the country, and vice versa.

Tip: First, read everything more than once for understanding. Secondly, if you really feel one or two additional recommendation letters, samples of your student work or other ancillary information not requested may strengthen your application, ALWAYS call and speak directly to your admissions counselor for that college or university first and ask if adding this to your application will be permitted. NEVER JUST ASSUME IT WILL BE WELCOMED!

“But…a letter of recommendation can never hurt my chances, right?” Wrong! Letters of recommendation provide admissions officers valuable information that may not be apparent from grades and test scores alone and what they say, both directly as well as indirectly, certainly influences admissions decisions. In the end, an extraordinary letter is earned through nothing less than hard work. And just in case you think a busy admissions office will not have the time to read over these evaluations, think again! An institution would not request an evaluation if they did not care about its contents.

Remember that teachers will not lie on your behalf as to not act unethically and risk loosing their future credibility. Understand too that though teachers will only agree to write if they wish to recommend you, negative performance or behavior on your part may have to be discussed. As you see, serious deliberation should go into deciding who may be best to ask for a letter and keep in mind that what matters to college and unviersity admissions departments is not only what is said in an evaluation, but also what is left unsaid. Similarly, admissions counselors will judge who you asked or perhaps who you did not or could not ask as well. Choose the secondary teacher, and by that they mean high school teacher only, who can say as many good things about you as a student and school community member as possible!

Tip: Students should carefully asses which of the faculty can speak most highly about their work ethic, performance quality, intellectual abilities, contributions to class discussions, leadership skills, respect for others, maturity level, time management skills, passion for learning, talents, ethical behavior, positive response to obstacles and frustrations etc… The best letters and evaluations are, therefore, from faculty members who can provide first-hand and highly specific insights and examples as to who you are as a high school student both in and out of the classroom, especially during your years as an upperclassman!

Main letters of recommendation should also, unless specifcally requested, only come from teachers of academic subjects (foreign languages, language arts, mathematics, science, social science) and not from teachers of non-academic electives such as the practical, fine, and performancing arts or phys-ed and sponsors or coaches of sports activities and school clubs. Admission committee want to be assure that you will be able to handle the high-level coursework and academic demands awaiting you in college.

Students should also never ask middle or elementary school personnel to write recommendations. Even middle school was FAR to long ago for recommendations to carry any meaning to a college admissions office. As a highly respected counselor once mentioned “any admission officer would get quite a laugh out of a middle school recommendation. In fact, we even tell our students that 10th grade teachers should be used rarely, unless those teachers now have the student again as a junior or senior!” This only makes sense when you think about it. Colleges and universities want to get to know the current young adult who is applying, not the child you once were four to six years ago when parents, teachers, and administrators had more contorl over your thoughts and actions, and when your coursework was still unable to speak of your abilites to handle college-level academic and time-managemnet challenges. Having only middle school or elementary recommendation also sends another HUGE red flag to admissions committees who will wonder why there was not a single teacher over 3 years of high school who was willing or able to recommend you. Remember, what is not said directly can speak very loudly as well!

All recommendations and evaluations should, therefore, come from JUNIOR-YEAR TEACHERS whenever possible, though an earlier teacher of a very rigorous course such as an A.P. course may speak loudly IF you truly excelled and  stood out! Similarly, senior-year teacher recommendations can carry weight if you have had them as teachers at least once before! Any additional supplementary letters you may wish to add to your application should be included only if permission was granted by the college or university’s admissions office directly.

Writing a highly personalized, thought-provoking, concise yet memorable letter filled with specific examples can take a LONG time and may require many rewrites just as your best college essays do. Understand that recommendations should enhance your application and are not just a regurgitation of your transcript or resume as some may mistakingly believe. Letter can make a tremendous difference for they help paint the real picture of who you are and what you are capable of in the eyes of a fellow educational professional.

Waiting until the last minute means either you will end up with a less thorough, poor letter or that your letter will arrive late. After all, how can you expect an educator to worry about your deadlines and needs, when you do not show concern about the schedule and quality of work expected of this educator in return? Appreciate too that your teacher/administrator/counselor may be writing multiple letters for multiple students all in the same months and that two letters, even for the same student, are not 100% alike. This means that an educator being asked to write letters for even just five students’ ten college applications, may be writing up to 50 different letters alone! Imagine now if that educator is approached by even more students as is most likely the case.

Recommendation writing time is an additional duty added onto a faculty’s normal workload and job responsibilities that already run well into the afternoon and evening on most days. Understand then that letters take time and will get written in the order in which the official requests are received.

Tip: When requesting a letter of recommendation, use the correct forms, follow the directions carefully, give writers at least ONE MONTH time for every one to four letters needed, longer if you are asking for more than four letters, and be sure to explain in detail to the recommender where it is you are applying to and why so that they can try as much as possible to match your strength to that of the program you wish to gain entrance to. Remember, the more information you provide and the more time you give a person to write, the better results you will get!

The college essay is your chance to point out your true passions, personality, achievements, world views, goals, and desires. Schools will read them carefully! Essays should not be a laundry resume-like list of accomplishment already stated elsewhere in the application or on your transcripts and should not be filled with unmemorable, cliche statements admissions counselors hear every day in all the thousands of other letters they receive. Essays should be deeply personal and students need to spend a LOT of time preparing them. They should make a very strong and lasting impression that makes you stand out of the crowd! This does not mean though that they have to be the length of a novel either. If an application asks for a 500-word statement… they mean it! Do not estimate either! ACTUALLY COUNT your words and edit as needed.Also, be sure to answer the specific question that was asked and not go on a tangent! Colleges want to know you are able to listen, follow direction, and communicate clearly, effectively, and concisely.

Tip: Start your college essays early… months early even. Consult reference books on writing good college essays available at your local public library and local bookstores. You may also benefit from asking your friends, teachers, and family what they feel makes you so different from other applicants… Think of what stories symbolize who you are and highlight your uniqueness and interests. Be sure your interests match the school’s philosophy and programs of study. Reread them every few days and edit as you need both to fix grammar and spelling, but also to adjust length and strengthen your message. Make them moving, powerful, and unforgettable!

Finally, work closely with your teachers… Inquire if you are unsure of what the essay prompt is asking and NEVER send an essay in without having a few teachers read over each draft, including the final one, to give you advice on how to improve it still further. A really good essay is one that has morphed over many rewrites into an unforgettable masterpiece!

YOU are the one seeking admission, not your parents!  First, admissions officers can quickly tell if any writing was written by an adult and not the student. Secondly, admissions officers are looking to see if you are a mature, independent, responsible, and capable young ADULT! Yes, that day has arrived!!!

Having your parent talk on your behalf is another sure way to show admissions departments that you are not ready for the adult responsibilities that await you.

Tip: Seek advice from the adults who know you so well, but complete all material yourself. Finally, ALWAYS be the one to talk to or communicate with the admissions personnel. If you are nervous, you may want to practice what you will say first, but remember, they are human just like you and it is their job to help guide you through any questions you may have. If you are polite, clearly explain who you are, and elaborate well on what you are trying to accomplish or complete they will be delighted to hear from you. Be sure though to research the website carefully first to make sure the answers are not already made public… Asking questions that are already answered on the school’s website is another sure way to highlight that you have not done your homework and are not really that interested in this school to begin with.

Leaving a counselor in the dark can have serious consequences. Transcripts, teacher letters of recommendations, mid- and final-year reports and more will not get sent that should have. Furthermore, fewer mistakes or incomplete applications will be caught in time because nobody knew to follow up with colleges about them.

Tip: ALWAYS keep your counselor up-to-date with where you are sending application materials, what has already been sent, and what you are working on next! It is a good idea even to make a calendar with all pertinent deadlines clearly marked for you to follow and provide a copy of it to your counselor as well!

Nothing is worse than doing all the work of filling in an application and never hearing back from an institution only to learn later that they never received it in the first place! Many online applications allow you to save applications midway and return later. Be careful, however, not to forget to actually submit the final version once completed!

Tip: Make sure once you have finished an application online that you receive a CONFIRMATION that the institution received it such as a credit card receipt, an email, or a message on the page itself. Keep this record in your files. It doesn’t hurt to call the admissions office either and just verify that it was all received. Again, YOU call, not your parent or a counselor!

Applications may contain all sorts of boxes to check off, lines to sign on and date, statements of additional information and documents needed etc… Missing these can result in rejection or, at best, costly delays.

Tip: Make sure you READ and REVIEW EVERY LINE, making sure that everything has been completed before submitting an application. It may help to have your parent review it for you too.

Admission officers who choose to take a peak, may not think of you as having a stand-up, trustworthy, mature, and desirable character if they see you insulting and belittling other people, including friends, school personnel, parents, and even your own body, or bad mouthing and showing a lack of appreciation for academic organizations or other respectable social institutions. Remember, that a permanent record exists of anything you post and even if you have it password protected, others may gain access.

Tip: Be aware and concerned of how a stranger may interpret the comments and photos you post online and know that some organizations will be interested in judging what you write today as well as what you may have posted years ago. You may disagree with others and voice your opinions, but be careful to remain respectful and show you have a character deserving of respect at all times.

You may also want to ask your friends to refrain from inappropriate language or comments on your page and delete any that you feel will make it seem like you associate with individuals an admissions officer or even a future employer may find questionable in character. You’ve heard the saying “tell me what company you keep, and I will tell you who you are.” Nobody is going to give you the benefit of the doubt when there are so many other applicants to choose from without a stain on their character.

Nothing can cause a faster REJECTION to come your way than lying on an application. Yes, you want to put your best foot forward, but if something is weak in your application or if you have a bad grade or a stain on your disciplinary record, explain the reason for it truthfully when needed and never lie to make your application appear stronger. Admissions officers will cross check the information reported with high school officials and academic as well as disciplinary records.

Steeling parts of your admissions essay from other sources is another BIG no-no. Getting caught copying another’s words is a sure way to loose any chance of admittance. Nobody wants to accept someone who cannot be trusted or who is willing to commits illegal acts.

Finally, NEVER resort to blaming a teacher for your bad grade! Excuses tend to not work and serve only to highlight an applicant’s inability to overcome obstacles, lack of ability to maturely asses and take responsibility for his or her own role in failures, and lack of valuable coping skills.

Tip:    If you have messed up in the past, be honest, explain what you LEARNED from your mistakes, and share how you have grown into a better student/person because of it. If you never did anything ‘wrong,’ but just do not feel your application is not strong enough, talk to your teachers and counselor to see if there may be anything you forgot to include or ways you can sell your story better.

When it comes to grades, unless every single student failed and did poorly in a course, which I have yet to ever see happen, you should take responsibility for your part in earning the grade you earned instead of blaming it on the teacher, a parent, a friend, or anybody else. College admissions representatives are looking for student who will be able to take the necessary measures to succeed in college even when faced with a teacher he or she does not click with or when he or she encounters difficulties with completing course material which is bound to happen. Displaying the proper coping skills necessary to overcome obstacles in a positive way and showing that you do not run away from a difficult situation are highly valued assets in life!

Therefore, talk of your RESPONSE to bad grades rather than why you earned them. Show that you are CAPABLE of finding a path to success in the face of adversity. Show that you do not give up, blaim, or seek excuses. What did you do about the bad grade? Did you find a tutor? Did you repeat the course? Did you change your study habits? How have you learned to increase your academic successes in the face of psychological, physical, or academic obstacles?

Finally, it goes without saying that you should never copy sentences or ideas from online sources. You essay should be fully your own creation.

Participating in organized athletics, arts, student clubs, academic competitions, summer programs, sports leagues, volunteer opportunities, and paid work all qualify as legitimate co-curricular or extra-curricular activities. Hanging out at the mall, styling your hair, going to parties, reading books and magazines in your free time, and walking your dog do NOT. Legitimate activities are those that a college admissions counselor can ask your high school or athletic/work/volunteer/summer program about.

Tip: Be sure to accurately describe your role, the dates you were active in each activity, the amount of time you dedicate(d) to these activities a week/month/year etc.. You should keep copies of all volunteer documentation for yourself to cross check what your school has recorded and always keep your resume updated with the most accurate information for later use.

You are trying to convey an image to college admissions representatives who do not know you and are busy scrutinizing every detail you write in your application to filter out students who do not belong on their campus. Do not make them think you are immature, crude, or thoughtless by having an overly funny, slang-filled, offensive, demeaning, or childlike email address. After all, PARTIE-AHOLIC might not help properly convey your serious academic aspirations. Do not make them doubt your commitment either… FSU4EVER might not sit well with the admissions representatives at UF.

Tip: All student should create one serious email address, preferably containing their whole name, to use for their college and work applications. Student MUST check this email regularly!

The first things that will be noticed in your application are your hand writing, the look of the pages, and the care you seem to have put into filling everything out. And, wow, how first impressions count!

On top of that, if something cannot be read or understood, you are failing to convey information that may make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Tip: If you truly care about getting in, write slowly, write neatly, write legibly! Write many drafts elsewhere first so you copy only the final draft onto your application. Do not let others write for you, however. Again, deception is a dangerous and costly game. If not requested to handwrite an essay or statement, consider typing it instead. If your handwriting is really that bad, you may also want to see if you can apply online. Never write in pencil or colored pens. Stick to using black and blue ink only.

Wash your hands before handling application papers and always keep the final papers neat and free of folds, rips, tears, stains, or smudges. Mail all application material in legal-sized, large envelopes so you do not have to fold any forms.

Some colleges have alternative forms of applications, in addition to the regular application. Applying early can, in many cases, drastically increase the probabilty that a student will be admitted, making this route very attractive at times!!! It is, however, the student’s responsibility to educate him or herself about the different ways to apply to any given college and what the legal ramifications of each type of application is.

Mixing up Early Action and Early Decision, for example, can result in a world of problems. Early Decision means that the student signs a contract to apply to only one college early. If accepted the student MUST attend this school regardless of whether financial aid is offered! Violating the contract by applying to other schools early or deciding to break the contract once accepted could result in the student being denied by all other universities who will be informed that the student is not honorable and trustworthy! Alternatively, Early Action means the student applies early, but is still allowed to apply to other schools early and is not bound to attend this institution if the financial aid awarded is not agreeable. Restrictive Early Action usually means the student may apply to only one school early, but it not bound to attend if accepted.

Tip: Though I highly encourage students to apply as early as possible, students should apply to a school Early Decision ONLY in cases where that school is their #1 choice AND if their parents can afford to pay the full cost of attendance OUT OF POCKET!!! All other students wishing to apply early and increase their chances of admission should be very careful or avoid this type of application and should instead choose instead to use Early Action applications when available. When in doubt, please talk to your college counselor.

Students should start studying very seriously and weekly for the SAT and ACT in the summer before junior year or earlier if they can! These tests, together with the level of challenge of your courses and your GPA, make up the three parts of your academic record that almost EVERY college or university will look at carefully when considering you for admission. Short-term cramming does not help with these types of tests, but students can change their score by hundreds of points if they set up and follow a long-term study plan as we have seen first hand.

Because the first official time you test is usually not your best performance, all students should plan on taking the SAT and the ACT at least TWICE! Failing to take the tests in the spring of junior year, means you may not get your score results in time to apply through the Early Action application which increase your chances of acceptance at many institutions. Failing ot take the test early enough also means you may not get a chance to take the test more than once to improve scores if they are not at the level you hoped for or need in order to gain entrance into your preferred college or univeristy.

Tip: Start studying for the SAT and ACT as early as possible. Countless review books exist and can be found at online retailers or in bookstores. Courses are also offered online, at local colleges, and in various summer programs around the country. No one way of studying is best. In the end, the student that practices and seriously studies a few hours a week over many months is the student that will improve their scores the most.

Just listing that you participated in “The Parliament,” for example, does not tell anybody the more important information, namely that you were a “columnist for your high school newspaper.” The same goes for any student club or other organization.

Furthermore, admissions personnel are not impressed when they see a huge laundry list of clubs you joined if it becomes apparent you joined only for the look of it on paper, but made little difference by being a member.

Tip: Be sure to Explain Briefly the actual type of organization or club it is when this is not apparent from the name of the organization/club/team. If you held a specific position, especially of LEADERSHIP, be sure to mention it such as Editor-in-Chief, Secretary, or team Captain. Whenever possible, detail in very brief bullet points how you Contributed positively and uniquely to this organization or club instead of just listing generic responsibilities of the position. “As head of advertisement sales, I increased the number of ads sold by 250% during the 2010-11 school year.” Keep it short and succinct. Do NOT write paragraphs of information.

When contemplating the extra- and co-curricular activities you want to participate in, less is sometimes more. Admissions officers would rather see you participate in one or two activities in which you played a key leadership role and had a major impact than just know that you paid a membership fee but accomplished little else of value. QUALITY NOT QUANTITY IS WHAT SETS YOU APART! And remember, nothing takes the place of succeeding academically.

How embarrassing it is to send an essay about how Princeton is your number one choice and why to Stanford instead! It is, however, one of the fastest ways to show that you are more interested in another institution, unable to pay attention to details, and not motivated enough to tailor the application material to each individual college.

Tip: If you are using parts of essays for more than one school, please double check the names. Again, this comes down to filling in applications slowly, with lots of care, and always PROOFREADING multiple times over multiple days.

Just because you indicated to send scores to one university when you took an exam, does not mean subsequent exam scores earned will be sent to the same university again. Each exam will be sent only to the institutions you list when taking that exam that day. If you did not list a school to send scores to, scores must be sent individually at a later date.

Tip: Make sure you follow all procedures from College Board and ACT to have your exam scores mailed to each university you choose to apply to as needed. Your high school will not be able to officially send these scores for you!

Supplements are part of the application which will be considered incomplete otherwise. They contain additional information and questions the university or college wants to know about you in order to judge your fit at their institution.

Tip: Please make sure to check if the university or college you are applying to through the Common Application program requires you to complete any additional CommonApp supplement. All information can be found at

Admissions offices are manned by people… People handling thousands of application components throughout the application season…. and people make mistakes. Not to mention that things occassionally do get lost in the mail. If a college misplaces any of your materials, YOU should be able to replace them. It would also help for you to be able to review what you wrote an turned in, in case they every want to question you or seek clarification.

You also have plenty of experience by now with browsers freezing, software crashing, the internet not responding etc… What an aweful feeling it is to loose an essay or have all application entries deleted after you had been working on it for a while. Seeing as how such frustrations can be avoided and we do not have extra time to waste, please save, save, SAVE your work constantly!

Tip: Make an e-copy or a photocopy of EVERY single document you personally submit as part of your application. Store it all in an organized manner so that you can have quick access to it if and when needed.

Also, always write your open ended questions and personal statements or essays in a word processing document first and save it on your computer before copying it into an applicaton. This will not only prevent you from loosing everything should an internet failure occur but also allows you to spell check and grammar check it as you go. Remember though not to rely solely on the software to fix all errors. Always print out your writing and check it with a dictionary and by proofreading it repeatedly. Sometimes it helps to take a few days of break between proofreads as well.

Finally, SAVE REGULARLY as you fill in online applications just in case the browser stops responding.

Getting accepted is what you have been working so hard for all these past few years. It is imperative that you present the best, most polished application possible!

Tip: Though you are responsible for your application, be sure to use the multitude of free and knowledgeable resources at your disposal. These include your teachers, administrators, your counselor, parents, family members, friends etc… Though you have to be respectful of their time, do not hesitate to seek their help when needed. A.U.C. has a teacher review procedure in place to critique all written statements and essays as needed. Make use of it!

Even after the application period, colleges request and have access to your senior grades. As you might be seeing, they will request official mid and final year academic records. Again, they would not ask for these records if these did not play a role in determining who will make up their freshmen class the following year. Understand that if your grades drop, schools may take a second look at your record—and possibly even take back an acceptance! Ouch!

Tip: Treat senior year just as seriously as junior year. Colleges WILL judge your 12-grade performance. Are you the type of person who cares about learning and performing? Or are you kind who only did it all while you thought it mattered, but will become lazy and disinterested the minute you think it doesn’t count? Make sure you do NOT give any admissions committee a reason to doubt your passion about education, intellectual growth, and learning. Maintain your grades until the very end of senior year! An acceptance is CONDITIONAL based only on successful completion of your senior year and can be REVOKED! Colleges understand that some students will not enroll and that some acceptances will be taken back. Students placed on their waiting lists are anxiously waiting for you to mess up.

There are additional benefits to maintaining high grades. What if you do not get accepted anywhere you applied? If you made a good colleges list, this should not occur, but, just in case something goes wrong, you may find yourself unexpectedly applying to additional schools in the early to mid spring. Again, grades will really matter since now competition for the few remaining spots open around the country will be extra fierce!

Finally, if you are taking any AP courses, slacking can result in you failing the AP exam. Remember, many college and universities give you college credit for passing exams with a certain score and this can mean big savings for you and your family and by now, you have seen the cost of a college education! Earning college credits can mean you can graduate faster or you can skip introductory courses and move into more advanced and interesting coursework sooner. In some cases, you may even get to take advanced courses most never reach – a big asset for graduate school admission later on. Furthermore, one course in college with textbooks can run anywhere from $1000 to $4000! Passing your AP exams could thus also save you a lot of MONEY! Wouldn’t you rather not go into this debt if you can avoid it or at least spend this money on something more exciting, such as maybe a semester studying abroad? Do not quit before the end when you still have so much to gain.

It is true, there are a lot of requests to make, a lot of forms to fill out, plenty of things to mail, a lot to keep track of, a lot to be responsible for, and so many due dates not to miss, BUT, try not to spend so much time worrying about it all. Remember, this is not a life-or-death matter.

Tip: The most important thing is to first carefully read each schools admissions procedres and instructions. Create an organized CHECK LIST of all that has to be turned in with the relevant due dates for EACH school. Then organize a MASTER CALENDAR with all due dates. Finally, add to this schedule all the dates by which you need to make requests for recommendations and transcripts as well as when you should turn in essay drafts to teachers for review and be working on application sections . Keep things organized and life gets much easier. Then all you have to do is follow your calendar and check off your list what you have completed. Take the process one step at a time and you will reach the finish line successfully.

Applying to college required a lot of work from a LOT of different people and keeping a good network of contacts that might come in handy down the road is a always smart idea. Don’t leave a bad impression. Send thank you notes to all recommenders or individuals that helped put together applications and got you through your college application process successfully.

Tip: When applications are completed and sent out, take a few moments to write a thank you card to all who helped. It is the professional thing to do. Just avoid the email thank you notes. Showing that you appreciate the effort and help of others enough to take just a couple of minutes out of your day to handwrite a simple thank you note, will leave a lasting impression!