Don’t make stupid mistakes on your applications

By Lee Shulman Bierer

There’s no wiggle room for stupid mistakes when some colleges are receiving over 30,000 applications and acceptance rates can be in the single digits.

It’s true that not every school is as selective as those in the Ivy League, but gaffs that cause an admissions person to ask “what were they thinking?” are really just an easy excuse for any college to say “no.”

The ten most common college application mistakes:

  1. Cutting and pasting carelessly – when students forget to change the name of the college in their “why this college?” essay, frequently considered the most annoying error.
  2. Omitting information – colleges and universities have to wonder how interested a student really is if they don’t take the time to proofread their application and/or essay more carefully. Thankfully most electronic applications won’t allow students to move on to subsequent pages or to submit incomplete applications without calling out missing information.
  3. Lack of interest – essays that are too short or don’t fully respond to the prompt communicate that students really don’t care.
  4. Silly or immature email addresses – sexycheerleader@myemail.com – need I say more?
  5. Waiting until the last minute – it’s easy to spot the perennial procrastinator when error-laden applications are submitted.
  6. Assuming all colleges are on the Common Application – that’s a big mistake if you plan on applying to most state colleges and universities. The Common Application (commonapp.org) does count over 500 colleges as members, but the majority of them are the private liberal arts colleges.
  7. Forgetting about Common Application Supplements – most colleges on Common App have an additional supplement. Many will just ask college specific questions, but many more will have additional essay questions.
  8. Asking the wrong teachers to write letters of recommendation – many students feel compelled to ask the school’s most popular teacher or the teacher where they received the “Easy A.” The popular teacher is likely already overwhelmed with requests and you have to wonder exactly what the “Easy A” teacher will say about you.
  9. Asking the wrong non-teacher recommenders – high profile politicians or corporate executives won’t carry as much weight in the admissions office as a student’s club advisor, coach or youth director. Remember it’s not who you know, it’s how well the recommender knows you.
  10. Missing deadlines – Students need to be aware that deadlines vary not only college to college but there may even be multiple deadlines at the same college. Check to see the specific deadlines for applications and for scholarships. Students interested in being considered for an Honors College programs, merit-based or need-based scholarships will often find earlier application deadlines.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com

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