What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

Carelessness and Inconsistencies

Two very common "red flags" that can be detrimental to an applicant are: 1. carelessness: sometimes students do not proofread their applications and as a result, spelling errors and other "typos" are not corrected. Take the time to read your application out loud and ask someone else to read it as well. In addition to these small errors, another very common mistake is to submit the wrong supplemental essay to a school. For example -- submitting your "why I love USC essay" to the University San Diego! Be careful and check your work! 2. inconsistencies: one very glaring "red flag" is inconsistency within one's academic record. This commonly occurs when a student with average grades in English courses and 500-ish scores on the verbal section of the SAT submits a super high-quality essay that conveys a mature and seasoned writing style. This sort of inconsistency can certainly raise the suspicions of admissions staff!

Reena Gold Kamins
Founder College, Career & Life, LLC.

Avoid these red flags

A downward trend in grades, i.e. going from As and Bs to Cs and Ds is the most common red flag. Similarly, if a student has taken a lot of honors and AP courses and then shifts to a less rigorous curriculum, it will raise questions. Some colleges will also be alarmed if they see an excessive amount of unexplained absences on a student's transcript.

Mollie Reznick
Associate Director The College Connection

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

Some basic red flags that could impact how an admissions officer views you is your academic record and involvement in extra-curricular activities. If for instance, you did not take 3 or 4 years of the core subjects they might raise an eyebrow. If your academic performance is very inconsistent, they might wonder why. Also, if you have not participated in anything outside of school (including jobs, volunteer work, clubs, sports, etc) they might wonder how you have been using your time. After all, they do not want to admit a student who is going to stay in his room all the time and not be an active member of the campus community.

Geoff Broome
Assistant Director of Admissions Widener University

Dear Admsions dirctor

Poor grammar or text speak is a pretty poor first impression. Putting the wrong name of the college at the top of your essay or an arrest record are pretty big red flags that go up for us. Slacking off your senior year is another red flag for admissions. If you were making excellent grades and then your grades plummet your senior year or you barely take an English class because you would rather go home and sit by the pool...Red Flag!

Patricia Krahnke
President/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

Short Answer: Not every red flag is a deal breaker, and some colleges will take any student because 1) the college is an “access” institution, or 2) the college needs the tuition money. But why take the chance of not getting into the more selective college you really, really want? Detailed Answer: The following are a few of the red flags that drive admissions officers nuts: 1. Low grades 2. Inconsistent grades from year to year 3. Non-college track courses, i.e. consumer math instead of calc/trig 4. Too many extracurriculars combined with average or weak grades 5. Too many extracurriculars with no leadership positions 6. A hastily written essay that has not been proofread (spell check isn’t good enough for something that is potentially as important as the essay) 7. An essay that is not focused on the topic requested by the college 8. A sloppy application with no attention to detail 9. Forceful, interfering parents that make excuses for low grades 10. Lack of knowledge about the college and why the applicant believes he or she is a good fit 11. A lack of understanding of the academic strengths required by the college 12. Not following directions 13. Excellent SAT scores and average or poor grades; this tells the admissions officer that the student may be talented, but he/she does not work hard in the classroom and on homework, which is what makes a successful college student

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

Academically, students should offer an explanation for progressions that will raise concern in the admissions office. It's always better to fill in the blanks yourself than to leave it to the imagination of a reader/committee.Here are some common items that warrant explanation: 1. Transferring high schools (particularly for junior or senior year) 2. Outlier low grade 3. Significantly changed performance from one year to another (or semester to semester) 4. Altering the level of course (changing from Honors to non, or vice versa) 5. Dropping a core academic course

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

In the competitive admissions process you need to offer something that makes you stand out from the rest, but you want that something to be positive. Different, but negative does not help. A raft of unrelated activities can be seen as a lack of commitment and while there is a recognition that a student may still be finding their passion, there must be something that interests you enough to make at least some commitment. An erratic, up and down, academic performance is never good. Even if the overall record is not great, some level of consistency is important—and if there is variation, then an upward trend is certainly preferred. Lackluster recommendations are not very helpful either. The recommendation itself says much but equally telling is the fact that you could not find someone who could be more positive about your efforts. The application needs to show the school why you should be part of their community

Eric Dobler
President Dobler College Consulting

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

In my experience the most common red flags are areas where students either neglected to include information, or entered information that was incorrect, or had one of their parents fill out the application. The former is a sign of sloppiness, the second one is a greater problem in and of itself. When you are filling out an application, you should fill it out completely and accurately. Leaving questions blank can lead an admissions counselor to wonder why the question was not answered. Is there something the student is trying to hide? Doubt is not the first reaction you want a counselor to have when he or she is reading your application. You also want to make sure your information is accurate - even simple things like the name of your high school or your counselor's name should be spelled correctly. In fact, you should double check your entire application for spelling errors before you submit it - EVERYTHING should be spelled correctly. When a parent fills out the application, any number of problems can come of it. Incorrect information, embellished information and if the application is done by hand, it can be quite apparent that a student did not fill it out him- or herself. This is irresponsible and unethical on everyone's part. This is also a situation where the college or university could choose to decline the application altogether regardless of the applicant's qualifications. Complete your applications yourself. If you want to have a parent help you with proof-reading, that's fine, but make sure you are the one answering the questions. When an application is submitted with errors, it says that the student did not spend the time on it that it deserved. It can easily be assumed that the student rushed and did not take it seriously. When the application is filled out by someone other than the student, it says that the student is dishonest. Neither of these judgments are in the student's favor.

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

Parents being illegal immigrants, poor grammar, misspellings, inconsistent or missing information, resident aliens w/o a TOEFL score, and a host of other things a college might consider a red flag.

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?

Beyond poor proofreading, incongruities can hurt you. This means if you have a high gpa and low SAT score or vice versa. You want all parts of the application to affirm who you are.