What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes students make in the admissions process?

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Our counselors answered:

What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes students make in the admissions process?

Alison Almasian
Director of Admissions St. Lawrence University

Fit, follow-up and folly...

FIT: Students must do the self-analysis necessary to determine what kind of school will be the best match for them. Too often, they are swayed by the opinions of others – parents, friends, rankings, etc. FOLLOW UP: Many students assume that their documents have arrived at admissions offices. If they have not received confirmation that their file is complete, they should contact the school to verify. FOLLY: Too many students believe that “senioritis” is a privilege/right. It is not. Schools will be reviewing final senior grades and reserve the right to revoke admission if there are significant declines in performance.

Carol Stack
Principal Hardwick Day Inc.

Proofread, proofread, and proofread again...

Much like the rules for hair care in the movie Legally Blonde, there are three simple and finite rules that will keep you from making the most egregious application mistakes: Proofread, proofread and proofread again!  You do not want your essay to stand out because of an outrageous spelling error or a naïve double entendre. Before any item is matched with an envelope, email address or upload site, double and triple check that you are sending the right item to the right college. Nothing makes you look more disorganized and silly than sending an essay about why you love Carol Stack’s College to Faber College. Deadlines do matter! 

Jane Gabin
College Counselor New York City

3 significant and avoidable mistakes...

1) Shopping by "brand name."  Some students (and their parents) are way too focused on the prestige of the college name, rather than whether the college is a suitable intellectual and social match. 2)  Under-utilizing the opportunity offered by the "personal statement." Admissions officers would rather hear about a typical day in an applicant's life or how a quirky relative affected the student, than about the applicant's plans to stop global warming. 3)  Resume-building instead of enjoying a healthy balance of activities. If the fulfilling activities also look impressive, that's great!  But simply piling up activities with college in mind cheats many students of enjoying their high school years.

Craig Meister
President Tactical College Consulting

Procrastination, presumptuousness, and passivity often doom college applications...

The three Ps often spoil students’ college applications.  Procrastination: students who wait until the last minute and only spend a couple days—if that—on their application essays and short answer responses regularly produce far weaker applications, and thus receive a disproportionate percentage of the rejection letters. Presumptuousness: Students who approach their essays and short answer responses like they do an English paper are displaying overconfidence because writing for the college application requires a completely different style of writing than for a school assignment.  Passivity: Finally, meekness when communicating about extracurricular accomplishments is another common recipe for rejection.

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

Getting to know you: getting to know about you...

On her campus tour, Lisa saw that her tour guide was not wearing any shoes—neither were hundreds of other kids on campus—as the students were sharing their passion for a particular injustice in the world. Lisa asked more questions on the tour and during her interview and later back home, wrote about amazing connections between her and the campus. Students often don’t spend enough time getting to know the colleges on their lists. Many colleges count demonstrated interest and even have college specific questions on their college applications. Students need to learn much as possible about colleges. Lisa did and the college agreed.

Peter Brass
Director of Student Services & University Advisor St. John's Ravenscourt School

Don't procrastinate and respect the details...

Procrastination has accelerated over the past decade as the electronic age has empowered applicants to leave everything to the last minute. Students don't allow for time zone differences, Internet service outages, server crashes because of the sheer volume of last minute applications, or the failure of their own computer at the last and critical moment. At the same time, a lack of attention to detail such as spelling and grammar or the all too familiar application to one college but mistakenly identifying the name of another college the student is applying to is just sloppy and inexcusable.

Robyn Moreth
Independent Educational Consultant RTM College Consulting

Summer break = essay time...

1) The biggest mistake is not taking advantage of the summer before senior year to get a head start on writing the essays. Although the Common App is not available until August 1, the short response and main essay topics are known prior to this. 2) Another mistake is not visiting a college that is at the top of the list. It makes answering the frequent supplement question; “Why College X?” very difficult if the student has never set foot on campus. 3) Procrastination in scheduling the interview is a third mistake. Students who do not schedule in a timely fashion run the risk of not having the opportunity for an interview.

Marilyn Morrison
Founder Morrison Educational Consulting

Keep your eye on the prize!...

Too many students wait until senior year to realize the rewards that a rigorous curriculum and top grades will bring, or harbor the false belief that high SAT or ACT scores will outweigh years of mediocre academic performance. Another mistake is choosing an extracurricular activity simply because you think it will look good on your college application, or assuming that you need to be involved in a long list of clubs and activities. Instead, pick one or two that are meaningful to you—ones that build on your unique interests and allow you to demonstrate commitment, accomplishment, and leadership.

Lana Klene
Counselor Lawrence North High School

Don't let these mistakes get you down...

Seniors have never been through the college search and admission process, so it should not be a surprise to learn that many of them make mistakes along this journey. The biggest mistake I see is procrastination, which leads to stiffer competition in the admission cycle and loss of potential scholarship money. Fear of rejection also plays a role in this. A second common mistake is putting your heart into just one college. You should view each school that you apply to as a great one for you! Finally, too few students spend the time to visit schools before they make decisions about applying. This powerful tool could save lots of students from indecision agony.

Betsy Morgan
Founder College Matters LLC

Spell chick doesn't check everything...

Proofread! You hear it all the time, but it really is important. Have several sets of eyes look over your application and if that is not possible, use the old editor’s trick of reading the essay backwards. It works! Avoid find and replace! It is a recipe for disaster. Besides, if you can simply change the name of the activity or name of the college, you aren’t being specific enough. Be yourself! If any piece of your application does not accurately represent who you are, does not have your voice, or does not “fit” together, you run the risk of confusing the admissions personnel who don’t have a lot of time to make a decision on your application.