As September draws to a close, you can almost feel the tension rising among high school seniors. You can see it in their tweets and not so subtle posts on Tumblr; the realization that college is around the corner has hit them smack in the face. Most were wise and starting preparing for this months ago, visiting colleges and narrowing down their lists to a reasonable stack of three to seven potential campuses, but many have just now started to take the process seriously. The next few months are critical, especially for those who plan to apply for either early action or early decision, but knowing ‘what NOT to do’ is often just as important as knowing what to do. If you are a senior and starting the college application process, take a look at these five common mistakes many students make when applying to colleges.
1. Letting Your Parents Run the Show
Most parents want to be included in the college application process, especially if they are covering the costs of your education, but that doesn’t mean you should give them full access. College officials can quickly spot when a parent has completed an application or written your essay, so if you don’t want to give the admissions office any additional reasons to reject your application, limit your parent’s involvement. You never know when a question may come up about your application, like during a college interview, so do yourself a favor and complete it yourself. If mom and dad really want to help, have them tackle the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in January. That should keep them busy!
2. Exaggerating About Accomplishments
I'm always surprised when anyone asks me if college officials actually follow up and verify information on applications; of course they do. Admission officers want to be sure that what they see is what they get, so they may call or email your volunteer coordinator or other contacts listed on the application to verify any achievements or activities you have included, especially if those activities may entitle you to scholarship opportunities. Don't stretch the truth when it comes to volunteer work, leadership positions, or awards. Simply state the facts and be honest about your accomplishments.
3. Giving the Wrong Impression
Do you have a Facebook, Tumblr or other social media account? Now is the time to clean things up. Remove any photos or videos of yourself behaving badly or wearing clothing that may be inappropriate. Although you might be able to win a scholarship for twerking, it’s definitely not going to impress the admissions office, so be sure any random shots of you impersonating Miley Cyrus are deleted, along with your collection of ‘selfies.’ Nothing says conceited or self-absorbed like 100 photos of yourself in the bathroom mirror. Don't forget to check your email, too. You don’t want to be corresponding with colleges using firstname.lastname@example.org or any other address that may give the wrong impression. Instead, create a free email account specifically for college admissions, and keep your address clean and simple.
4. Waiting Until the Last Minute
Have you ever waited until the night before to write a paper or study for a test? Of course you have, who hasn’t? Unfortunately, being a procrastinator during the college application process will probably backfire on you. There are simply too many elements requiring your attention and waiting until the last moment can lead to costly mistakes. You'll need time to gather your documents, such as letters of recommendation, and it’s really unfair to ask your guidance counselor and teachers to expedite the process because you waited too long. They have other students who need their assistance, too, so be sure to give them ample time to send off your transcripts and write letters for you. You'll also need time to have others proofread and edit your essays. To ensure you don’t miss any deadlines, or submit an application that is missing required documents, give yourself several weeks (not days) to complete the process.
5. Forgetting to Submit
Believe it or not, you could actually go through the entire process of putting together a fantastic college application by the deadline date and still not make it into the review pile. Why? You forgot to hit submit! If you are applying online, make sure your application is accepted. Most colleges will send a confirmation email, or a pop-up message will appear after your application has been submitted successfully. If you don’t receive either of these, be sure to follow up with the admissions office, as your computer may have timed out or there could have been technical issues with the college’s website. When applying by mail, it is always a good idea to send an email or call the admissions office five to seven days later to ensure they have received your packet.
It’s a great idea to calendar all your college application deadline dates (scholarships, too!) and start working on those with the earliest deadlines first. Place each application in a separate folder and staple a checklist to the cover of each. Use the checklist to keep track of outstanding items, such as letters of recommendation or transcripts, as well as providing a quick reference to anyone who reviews your application for errors or missing elements. Hopefully, by following these tips and giving yourself ample time to work on everything, you’ll be able to create a stellar application that will result in acceptance letters flooding your mailbox this spring.
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