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Articles / Applying to College / 10 College Application Mistakes to Avoid

10 College Application Mistakes to Avoid

Torrey Kim
Written by Torrey Kim | Sept. 20, 2019
10 College Application Mistakes to Avoid


There are so many considerations to remember during the college admissions period that it can be easy to overlook an important application factor. However, with thousands of applications to read, admissions officers aren't always forgiving about incomplete applications and other problems.

Failure to Gather Rec Letters

"I find that students are just generally unprepared for the applications, and that causes a snowball effect of forgetfulness," Webb-Hollering says. "Naturally, they are often late to the game with recommendation requests and forget to send the Common App link until it's too late. It's very upsetting to see a terrific candidate get cut because of this late-to-the-game response."

You should ask teachers or other recommenders whether they'd be willing to write your rec letters early — even before junior year ends if possible. Follow up with a one-pager about your accomplishments, and send them the details on how to complete the recommendation as soon as you have them.

Forgetting to Review Prerequisites

Some colleges require students to have taken three years of the same foreign language, while others might require a visual or performing arts course, even if it doesn't relate to your intended major. Missing these prerequisites can sink your chances of getting into that school, so it's important to check the requirements at your goal schools via their website, their Common Data Set or by inquiring.

Failing to Submit Transcripts and Test Scores

"Students – and their parents – tend to forget that transcripts and scores don't generate themselves," Webb-Hollering says. "In fact, I recently had a student ask if she should wait for the school to ask for her ACT scores. This problem manifests itself as students get frustrated looking at their application portals and wondering why their scores and transcripts haven't arrived — when the reason is they forgot to pay for them and send them."

Essays Lacking Personalization

Some students will write an essay about all of the reasons they want to go to Duke but the essay is for Vanderbilt. Although admissions officers know that you're probably applying to multiple schools, they do expect you to send the right essay to the correct school. Personalize your essays to fit the schools and really show why you believe a particular college is the right fit for you.

Lack of Etiquette

"Seniors often miss opportunities because they ignore niceties," Webb-Hollering says. "In a world of text mania, a simple email to thank an admissions rep, an SAT coach, a favorite teacher, etc. can make a world of difference. Seniors forget to follow up with those advisors that can make a difference in the status of their application — and that's something that is easy to do."

Speeding Through Proofreading

You already know you should proofread your essays and applications, but some students race through this step by merely performing a spell check and then moving on. This certainly includes grammar and spelling but goes beyond that as well. Are you using the same words over and over again in your essay, or overusing adjectives to increase the word count? Admissions officers may know that your experience at camp was "amazing" but you don't necessarily have to tell them how you "excitedly crept across the wet grass to surprise the youthful campers who joyfully bounded toward you" if that's going to take up more real estate than you can afford to use in an essay.

Forgetting to Check Emails

"Seniors will Snapchat, Instagram message, and text to their heart's content, but do they look every day at their emails? No, and that's a problem," Webb-Hollering says. "Seniors miss out on fee waivers, scholarships, local meet-and-greets of out-of-state schools, and more. They need to click, open, and read their emails — daily."

Submitting the Application, Then Forgetting About It

"Seniors do not always create, nor check the individual colleges' application portals," Webb-Hollering says. "Too many students don't check email and spam to even know that the universities they've applied to have sent a link to open a portal where all of their materials and communication will be listed. These portals prevent seniors from missing important details on their applications and are usually where they are notified of acceptance, deferral, waitlist, and denial."

Writing What You Think Colleges Want to Hear

Some students avoid writing their essays about topics that are very personal to them because they feel like they should write about subjects they think admissions officers want to hear. In reality, they want to read about the real you. If your passion is quilting and you write about how you once tried out for the debate team, the lack of passion in your essay will be obvious. Let colleges see the real you and you will be giving them what they want.

 Creating A Top-Heavy List

You'll be setting yourself up for disappointment if your college list is filled with reach schools. Make sure the list includes a balanced offering of safety schools, matches and reaches where you feel like you would be happy, so that when decisions come out, you have options.

Written by

Torrey Kim

Torrey Kim

College Admissions Expert

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