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Articles / Applying to College / Should Applicant Correct Small Activity List Mistake?

Nov. 22, 2019

Should Applicant Correct Small Activity List Mistake?

Should Applicant Correct Small Activity List Mistake?

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On my daughter's Early Action (EA) application, she didn't correctly identify the name of a local organization for which she does volunteer work. She miswrote just one word in its title, and then she passed this title along to her guidance counselor who made the same error in her reference letter. So if my daughter applies to other colleges, should she change the organization's name on her Common App? If she does, it won't match what her counselor wrote in her reference. And should my daughter write to her EA school about the mistake?


Your daughter need not write to her EA school now. The busy admission folks won't be thrilled to hear from her during this crazy time. But ... if she is admitted EA, she should send a quick correction then. This is advice that "The Dean" wouldn't have offered last year, but today — in the light of last year's notorious admission scandal that involved phony "recruited athletes," — some colleges, especially a few prominent ones, have ramped up efforts to verify student activities. Moreover, they're not just scrutinizing alleged athletes to check for total track-record fabrication, but they're digging for less egregious exaggeration among other resume items as well.

This article by Janet Lorin at Bloomberg takes a look at a few "elite" colleges and their activity-list inspection policies. According to Lorin, some schools spot-check applications to see if achievements have been misrepresented. While, of course, the majority of candidates will not be affected by these checks, the threat of them alone should be enough to instill fear into the hearts of teenagers who "accidentally" inflated the number of years they spent in the Key Club or the amount of hours they volunteered at St. Vincent's. The University of California system has claimed to make such spot-checks for years, and — at other colleges — curious admission staffers would sometimes take it upon themselves to Google unfamiliar awards or claims of victory in major competitions. But now the practice seems to be more widespread and methodical.

Even so, "The Dean" sees no problem with your daughter fixing the mistake on her Common App, even if it means that the name of the organization she's citing no longer conforms exactly with what her school counselor has written, particularly since it's a very minor difference.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

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Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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