Originally Posted: Aug 10, 2016
Last Updated: Oct 14, 2020
College admission representatives have seen it all, from inspiring personal essays to disappointing—and all too common—application mistakes. And because they’ve seen it all, means they have that knowledge at their disposal to aid future students in perfecting their college applications. While needing the “perfect” application may seem daunting and unrealistic, this is when you want to be as close to perfect as you can possible get.
Lucky for you, one of those same admission VIPs is here to warn you of which mistakes to avoid on your college applications! So take heed, follow his advice, and don't let your college application fall victim to one of these common errors.
1. Waiting until the last minute
Waiting until the last minute to complete your college applications is never a good idea, and procrastinating just increases the likelihood of making more mistakes, including missing critical deadlines. The college application process is a time-compressed period with lots of deadlines. Waiting until the last minute could mean your application is incomplete after the due date, or you might miss a special university scholarship deadline. And it's not just a problem with your college applications; waiting until the last minute to submit your FAFSA could mean there is no time for an appeal for additional financial aid due to new family circumstances before the deposit deadline.
The best advice throughout your college application process is to plan ahead. Treat college deadlines as sacred—and give yourself plenty of time to meet (or beat) them.
Related: Top 10 Ways to Avoid Procrastination
2. Not answering optional application questions
This is one of the top common application mistakes to avoid—but it's also one of the easiest mistakes to make. Many students treat optional college application questions as, well, optional! This is understandable, but it's important to remember that even optional questions are important opportunities for strengthening your college application. Furthermore, failing to answer them deprives the college of information that could be used to your advantage. For example, you could miss out on special scholarship opportunities or services that you might be specifically qualified to receive.
3. Failing to demonstrate interest in the college
Colleges increasingly take into consideration whether students have directly demonstrated interest in learning more about them. Based on if and how you demonstrate interest can determine whether you get specific brochures, whether students or faculty call you, or whether you are invited to participate in unique opportunities. Also, and perhaps most importantly, many colleges check your established interest and interactions with the school when making admission and scholarship decisions.
Here's why it matters: if two applicants to a college or university have very similar achievements but only one has previously shown an interest in the school, that student appears to be more excited about attending. And because they appear to want it more, they are usually the applicant selected. Luckily, you can easily demonstrate interest in a college: request information online when you're searching for colleges, visit the college’s website and fill out an inquiry form, meet with a school representative at a college fair or high school visit, or call the admission office to request information. And the best way to demonstrate interest is by visiting the college or university campus and/or scheduling an off-campus interview; just make sure to indicate any campus personnel with whom you have met.
4. Using “score choice” services when taking the ACT or SAT
When you take standardized tests, you have the option of listing a limited number of colleges to which you can have your test scores sent for free. However, if you choose to wait until after you review your test scores, you will need to pay and request to have those scores sent separately to colleges and universities. More importantly, though, most colleges consider those who have chosen to have their scores sent to them directly among their “hottest” prospects, particularly those who send scores when taking the tests in the spring of their junior year.
Those students are then informed about things like spring, summer, and fall campus programs for prospective students; when their representatives will visit the student’s high school; and about regional receptions or off-campus interview opportunities. Students who send test score results are also more likely to be invited for other specific opportunities, such as science, math, or performing arts program scholarship competitions. Using score choice services usually leads to walking away from these opportunities. And that's definitely a mistake you want to avoid.
5. Using inappropriate email account names
When you're interacting with colleges—particularly via your application—it's important to demonstrate your maturity. You need to show that you really are "college material." And colleges will not take you seriously if you have an email address like email@example.com. If necessary, open a new e-mail account with a more formal address, like your name or a variation of it. Maturity is something that colleges expect in the students they admit.
6. Not checking the email address you gave the college
Colleges and universities send emails. Lots of them. And although they may start as digital brochures or simple introductions to the school, after you apply, these emails become much more important. The messages could notify you about campus visit or scholarship opportunities at first. Then, after you’ve applied, you could receive critical e-mails updating you on the process of your application or if items are needed to make admission and financial aid decisions. Failing to check your email on a regular basis can result in missed deadlines (see mistake #1!), so if you have more than one e-mail address, be sure to check the one you gave the school or provided on your application.
Related: How to Write a Professional Email
7. Not providing your phone number on your application
Most students have cell phones, and most colleges will try to reach you on your cell phone if they want to speak with you. You don't want to end up playing phone tag when they try to reach you on your home phone, or your little brother might forget to give you the message when a college calls. Again, as with e-mail, make sure that you have a cleaned-up cell phone greeting if providing your number; a college representative isn’t going to understand or appreciate a “cute” voicemail greeting.
8. Not taking any supplemental applications seriously
When colleges have supplemental applications (such as an addition to the Common Application), they have a serious purpose in asking certain questions. If you're asked how you became interested in the college or university, take the time to provide a thoughtful answer. Know something about the college and its mission when responding. One-sentence answers generally don’t make good impressions. Colleges request supplemental application essays or personal statements for good reasons. If they inform you that you neglected to include one with your application, it isn’t a good idea to respond that you already wrote an essay that you included with the Common Application (big mistake). Even if they admit you, that supplemental answer could have put you in the running for special programs or even scholarships.
9. Not taking senior year seriously
Contrary to popular belief, colleges are very interested in your senior year schedule when you apply. Competitive colleges want to know you are taking the most demanding courses available to you, and they factor in your senior year schedule when deciding whether to award scholarships—they don’t just use a GPA and test score formula.
While your first six semesters of high school might be the minimum to get you admitted, you could damper your educational prospects due to the overarching college admission mistake that is senioritis—so shake it off sooner rather than later. Colleges want to see you taking English, mathematics, lab science, social studies, and a foreign language in the senior year, not just taking a slew of (admittedly fun) electives. And they expect you to continue earning high grades. Remember, most college acceptances are provisional, and the admission staff is going to re-review your application in the summer after you graduate when they receive your final transcript; poor performance can result in their withdrawing your acceptance.
Related: Senior Year Priorities
10. Not providing your Social Security Number on your application
If you fail to provide your social security number, colleges will not be able to download your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and will not be able to provide you with a need-based aid package, including any government grants or loans.
You don’t have to be perfect—but your applications should be close!
Your college applications are the first step to showing college admission representatives who you truly are and why you’d thrive at their school. This is not a place for making mistakes, and while the process doesn’t have to be unreasonable stressful—you do need to take care, double check everything, and make sure it’s the best it can be to showcase your best self.
For more advice on getting through your college applications, check out our College Admission section.