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What College App Mistakes Should Students Avoid?

Students often worry about mistakes on their college applications affecting admission. Here are common things that experts suggest to look out for.

John ChopkaJohn Chopka
Vice President for Enrollment Management
Messiah University
I realize that today’s student is often over-committed and extra busy. With that, I must caution students to carefully consider what they include in their application materials. Some more common (and easily avoidable mistakes) include:

  • Spelling and grammatical errors in the application or essay
  • Listing the wrong college in the materials or on the envelope
  • Overestimating self-reported grades and test scores
  • Having you parent or guardian fill out the application or write your essay
  • Forgetting to sign the application or pertinent accompanying statements and document

In short, you need to pay attention, be honest, do it yourself, and make sure you have all your materials!

When applying for college, it’s best to avoid these mistakes for a better chance at being admitted to your top-choice schools.

  • Missing deadlines: Deadlines aren’t suggestions—they’re critical. Missing one can make the difference in getting into the college of your dreams, not to mention qualifying for scholarships or certain academic programs. Send applications a couple weeks ahead, giving you time to fix any problems if they arise.
  • Sending copies or originals of achievements: The list you inevitably include in your application is usually sufficient. Schools won’t typically need proof of awards, plaques, or other tokens of participation.
  • Letting your parents do it for you: College is your first step into adulthood. That starts with responsibility of the application process. Yet admission counselors hear from concerned parents every year, making them wonder why students aren’t reaching out themselves.
  • Worrying about applying to the “right” number of colleges: There’s no magic number of schools you should apply to. Five to seven is reasonable, but the most important factor is if the schools on your final list meet your needs and most of your wants, ideally with a nice spread of safety, reach, and match schools. Do lots of research and be honest about which schools truly fit you.
  • Asking people who don’t know you well to write recommendations: Regardless of if they’re a state senator or the principal of your high school, colleges want to see recommendations from people who can speak to your character, strengths, and interests—not an impressive name. Stick to the teachers, coaches, mentors, employers, club counselors, and clergy, just to name a few options.
  • Rushing your recommendation writers: Give them at least a month or two to prepare, and even more time if you think they’ll get a lot of requests (like coaches do). Ask potential writers the spring of junior year, then follow up with them during the summer or early fall. Give them the list of colleges you’re applying to, plus a copy of your résumé so they have an easy reference of everything you’ve been up to.
  • Stretching the truth: Whether it’s exaggerating your involvement in an extracurricular activity or a full-on fabrication, lying on your college applications is never acceptable. Admission reps know what to look for, and if you’re caught, you can kiss your scholarships, reputation, and chances of admission goodbye.
  • Forgetting to thank the people who helped you: From your high school counselor to your recommendation writers and even admission representatives at the schools you turned down, make sure you show your gratitude. A thank-you card or email at the end of the application process is a meaningful gesture.

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