There’s a lot to do as you complete your high school education. After a while, it gets stressful for students to narrow down a list of favorite colleges based on interests and majors, apply to colleges, and prepare for standardized tests. If that’s not enough, it’s also essential to be careful when filling out your college applications. A minor error or silly mistake may disrupt your opportunity to get into your dream college.
Ultimately, there’s no one path to getting admitted to a particular school; similarly, there’s no single reason applicants get rejected. It’s usually due to various factors, not all of which are in the applicant’s hands. But little mistakes can be easily avoided by planning and being mindful of the information you’re giving to the admission committee. These three common mistakes or “red flags” might get your application rejected if you aren’t careful.
1. Not mentioning necessary personal details
One of the most common college application mistakes is not providing context, which is vital during the admission process. For example, applicants from low socioeconomic backgrounds or first-generation students have different measuring criteria than more affluent applicants because the latter has had more opportunities for personal and academic growth and exploration. But context is much more than socioeconomic situation alone. A student might have a learning difference or physical handicap, or their parents may have an addiction problem that’s majorly affected the student’s life. If you’re an ethnic minority in the applicant pool for the college you’re applying to, that’s your context.
Understand and reflect on your situation by trying to see it from an objective perspective: Who is your community? What kind of home life do you have? Then let colleges know without any hesitation. Help the admission committee imagine you in your context, in as whole a way as possible. Applicants who leave out their crucial personal backstory often lose in the college admission game.
2. Lack of vision and self-confidence
One thing that could get your application rejected pretty quickly is saying something vague like you want to study at a specific college to get a good job upon graduation. Not everyone is destined to become an astronaut, a Nobel Prize–winning author, or the next US president, of course, but you definitely won’t get there without the vision and self-confidence to reach your full potential and achieve something. Remember, schools read applications contextually—for students going to a premier college, getting a high-paying, white-collar job is an ambitious but common goal. The admission committee knows this and will adjust their thinking accordingly. It’s easier to admit someone who has a compelling and distinct vision for their future, so try sharing something unique in your application. This will impress the admission committee and show them you’ll do something great with your education.
3. You are what you do, so participate!
Many students assume that perfect grades and SAT scores will get them into the top US colleges, but please get out of this thinking. What you do outside of the formal classroom—your extracurricular activities—is crucial to separating qualified applicants from truly desirable ones. So remember to fill out your activities list! Mention the year(s) of participation, calculate the number of hours per week, and tell the school your role in each activity, especially if you were a leader. And don’t leave out something important to you because you think the admission committee doesn’t care about your composting hobby—that’s a unique and interesting commitment. Finally, don’t just submit a résumé instead of completing the activities list in your application.
It’s important to remember that a college rejection usually isn’t your fault. There are many institutional priorities at play, such as a college looking for students from a specific geographic area, demographic group, or academic area of interest. Don’t blame a rejection on yourself or something you were lacking, because sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. You should, however, avoid the mistakes on this list at all costs to ensure you submitted the best application possible.
Find more articles like this as well as admission essay advice, college search tips, and more in our College Admission section.