3 College Application Mistakes You're Likely Making

Before you submit your college applications, you need to make sure they're as perfect as can be. Here are three mistakes you may be making on your college apps.

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.

Related: How to Make Your College Applications Stand Out

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.

Related: Commit to Extracurricular Activities for Better College Admission Chances

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.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Karan Shah

Karan Shah

Karan Shah is an MBA student majoring in Marketing at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Karan is a Content Writer and Marketing Executive for AP Guru. He has expertise and experience in creating more than 500+ articles across various niches like business, education, culture, economics, marketing, technology, philosophy, and spirituality.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Lexie Knutson

Lexie Knutson

High School Class of 2021

This whole website has helped me overcome the attitude I had before. I was scared to even approach the thought of college because it was so much. I knew it wasn’t just a few easy steps, and I panicked mostly, instead of actually trying. Without realizing it, CollegeXpress did exactly what I usually do when I panic, which is take it one step at a time. With college I forget that because it’s more than just a small to-do list, but this website was really helpful and overall amazing. So thank you!

Kelly Nogueiro

Kelly Nogueiro


For me, CollegeXpress has given me a valuable tool to use with my students to explore colleges easily beyond objective data. It helps me find colleges for students that fit their needs and wants that aren’t quite so black and white. It's a wealth of knowledge, and the Type-A side of me loves all the lists and the fact that I know they're coming from folks who know what they're talking about. I share it with colleagues and students alike, and it's always well received.

Rose Kearsley

Rose Kearsley

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has seriously helped me out a lot, especially when it comes to scholarships and studying for tests like the ACT. I also really love the financial help. It’s a little harder to pay because I live with a family of eight, so any help is appreciated. Thanks for this opportunity!

Mataya Mann

Mataya Mann

High School Class of 2022

To say that CollegeXpress is a helpful tool would be an understatement as it is much more than that. Before finding CollegeXpress, all I knew was that I wanted to go to college, it was going to be insanely expensive, and I felt lost. CollegeXpress has given me access to resources such as helpful tips for applications and scholarship [opportunities], and helped guide me in a direction where I feel confident moving forward and pursuing a career. CollegeXpress has helped instill a spark in me that makes me want to continue and supports me in doing so.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress is a multi-maneuver platform that has been helping students in their college applications and scholarship hunt process. For me, CollegeXpress has been a boon. I've been able to find my dream university via CX, and I've also been able to apply to thousands of scholarships through it. All the thanks to CollegeXpress for doing such a great job for free. I express my sincere gratitude to you for doing such a wonderful job. I recommend CollegeXpress without any reservations.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

SUNY Maritime College

Throggs Neck, NY

Miami University

Oxford, OH