You’ve worked hard on your grades, prepared for the ACT & SAT, participated in athletics and activities, held leadership positions, and served volunteer hours. You’ve researched and narrowed your prospective college list. You’ve visited colleges virtually and in person when you could. Now it’s time to actually apply to colleges (we suggest 7-12 schools), along with millions of other high school seniors.
Are you ready? Let’s make sure your application lands in the right pile by avoiding these eight college application mistakes.
#1 Avoid Being Generic
When explaining why you want to attend a particular school, don’t give reasons that could be true almost anywhere else. If your rationale is cookie-cutter, you risk that the admissions office will think the same thing about you. Share something unique or specific about the school that speaks to you. If you can copy your response for another school on your prospective list by just replacing the name, regroup and try again.
#2 Avoid Being Boring
Identify something about you that’s unique so the admissions officer will remember you as the student who started a pie-baking club, who won fencing competitions, who wrote and sold a song to a local business for their ad jingle—or anything else that makes you memorable.
#3 Avoid Being a Cliché
Admissions officers have read thousands of personal statements. If you’re writing about the Big Game, your grandparents’ inspiration, your mission trip, or how COVID-19 has affected your senior year, you’ll be telling a common story. Here’s some other personal statement topics you’ll want to avoid.
#4 Avoid Seeming (or Being) Uninterested
Don’t declare your application efforts finished after you click submit. Follow your desired college on social media, subscribe to the campus newspaper, reply to “checking in” emails sent by the admissions office, attend local college recruitment events, and talk to alumni who may call with encouragement. Some schools carefully track engagement, and if you’re not showing interest, but other students are, they’ll have an admissions advantage over you. Check your email (spam folder too!) daily—click, open, and respond! Follow up with hand-written thank you notes to anyone on campus (or elsewhere) who helped you through the process.
#5 Avoid Being Mediocre
We aren’t talking about your personality but your grades, test scores, recommendations, and interviews. Grades are considered one of the best indicators of college potential, so do your absolute best. Time spent on test prep can yield score jumps that make a difference not only in admissions, but scholarships, even at test-optional (not test-blind) schools. If you and another candidate are equally qualified, but you submit a solid test score, that could be the difference-maker, especially this year when many are choosing not to submit. Improved test scores can also show persistence and grit—and you can still improve them your senior year, when boosting your cumulative GPA isn’t as easy. When you request a recommendation letter, be sure to ask people who will give you a great recommendation and can provide specific, positive details about you. If an interview is offered, take it seriously, be yourself, and demonstrate why you would be a great match for the school.
#6 Avoid Being Lacking
Review prerequisite requirements. If you’re missing a year of world language, or a specific course from your high school transcript that’s required by the college for admission, this can reduce your chances. Verify on the school’s website or check the Common Data Set Initiative. This site compiles information from hundreds of schools including required high school courses and much more. Read application directions carefully, and make sure you include all that’s requested. Explain anything (low class grade, semester with no activities, etc.) that might stand out as unusual and share the circumstances instead of leaving an admissions office wondering. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the top factor in admission decisions is academic rigor, so embrace tough courses!
#7 Avoid Being Inappropriate
Watch your behavior online and off. Already this year, several admitted students have had their acceptances rescinded due to online comments. Make sure your email address is professional and not silly. You never know who in your circle of connections might be an alum or have a connection to the school where you’re applying. Avoid sensitive topics, degrading others, retweeting conflict-raising opinions, or anything else that might raise a red flag in the admissions office.
#8 Avoid Being Afraid
College admissions teams (and others) are happy to answer questions, so ask! Advocate for yourself, rather than letting your parents ask all the questions. Speak up about what you want to see your college experience become.
The overall average freshman acceptance rate is 66%, according to the 2019 National Association for College Admission Counselors (NACAC) report. Nearly 80% of schools accept more than half of freshman applicants, with over half of schools admitting 2/3 of applicants. And 77% of applicants were accepted into their top-choice school. You can do this, especially if you avoid these college application mistakes!
Any other college application mistakes we missed? Send us a note or leave a comment below!