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Don’t Make These Mistakes on College Applications

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College application season certainly isn’t a walk in the park. With the Common App, supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, interviews, and more to worry about, even the most diligent student might feel overwhelmed by this daunting process. Considering the amount of pressure you might be under, along with the novelty of the process.


That being said, you should be aware that some mistakes on your college applications are more severe than others. Whereas one mistake might actually turn out to be an easy fix, others can have long-lasting consequences. Read on to learn about what mistakes you should try to avoid making on your college applications.


Doing Insufficient Research on Your Colleges of Choice

Be sure to do a sufficient amount of research on your colleges of choice before you apply or complete an interview. You can easily look up information like the size and location of a school or what types of majors and classes they offer. The questions you ask to admissions officers or your interviewer should be more complex: Is there a stress culture at this school? What are faculty-student relationships like? What does the alumni network look like?


You don’t want to bother them with information that you could easily look up on your own or ask your guidance counselor about. Asking questions like “Can you study abroad at this school?,” “What extracurriculars are offered?,” or “Can you major in ____ at this school?” demonstrates a lack of research, and by extension, a lack of interest.


It’s also not respectful of an admissions officer or interviewer’s time. We all know that college application season is a busy and stressful time, but this crunch isn’t just exclusive to the students applying. For the adults on the other end of the process, it can be stressful and frustrating to get the same question over and over again, especially when the answer to that question is something that could easily be googled or found on the main page of a school’s website. Save your admissions officer some time and save yourself some trouble by doing research on your own before you come to a school’s administration with your questions.


You’ll also look unprepared and unprofessional if you misstate basic facts about a college in your application, in your essays, or during your interview.


You should also keep in mind that writing only one generic answer for your school-specific essays will not reflect well upon you and your application. Schools want to see reasons why you want to attend their specific school. Maybe they have a world-class biology department, or maybe their dining is the best in the country. Maybe you even want to join their highly regarded fencing team! Whatever your reasons are, they’re likely going to vary from school to school, and so simply stating a bunch of general reasons and then adding “that’s why I want to attend _____ University” really isn’t going to impress anyone.


In general, finding a college that’s the best possible fit for you means learning as much as you possibly can about the college beforehand — so start early and make sure you’ve left enough time to do so.


Understating Your Accomplishments

While it’s true that humility is a virtue, there’s a time and a place to be humble, and it’s safe to say that remaining humble on your college applications probably won’t serve to benefit you. Some applicants feel uncomfortable promoting themselves or speaking to their accomplishments, but in your college apps it is essential to present yourself in the best way possible.


If you were president of the National Honor Society, for example, don’t just say that you were “leader of a student organization.” Be sure to clarify that you were the president and that the National Honor Society is an extremely prestigious organization. Explain that this position required you to take on a lot of responsibility, and talk about the number of students that you had to lead, as well as the specific accomplishments of the club under your presidency.


Remember to keep in mind that accurately stating what you’ve achieved is not “bragging,” nor will colleges think of you as arrogant or self-absorbed. Colleges want to see students who are high-achieving and motivated; they want students who will continue to do great things well into their college careers and beyond. When it comes time to show them what you’ve done to deserve admission to a given school, don’t be shy!


In terms of listing your activities and achievements, if space is limited on one of your applications, be sure to ask a trusted mentor or guidance counselor which of your accomplishments show you in the best light — these should be the ones that you put on your college applications.


Forgetting an Important Application Component

Forgetting a component of your application is a serious issue, and for a step-by-step guide on how to handle it, you can check out the CollegeVine blog post What Do I Do if I Forgot Part of My Application?


When it comes to your applications, staying organized from the beginning can help prevent this kind of issue. You might want to consider using organizational tools like spreadsheets, checklists, organizational apps, or guidance counselor check-ins to help you keep track of all your applications and the different components that they require. If you have a specific method of organization that you prefer to use to get assignments done and meet deadlines, then you can use that — just be sure to use something!

Neglecting the Question of Fit When Selecting Colleges

There is no question that there are tons of fantastic college options out there — that being said, it’s not a good idea to apply to a bunch of schools just because they are prestigious. While the academic rigor and reputation of a school should be factors that you take into consideration when applying, there is certainly more to the college process than just prestige. Consider checking out this CollegeVine blog post that explains why the Ivies aren’t the only good colleges out there.


When it comes to the application process, be sure to look for a college that will best fit your needs and give you opportunities that will help you pursue your particular goals. If it’s been a lifelong dream of yours to become fluent in Spanish, for example, you might want to consider looking at schools that have good Spanish language and study-abroad programs as opposed to a school that is known for its world-class Astrophysics program.


In general, you’re more likely to be accepted to a college that’s a good match for you, so be sure to think about fit when determining which schools you’re going to apply to.


Being Dishonest or Fudging Details to Make Yourself Look Better

While we all have lapses in judgment, sometimes and it might seem tempting to “massage the truth” in order to make your application seem more appealing to admissions committees, but lying on your college applications simply isn’t worth it.


When we talk about lying, you should know that slightly overestimating your time commitment on the activities section of the Common Application probably won’t get you in trouble (but you should still try to be as accurate and truthful as possible). The type of lying being discussed in this blog post usually refers to making up accomplishments or achievements, or taking responsibility for the achievements of others.


There will be major consequences if you’re caught. If adcoms find out that you lied on your application before the decision date, chances are your application will be rejected. If they find you after you’ve been accepted, then your application could be rescinded. Lying might even affect your chances at other schools, because some colleges share information with one another. The last thing that you would want is to be blacklisted from all of your schools of choice because you put down false information on your applications.


This is not to mention the fact that lying on your college applications reflects extremely negatively on your character. There’s a reason why most colleges and universities have an academic honesty policy. Honesty and hard work are important values, and the last thing that colleges want is a student who will lie in order to get ahead.


Overall, though college admissions can be stressful, cheating or lying on your applications will almost always make things worse (and chances are, you will get caught).


What do I do if I make one of these mistakes?

If you realize that you’ve made a mistake regarding being honest on your college applications, the first thing that you need to do is admit culpability for your mistake and be willing to accept the consequences. Attempt to fix your mistakes in a polite and professional way, but be sure to acknowledge that some mistakes are difficult to fix and can have lasting consequences.


If you’ve done something more along the lines of understating your achievements, don’t beat yourself up too much. Just make sure that you don’t repeat the mistake on any remaining applications, and try to make up for it by sending in supplements (in the rare cases where this is acceptable). Make sure to give it your all in the interview as well.


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For more information about applying to college, check out these CollegeVine blog posts that focus on what you should do on your college applications:


Devin Barricklow
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).