Avoid These Big College Application Mistakes

US News

Colleges are sure to find your international baccalaureate degree impressive - but not if you call it an "international bachelorette" on your application. That's a spell-check-induced gaffe cited by deans of admission at more than a couple schools.

What are some other mistakes that drive college admissions staffers crazy - and sometimes send the applicant straight to the rejection pile? U.S. News asked pros from around the country to weigh in on what they'd strongly rather you not do. Here are some of the highlights.

[Get additional tips and advice on applying to college.]

Robert Barkley
Director of undergraduate admissions, Clemson University

Neglecting to read directions: We have a place on our application that is marked clearly for international students. But we have gotten applications from American students who have not read that, and where it asks, "Do you have a visa?" they say yes.

And when it asks what kind, we're expecting to see an F1 or a J2, something administered by [the government]. In one case we got Bank of America. And where we asked for the number of the visa, we got the credit card number. We were not impressed.

Tom Weede
Vice president for enrollment management, Butler University

Letting parents take the lead: It doesn't tell us that a student is interested if we get 15 phone calls from Mom. Some parents are annoying - we get that. We try not to hold it against the student, as long as he or she has played a role in the process. We want families involved. But the student needs to take the lead.

Leigh A. Weisenburger
Dean of admission and financial aid, Bates College

Submitting a lengthy resume: At my stage in my career, I shouldn't have a three-page resume. So no 17-year-old should be submitting a three-page resume.

I know many college counselors encourage students to write one as a process to help the kid recognize all she's accomplished, but we don't need to see it if you've filled out the application properly. It just rubs me the wrong way when students submit a resume rather than filling out the activity portion of the application.

Debra Chermonte
Dean of admissions and financial aid, Oberlin College

Hitting submit without proofreading: Using spell-check isn't enough - you have to proofread. Julie Taymor, who wrote and directed "The Lion King," is a graduate of Oberlin, and we had a student who was really passionate about [Taymor's] work and wrote a really well-done essay about it. But she neglected to proof it, and throughout she referred to the musical as "The Loin King."

She didn't get in. It wasn't just because of that; it didn't help, though. It was a really good essay, but that just put the pause button on it.

[See 10 tips for writing the college application essay.]

Julie Shimabukuro
Director of undergraduate admissions, Washington University in St. Louis

Waiting until the last minute: Many students who submit on the date of the deadline assume that everything transmitted and was received. But sometimes things are lost in cyberspace.

By the time we process the thousands of pieces of information that come in on the final day, the actual deadline has come and gone, and it's possible that something is still missing. We try to give a few days' grace period, but colleges and universities expect you to confirm that your application has been received and that it is complete.

Amy Jarich
Assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions, University of California--Berkeley

Repeating yourself: When I keep hearing the same thought over and over, I really feel like it's a missed opportunity. In the application, real estate is so valuable!

Each part of it should be telling us something new ... If you've told us in one essay how you live with your extended family and how important that is in your life, don't tell us in the second essay about how the person you most admire is your grandmother ... You want us to think: "That brings a new piece to this puzzle. I like that."

Emily Simmons
Associate dean of admissions, Emory University

Asking for information easily found: When you're visiting colleges or meeting a visiting admissions counselor, ask for information you won't be able to find out anywhere else: the personality of the campus, the counselor's favorite things about the school.

If you're asking us about test scores, it sounds like you haven't done your research or like you're asking a question just to ask a question, maybe because your parents told you to. We're not keeping track of who asks ridiculous questions. But if you ask thoughtful questions, it's a chance to wow us.

[Check out 10 tips for an effective college visit.]

Henry Broaddus
Dean of admission, College of William and Mary

Giving colleges what you think they want: Please, please don't give us the personal statement that opens with a couple of minutes left in the game and ends with how winning isn't everything or how you learned the value of teamwork!

Or the classic service trip essay that's about how everyone can make a difference. Or how if everyone just rolled up their sleeves and worked together we could solve everything. We're a lot more interested in the rough edges. Tell us something original.

Chris Muñoz
Vice president for enrollment, Rice University

Writing a one-size-fits-all essay: If you write an essay for a university, and then you write that essay again and it's just a matter of changing the name of the university, then it's probably going to be a poor essay. And yes, we have gotten students who forget to change "Northwestern" to "Rice."

It's not just about name-checking a faculty member or academic program, either. How does a faculty member's work speak to you as an applicant? Why, specifically, have you chosen us? Demonstrating true interest and care can make a difference on the margin. And when you're talking about universities that admit under 20 percent of applicants, you may need it.

Sarah Richardson
Director of admissions and scholarships, Creighton University

Trumping up your extracurriculars: We want to know where a student's passions lie, and genuine interests tend not to appear suddenly in senior year. I'd rather see quality over quantity.

And students need to help us develop an understanding of the personal significance, not just with the essay, but when submitting information about extracurricular involvements. When they detail the amount of time that they spend with those activities, as well as any leadership roles they've taken on, that allows us to understand the level of commitment.

Kelly A. Walter
Associate vice president and executive director of admissions, Boston University

Failing to check curriculum requirements: Students today often begin their college searches during freshman and sophomore year, and they do an exceptional job of learning about majors and general admission requirements. But they don't dig down that extra level, to specific curriculum requirements - it's the one area of the application process students pay the least attention to, in my experience.

For example, we expect students wanting admission to our engineering program to enroll in physics and calculus in high school. There's nothing more disappointing than to review an application of a student who might otherwise be competitive for admission and realize she is ineligible because she didn't take the required courses.

Karen S. Giannino
Senior associate dean of admission, Colgate University

Forcing colleges to fill in the blanks: If there's something on your transcript or in your activities list that would raise a question, answer the question. If maybe you've gone all the way up to Honors French 3, and then you're not taking a language senior year, that's a question for an admissions officer: Why didn't she continue to take French?

Maybe it was a scheduling conflict. Tell us, so we don't just assume you decided to take it easy senior year. And get some adult - not your parents - to look at the file you've put together and invite them to ask you questions about it. It doesn't have to be an adult in the know. Sometimes naive questions are the best ones.

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.



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