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Common Mistakes to Avoid on College Applications

College applications are a source of stress for students and parents alike. During application season, most seniors worry about their grades, college essays, or extracurricular activities, and rightfully so. An uncompelling high school resume can break your college application.

Having worked with thousands of senior students, I’ve seen several mistakes that could lead to college rejection. So, I’m here to help you put your best foot forward when applying to your dream college. If you avoid these six common mistakes, you’ll be on your way to a successful application.

6 MISTAKES to Avoid on Your College Applications

Mistake #1 – Not preparing a college list

Most students set their eyes on a specific university, usually a top-tier one. While there’s nothing wrong with having a dream school, focusing on only one college makes it impossible to research other options. So, try to be open-minded when applying to colleges.

Students avoid expanding their college list because they think their application will be strong enough. However, the application process is highly competitive. In fact, college admission rates can be as low as 4% in top-tier schools. Tons of qualified students apply to colleges each year. So, meeting or even exceeding the requirements does not guarantee acceptance.

I recommend looking at College Express, College Board, and U.S. News for university and program rankings. Take another look at your college list and expand your options. If you’re not sure where to start compiling a list, check out my guide here.

Mistake #2 – Reporting an incorrect academic record

Inputting the wrong grades can result in a rejection. Your school sends all your transcripts to the university you're applying to. However, some college application portals will require you to input your grades on an honor system.

If you input the wrong grade or incorrectly convert a “pass/no pass” grade to a letter grade, it throws off your entire GPA. This could make admissions officials question your honesty. So, ensure that the grades on your transcript are the same as those on the portal.

Mistake #3 – An uncompelling college essay

I could honestly write a book about all the ways a subpar college essay could derail your application. So, it’s important to ensure that yours stands out. Students often pick a common essay topic, resulting in a college essay that lacks introspection. A college essay gives admissions officers a better insight into who you are. They love seeing individuality and unique skill sets that will complement other students on campus.

A generic essay doesn’t show YOUR contribution to the community; tons of other students are doing the same thing. Therefore, thinking through what really sets you apart from others will be helpful. People remember how you make them feel, not what you say. And so, your essay should make admissions counselors feel for you, understand your path, empathize with you, and root for you.

Avoid writing about COVID-19 or how you got a bad grade because these topics won’t set you apart from other applicants. I really challenge you to think through other trials and tribulations that you overcame beyond the academic space. Save generic topics for the additional comments section in your application portals.

A college essay must have an interesting hook. Your introduction should not be too straightforward or answer all the prompts. If someone gets all your information from the first paragraph, they’ll see no need to read the rest of your essay, meaning it will move to the rejection pile.

Lastly, do not get caught repurposing your essay for another school. I encourage students to be efficient when writing essays because they're all similar. I totally understand that you're busy, but you must proofread your work and answer all prompts. Admissions officers have been doing this for years, and they can spot a repurposed essay a mile away.

Mistake #4 – Not having a strong resume

It’s important to remember that your college resume is about quality, not quantity. Doing a ton of activities will have little effect on your application if they are not related to your major.

Colleges look at extracurricular activities, strong leadership skills, and demonstrated interest in your major.

Interest in your major can be demonstrated through your extracurricular activities. Most college application portals have up to 20 activities for you to input. Your essay is the verbiage of what you say you're interested in, but evidence will come through your high school resume.

Utilize your summers and after-school time to demonstrate an interest in your major. Find creative ways to express your interest beyond traditional paths like science clubs. If you’re interested in a STEM field, try tutoring or doing math-related projects. You could also create YouTube videos about solving math problems.

Admissions officers and colleges want to see that you're interested in different topics within your career field. You will need to work hard, and this is only guaranteed if you’re passionate and excited about that topic. That passion is proven in the activity section of your application.

Mistake #5 – Dropping courses during senior year

On your college application, you’ll need to fill out what classes you're taking for the remainder of the school year, and you need to honor those classes.

I've seen students drop senior year classes thinking they’d get into their dream school anyway. Most students do this to avoid getting a lower grade that could taint their GPA, but that's not a good look with colleges. You’ve got to put your best foot forward for the rest of your senior school year. If you drop a class, colleges have the right to rescind your offer letter.

Mistake #6 – Procrastination

A lot of you are probably going through ambivalence, which means having so much anxiety that you don't even want to start. That's procrastination at work. So, start writing. Open a document or a notebook and answer college essay prompts from previous years. Understanding what those look like can save you so much time. You’ll also realize how much easier it is to write that essay once you get started.

I hope this article has been helpful in your college application journey. Read on for more advice on the college application process and career longevity. We have a fantastic YouTube community, and you can share your experience or learn from other students right here.

I'm a college and career advisor helping hundreds of students get into top universities and plan their long-term career paths. You can book a mentorship session with me here or post your questions below.

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