One of the most exciting times in a teenager’s life is when they decide to start applying for college. It also can be one of the most terrifying.
College applications are complicated beasts in which a student must tell their high school experience in a very succinct manner while following guidelines set by colleges.
Some colleges may have the same set of instructions, some won’t. A student will most likely complete their college applications online, through the Common Application or on a school’s website.
The Common App helps students apply to multiple colleges with only one form. But each college may have different requirements for essays and tests scores.
Students have to give tons of information about themselves, their families, their school, GPA, test scores, awards, community work, extracurricular activities – the list goes on and on.
To make it all more stressful, students are still in school with homework, projects, and social lives while they are trying to balance the college application process.
It’s enough to make even the most organized student start to pull out their hair.
Needless to say, mistakes can be made.
The Most Common Mistakes Made on College Applications
What do college admissions experts say is the most common one? Not following the instructions.
It’s easy to get confused with so many documents and forms, so students should have a plan as they start the college application process and have an organized system.
Other common mistakes include:
- Putting down another school’s name on an application or on scholarship essays
- Avoiding completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or not filling it out correctly
- Not meeting deadlines
- Having their parents fill out paperwork and writing essays
- Not making a professional email account with their legal name and checking it often enough
- Communicating infrequently with colleges or not at all
- Forgetting to proofread
- Not using the same legal name on all forms
Make Sure Students Are Making Their Own Decisions
One of the first missteps students often take is when deciding on a college and/or a major.
They sometimes go to a college because their parents want them to go to their alma maters or a prestigious college.
But the downsides are the student doesn’t want to go and the school may not have the area of study the student wants.
If they can’t figure it out, they just follow a friend’s lead and go wherever their friend goes. Big mistake. Students need to make their own decision about college.
After all, they will be living there for four years, and that place will forever influence their future.
Many times students don’t want to tell their parents about their true wants, and parents don’t know how to talk honestly about college.
But a blunt discussion is needed. After all, thousands of dollars will be invested in the decision.
College Admissions Officers Offer Advice
Students often think they have to follow a formula as they write about their personal story for college admittance.
They think essays should focus on numbers like GPA and test scores.
Additionally, they add a lot of community service projects like they are creating a resume and not a portrait of their life.
For a denouement, they think they must add a tragic story or “aha” moment, said Adam Miller, Director of Admission, Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
“Colleges like Whitman look at the whole student, not just the numbers; in fact, like more than 1,000 colleges nationwide Whitman is test-optional,” Miller said. “And we’re interested in getting to know more about students than just a laundry list of activities. We’re interested in what motivates them and what they’ve been meaningfully committed to during their high school years. In some cases that could mean staying focused on a couple of things that are really important to them, rather than signing up for every club at school.”
He added that a student’s life isn’t just the story of good works relating to community groups.
“It’s important to remember that things like part-time work or helping out with family responsibilities definitely count as activities that should be listed in the application,” he said.
Help Admissions Officers Understand Your Circumstances
Other admission officials echoed Miller, saying that if students have had difficult circumstances they should explain their story and put it in context with how they overcame the problem and why their story should resonate to a college official.
That’s especially true if a student will be the first person in their family to attend college. Such facts make an impression.
Bethany Roberts, a customer relations manager in admissions at Wilmington University in New Castle, Delaware, said, “It’s appropriate to talk about challenges that life has handed out, but be sure to round out the theme with how you handled the challenge and worked through it.
It’s a red flag when a student expresses the inability to handle life’s challenges as college is filled with them!”
Roberts also offers a few more pointers for students:
- A student’s legal name is critical on forms and even when they are requesting information. If different names appear on forms, (say a nickname rather than your formal name – Liz instead of Elizabeth, for example) it can slow down the application process and make it difficult. It may even cause missing deadlines. Sometimes there isn’t enough room on a form for a long name. If that’s the case, contact your admissions counselor and tell them your problem. They can make a note of the issue and help you quicker.
- Students shouldn’t use parents’ information when applying. “You are the applicant, not your parents, so avoid using a parent’s email address when applying,” Roberts said.
- Students should leave shyness behind and take control of the application process. “If the student has questions, they should be the one to reach out, not the parents,” Roberts said. “If the student needs to, they can “cc” their parents but the email should be written and submitted by the student. It is often very easy to tell when a piece of correspondence is written by the student or the parent.
Roberts said. “It shows maturity and this will help prepare them for the rigors of post-secondary life.”
Colleges Reach Out With Important Information
Georgia Drewes, Associate Director for Admissions Recruitment at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, has been working in college admissions for six years.
Newman is a small, private college with about 3,700 students. At a campus this small, communication between college officials and students is imperative.
“We take a lot of care in contacting our students through a variety of platforms (i.e. phone, text, email, visits, mail, social media, etc.) to make sure they’re well-informed about application processes, scholarship deadlines, visiting and registration events, and much more,” Drewes said. “But my fellow reps and I are often discouraged at how many students don’t answer and don’t return contact.”
Yes, it may seem obvious, but students need to answer their phones and reply to emails.
“We feel like they’re missing out on the assistance we can offer,” Drewes said. “I always tell my students that if I’m calling, it’s because I genuinely want to help and feel that you’re missing a document or about to miss a deadline.
I don’t just call to chat, though I do enjoy conversing with students.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Applying to college is a multi-step process, and it needs to be done correctly. But students shouldn’t fear it, because plenty of people like admissions staff are happy to help.
Students and parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions – lots of them, if needed – to get the guidance they need to make the college application process as easy as possible.
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