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Common College Application Mistakes

Many parents and students ask about the most common mistakes that are made on college applications. It’s a great question, because these mistakes almost always stem from right-headed intentions. Avoiding them is simply a matter of understanding the mindset of admissions officers. The most common mistakes on college applications fall into two categories. They don’t cover every way you can mess up your application, but they do describe the most common mistakes.

Too Much Stuff

This is a big one, and important to note because we often tell applicants that admissions officers like to have more information on you rather than less. This is true—but only to a point. Admissions officers also like to do things their own way, and are very busy. So they like to have plenty to go on, but only within the bounds of what they request from you. Hence, you should always write every supplementary essay, send the maximum number of recommendations (i.e. if they say 2-3 then 3 is better), and send supplementary materials (such as a musical recording) according to the requests or directions of the admissions office.

What you should not do is send anything else. Many applicants want to send a resume, a bunch of extra recommendations, an extra explanatory essay, even gifts. This is not the way to impress an admissions officer; the best way to do that is to send everything they ask for on time, and make sure all of that is thoughtfully and scrupulously done.

Essay Mistakes

There are so many different essay mistakes that it’s hard to know where to start. All of them, however, involve falling into one of the cliched and unappealing types that admissions officers see all too often. The best way to avoid this is to forget about what your friends are writing about (or what you imagine they’re writing about), forget about what you think admissions officers or your parents want to read, and forget even about selling yourself. Instead, think about the prompts and brainstorm a lot, and try to be as honest with yourself as possible. If you come up with an answer independently of all those outside influences, then you’ll more likely than not come up with something unique. You’ll avoid the cliches. You’ll also write a better essay that will allow admissions officers to get to know you in a real way, which is all they really want.

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