Common College Application Mistakes

And How to Avoid Them

As application season approaches, it is important to know how to avoid common college admission mistakes to ensure your application stands out from the crowd. With the college landscape becoming increasingly competitive with application numbers skyrocketing it is imperative to be conscious of best admission practices, employ a detailed-oriented approach in your applications, and choose your colleges strategically. In this blog, I discuss the top 5 biggest mistakes I have witnessed in my work in higher education. 

Common college application mistakes and how to avoid them

The Pitfalls to Avoid

Not Employing an Early Admission Strategy

For students planning on attending selective institutions, it is vital to use a strategic approach in crafting your college list, which should always include an early admission strategy. Early Decision admission is binding but also benefits the student because you receive an admission decision by December and provides close to double the admission rate of Regular Decision; while Early Action is not binding, this track offers around a 4-6% increased admit rate, an earlier decision, and the ability to compare financial aid offers earlier. Many students are disinterested in choosing an Early Decision school since they will have to commit to one school in lieu of other acceptances. However, in an overly competitive and saturated environment, you must hedge your bet and make the decision that gives you the best odds of getting accepted to the strongest school. The Early Decision track will give you the greatest admission advantage to receive an acceptance to the best possible school.

Applying to College Undecided

Another common applicant mistake is choosing to apply to college as undecided. As a high school student, you may not have your entire career trajectory figured out; however, selective universities want to see academic alignment as a part of your admission profile. They expect you to have academic engagement outside the classroom through pursuing intellectual passions that relate back to your major of interest, which can be a difficult task when you are undecided on your academic interests. My advice is to reflect on subjects you are currently fascinated by or academically succeeding in and find ways to pursue that field of study. By continuing to grow your knowledge in this area through research, activities, or summer programs you may discover your academic calling. Students who apply undecided tend to have well-rounded and generic activities that will fail to stand out against students who have delved into intellectual exploration. 

Generic Personal Essay

The personal essay is a pivotal opportunity to emphasize your passions, how you have influenced others, an important lesson you have learned, or something that highlights what makes you unique. A generic essay leads committee members to skim your writing and skip to another aspect of your application. The biggest mistakes students make in their personal essays are using it as a resume rundown, sharing too much personal information, not taking time to edit carefully, or choosing a topic and then not speaking about how the person, experience, or challenge impacted them personally. It is called a “personal statement” because it should focus on you, and this space allows you to share what is special and unique about yourself. I always recommend finding a way to incorporate your academic interests into your essay topic but in a way that also showcases your passions, what you learned from your experiences, and how they have influenced your future. Most importantly, the essay should say something important about who you are.

Underemphasizing Extracurricular Activities

Your college application is not the time to be humble but rather the time to brag about yourself. Your goal is to convince a university that you are the right candidate to attend their school. The way to accomplish this is by highlighting your activities in the correct way. Firstly, the order you list your activities is critical. You want first to prioritize your activities relating to your major of interest. Also, consider giving higher placement to unique activities that showcase the strongest impact, i.e., research, internships, and related selective summer programs. These should be followed by activities that boast leadership roles, trailed lastly by common activities such as member-level student organizations or activities unrelated to your academic area of interest. Finally, take your time to write strong and effective descriptions. You are given only 150 characters to express what you accomplished through each activity and be sure to quantify your accomplishments and make the limited space work for you.  

Under Researched Supplemental Essays

In the application, the supplemental essays are often given the least effort by students but are a highly impactful consideration in the admission process. As a former committee member, I can say that about fifty percent of supplemental essays are shallow, generic, and lacking specificity to the individual university. For colleges, the fit of the student can be an important deciding factor in their admission decision. The most common mistakes I came across in my experience were students writing about general aspects of a university that could apply to any school, for example, the location, the campus aesthetics, the weather, and the school’s major rankings. These facts are easily searched online and found with marginal effort. The second and much less subtle mistake is when students copy and paste essays, they will inevitably leave names of buildings or universities from a different school. This blatant and egregious mistake will have an immediately negative reaction from the admission committee.  

Whether you are a high school freshman or a junior about to embark on the application process, I hope these best practices will help you succeed in your college journey. If you found these tips helpful and would like additional assistance with the college admission or application process, contact us today to learn how Solomon Consultants can assist you. We can’t wait to help you reach your college goals!

Former Assistant Director of Admission at Rice University

4 Years in Rice University Admission
14,000+ Applications Read and Evaluated

Jessica has her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from The University of Texas. She also completed her MBA while working full time in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at her alma mater before transitioning to Rice University. As a first-generation college graduate, she is passionate about helping students apply to their dream schools.

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