College Application Red Flags

You can browse the internet all day to find ways to strengthen your college application profile, but what about things NOT to do? 

Here are 7 college application red flags that will weaken your application and hurt your admissions chances:

  1. Not following directions.

Students might be trying to think outside the box to make a better impression and get a little fancy with their applications, but they need to make sure they still follow the instructions. Are you accurately answering the essay prompts? Are you submitting the right letter of recommendation? The correct number of recommendations? Reread the directions before hitting submit. You can find everything that is needed for your application on the university’s undergraduate admissions page.

  1. Incomplete materials or information.

As you fill out the Common App, Coalition App, or the app on the university’s website, you might skip a section, intending to finish it later, but then forget to come back to it. Before submitting, always triple check to ensure you have everything correct. An incomplete application not only shows a lack of effort but it also provides insufficient information for the admissions committee to make a decision.

  1. Not explaining grade dips or curriculum changes.

It is really important to provide additional context or justification for a drop in grades, a change in courses, or any discipline-related issues. This is where you should give more information to describe what occurred, why it happened, and how you’ve evolved as a result of the situation. Without any context to these changes or issues, the admissions reader won’t have any explanation and may assume you’re not ready to handle college.

  1. Not proofreading.

Making a couple of grammatical mistakes or typos is often given a pass. However, if your essay and application are riddled with errors, it is a huge red flag and can cause the reader to think that your writing skills are not up to par with where they need to be to be successful at their institution. Reread your essay to check for mistakes, especially ones that spell check won’t catch. Most students write their essays just a couple of days before they need to be submitted, and this just doesn’t serve them well. The students I work with get multiple edits, and they go through multiple people so nothing is missed.

  1. Writing the wrong university in the “Why this school?” essay, or mentioning a major that doesn’t exist at that particular school.

The absolutely biggest error you can make is using the wrong college name. Don’t say that you are very excited to go to Duke when you are actually writing an essay for UVA. This is a big no-no. Also, if you are applying to a major that may be called something different at different universities, be sure you mention the correct one in the correct essay. It is essential that you tailor each essay to fit the prompt, and proofread carefully if you are reusing material.

  1. When the essay is clearly written by someone else.

I have read many essays where you can tell the student didn’t write it. I always know when the kid hasn’t written it themselves- the word choices don’t match up with the rest of the application, the style isn’t right, and the flow is off. To be honest, when a parent writes the essay for their child, they are ultimately hurting their kid’s chances! The essay they write is never as good, because it doesn’t seem to be in the student’s voice. It is also a huge red flag that the student has no integrity. 

  1. Extracurriculars don’t match essays or chosen intended major.

The major you choose to apply to needs to match your extracurriculars and what you write about in your essays. If you are choosing to apply as a Computer Science applicant to Washington University in St. Louis, make sure that your extracurriculars and high school coursework reflect that interest. Also, be sure to do your research on the CS department so you can refer to opportunities offered by that university in your essays. On the flip side, let’s say your application indicates that you are a true CS student but you apply as a humanities major, admissions readers can read right through that. That is a huge red flag to admissions. 

Get help from a Solomon expert today!

Crafting a college application can take a lot of work, and honestly can be a little overwhelming. It is important to put your best foot forward when it comes to submitting your applications. An experienced consultant at Solomon can help make sure there are no red flags, while crafting a great application to help you shine through the paper. Contact us today to schedule your appointment!

Former Admissions Counselor at Washington University in St. Louis
Former Admissions Reader at Washington University in St. Louis
Former Transfer Admissions Counselor at Lindenwood University

4 years in Washington University Admissions
1 year in Lindenwood University Admissions
2,000+ Applications Read & Evaluated

Haley, a B.S. graduate in Communication from Millikin University, transitioned from finance to higher education. At Washington University, she evaluated applications for all undergraduate schools and various scholarship programs. As a first-generation college student, Haley deeply understands the challenges of the college application process and is committed to making it more accessible and less daunting for others.

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