The college application process can be an extremely anxious time for every student. While admissions officers understand that nerves are high, mistakes happen, and the process is confusing, there are some major “don’ts” that can make or break your admission decision. Below, I have added a few tips and tricks to ensure you avoid these red flags.
Don’t #1: The Blame Game
Many students will include addendums within their application that can allow for an explanation of a grade, a misdemeanor, or anything else that may require further clarification. While writing the addendum, make sure that you know the difference between an explanation and an excuse. If you got a C in a math class because you didn’t work well with the teaching style of your instructor, avoid saying phrases like “I had a poor teacher who barely taught us and left everything to be self-taught through practice problems.” Your grades are ultimately your responsibility and making it someone else’s fault in your explanation will do nothing but illicit an eye roll from the admissions reader.
Don’t #2: Copy and Paste
It’s okay to use the same essays and responses for multiple schools but be absolutely sure you are reading and editing your writing so that it is geared toward the correct school. Accidentally including the wrong institution or program name will show carelessness in your work and will likely lead to a denial. Make sure you are replacing any institution-specific detail.
Don’t #3: Assume the Reader Knows it All
FBLA, COSMOS, NEHS, DECA.. there are a million acronyms in the world of high school activities. Make sure that when you are showcasing your extracurriculars, you are also explaining them. The roles and responsibilities of the President of the Habitat for Humanity club can be completely different depending on the school you attend. Be specific, add detailed goals that you accomplished, and make sure the reader knows what your organization stands for and advocates for, not just what you did in it.
Don’t #4: Be Frivolous in Your Letter of Recommendation Selection
Letters of recommendation are the only way that the reader can get to know you from a lens other than your own. Asking for a letter of recommendation from a teacher, supervisor, coach, or mentor should be a strategic and thought-out decision. Make sure that the person you are asking to write on your behalf has a clear, concise, and positive understanding of your work ethic, your ability to collaborate with others, your leadership skills, and your overall interests and goals. Prioritize the strength of the professional relationship you have with this person over the strength of the course. Ask them beforehand if they feel as though they can adequately advocate for you and provide them with concrete examples to make their job easier. Once someone agrees to write you a letter of recommendation, don’t be afraid to send them over your resume, writing samples, samples of particularly impressive work from their class, and a list of goals you have for college. Having an open conversation with them about the major you are applying for and why you are interested in that particular school can set them up successfully to write an intentional and impactful letter.
Former Assistant Director of Admissions at Johns Hopkins University
Former Admissions Officer at Georgetown University Law Center
1 Year in Johns Hopkins Admissions
2 Years in Georgetown Law Admissions
2,000+ Applications Read and Evaluated
Adriana, a Senior Admissions Consultant with honors from Florida State University, is currently pursuing a Master's in Higher Education Administration at Georgetown. With extensive experience at both Georgetown Law and Johns Hopkins University, she specializes in assessing a wide range of applications. Adriana's focus is on guiding students to find their unique path in the admissions process and thrive academically.