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Common College Application Mistakes

By Roxana Hadad

December 04, 2008

The best mistakes are those you learn from. Below, guidance counselors and admissions counselors from around the country reveal the most common college application errors.

Follow Directions

A lot of mistakes can be easily avoided by following directions. All college applications may look the same, but read the directions carefully — they can be quite different. Keep a sharp lookout for these stumbling blocks:

* Submit the correct number of essays. If it says “choose one,” select only one of the suggested essay topics. If it says “complete all,” write an essay for every topic requested.

* If an essay question has more than one section, provide an answer for every part. Make sure that your responses answer the questions and that it’s clear which response goes with which answer.

* Compute the grade point average according to the instructions. Different schools use different methods for computing GPAs.

* Be careful not to confuse “country” with “county.”

Sins of Omission

If you have a tendency to be forgetful, doublecheck and triple-check to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

Create a checklist then do a final review to see that you’ve included all the required parts:

* If you’ve written your essays on separate sheets of paper, don’t forget to include them in the application packet.

* Don’t forget to sign your application or recommendation letter waiver.

* Be sure to list your intended major. If you’re not sure, write undecided.

* When a college asks for senior year classes, be sure to submit your classes for the entire year, not just first semester.

Give Them What They’re Asking For

Read all the directions carefully. It can be easy to misunderstand what you’re being asked to provide. If you’re not sure what they mean or you’re confused by a certain question, ask. A quick call to the admissions office will save you from making an embarrassing error. And be sure to doublecheck these common problem spots:

* Include a permanent address. The address you use should be one that the college can contact you at during the entire admissions process.

* If you’re asked what grade level you are entering, write down your year in school for the next academic year.

* When you are asked to list your activities, don’t limit yourself to activities in high school (unless that’s specified). Include work with community organizations, volunteer efforts or part-time/full-time work.

* For “nickname,” include your preferred name, if you have one (e.g. Jim, instead of James). Don’t write in the names your friends use when they joke around with you (e.g. “Squid,” “Buster,” etc.).

* If the application asks for “zip code + 4,” enter your entire nine digit zip code. If you’re not sure what your nine digit zip code is, consult the US Postal Service.

Bloopers and Blunders

It helps to have other people like your guidance counselors, teachers or family members, look over your application to see if you’ve missed anything. Sometimes it’s the little things that can hurt your chances for admission.

* Use the spellchecker on both the applications and the essays. And doublecheck the spelling of the name of the school you’re applying to.

* Don’t count on the spellchecker alone. Just because something is spelled correctly doesn’t mean it makes sense (e.g. “I no a lot about applying two college.”).

* Watch how you enter dates. A frequent error: Students list the current year for their birthday (e.g. 1/1/06 instead of 1/1/86).

* If you’re going to use some of your responses for more than one school, be sure to replace the name of the school with the correct one (e.g. In an application for Wesleyan, “…and this is why I want to go to Brown.”).

It’s a good idea to complete a draft copy of the application before you start working on the final draft to avoid some of these mistakes. Your best bet for submitting a great application is to allow a lot of time to complete it. That will keep you from making these errors on your application, as well as the worst mistake you can make: sending it after the deadline.


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