Common Mistakes on College Applications

by | Jul 28, 2011 | Applying to College | 2 comments

Each year my students tend to fall for the same mistakes when filling out college applications.  Because the UC, Common Application, and many others have not yet revealed their 2011-2012 Fall application, I will base these mistakes on past years’ applications.  Most will still apply for the next application season, do don’t you get caught making the same mistakes!

Adding wrong test scores

Some students will write the wrong scores or use the pull down menu on the online application incorrectly.   Many students will even add scores that are lower than what they have on their AP, SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject tests.  Of course the schools will receive your official scores from the College Board or the ACT, but this is the first thing they see on your application, so make it right.  When it comes to AP tests, many schools won’t require the AP scores until you decide to go to their school.  So make sure these scores are written correctly on your application!  I once had a student write a “3” when she got a “4” which is a big difference when it comes to placing out of a college course.  (4’s and 5’s tend to be the only scores which can place a student out of an entry level course in college).

UC Scholarship section

In the past, the UC application has given the student an option to check boxes for possible scholarships.  I promise, there will be a lot of boxes that pertain to you.  Don’t skip this section. This is potentially a chance for you to get free money from alumni!

The Activity Resume

The UC and some other applications have students divide their activity resume into sections.  Try to have something written in most of these sections.  Obviously don’t make up anything, but if you have an activity that could work across a few sections like Educational Prep Program or Volunteer Work or Extracurricular Activity and you’re heavy in one section and have nothing in another, then divide them up a bit.

Odd Symbols

Many student essays, once they’ve been cut and pasted onto the online application, show up with odd formatting.  This is usually because people have indented or put dashes or used italics.  These don’t transfer into the applications very well.  I’d advise you not to use dashes & italics in your essays & activity resume.  Instead of indenting to signify a new paragraph, just press return and have a space between paragraphs.

Essay versions

Make sure you upload your most recent version of your essay!  You’ve most likely gone through multiple editions of your essay with me or on your own.  I have found that students mistakenly upload an old version that didn’t have the corrected grammar or vocabulary or punctuation.  Make sure your final version is your polished version.

Quick Takes

In the past, some schools like Claremont McKenna, Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Southern California have asked the applicant for some “quick takes,” “fun facts,” or short phrase answers.  Here are a few:

  • Best adjectives to describe you:When you’re asked for some adjectives to describe you, email your best female friend, best male friend, and someone in your family who knows you best.  Write down your own adjectives, but then see how they compare to the others you receive from friends and family.  Perhaps you can find a few more interesting ones by doing this exercise.  Otherwise, some people use a thesaurus if their adjective sounds too “plain.”
  • For the “favorites” questions below, try to be really creative with your response.  Try to be as specific as possible to really separate yourself from the other students who might write the same answer.  Here are some examples:
    • Favorite food?A very common answer I hear each year is: “steak,” “pasta,” “salad,” “frozen yogurt.”  At least explain what kind of steak—from your mom’s kitchen or a specific restaurant.  “Grandma’s steak au poive” or “steak at team dinner” gives a little more of a story than just responding “steak.” “Mom’s Fusilli with Mushrooms” is a better answer than “pasta.” “Salad” leaves us wondering.  What type of salad—Chef? Greek? Cobb? One you make?  “Frozen Yogurt” could be anyone. “Strawberry-Vanilla swirl with rainbow sprinkles” shows us a little pizazz.
    • Favorite Activity for FunIf it’s hiking, biking, walking, swimming, yoga, etc…explain where, when and with whom just to give a little bit more about you.
    • Greatest inventionIf it’s the phone, camera, computer, calculator or car, just know that everyone else said that too.  I’m wagering that “Facebook” will take the most generic response this year.

As always, when it comes to all these common mistakes, the best advice is to start your applications early so that you aren’t careless.  The more time you have, the more thorough and creative you can be.

Common Mistakes on College Applications last edited by Danielle Bianchi Golod on