Mistakes to Avoid in High Stakes College Process

Before 1998 most students typed and used correction tape to prepare applications using typewriters and then snail-mailed the paper components in an envelope to each college. Compared to that, online applications seem streamlined; however, they’re complicated and a missing piece of information can result in a denial letter.

Today, applying is a multi-stage, multi-document, multi-website, multi-person process. It’s like planning a vacation; you need to make a separate plane, rental car, hotel or Airbnb reservations. If you forget to book the flight or car, it could ruin your trip. Similarly each college application step is completed separately and is vital for the goal of completing a college application.

College application steps with notes (in red) where mistakes occur:

  1. Send official SAT and ACT scores directly from the testing institution to the universities. (Students who test and retest wait too long/forget to send their test scores.) With a growing number of colleges taking students’ best scores from multiple test dates (super scoring), I advise releasing test scores at the time you register for the exams.
  2. Request your official transcript for each college to which you apply. (This is a separate process from the online application and involves a process controlled by each high school or community college.) The transcript is the most important document and without it you will not be admitted to college. For students taking dual credit or college classes or multiple high schools, a transcript from each institution will be necessary to complete the application.
  3. Letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors can be overlooked and aren’t required by all colleges. (Students feel awkward asking and may procrastinate until it’s too late.) Recommendations must be sent by the recommender or the high school.
  4. Writing Personal Essays. (Students procrastinate and delay writing this central component and may feel anxious about what to write.) Start now and write a positive and honest first draft and keep polishing it over the next few weeks. The essay is typically included in most electronic applications like the Common Application.
  5. Expanded Resumes may be uploaded to many colleges. (Once seniors hear about this, they scramble to throw a resume together.) Many colleges do not require formal resumes using the format provided on the activities section of the application. Students may organize, list and explain activities and awards in an attractive manner that may not fit on the online application.  
  6. Interviews for undergraduate admission are typically informational and not evaluative, even for highly selective universities, but interviewing sends the message that a student is highly interested. With Facetime and Skype, no barriers exist to interviewing these days.
  7. Application and Application fees. The most popular online applications are: the Common Application, public state institutional applications like ApplyTexas and the new Coalition Application not to mention the UCAS application for colleges in the UK. These applications are the primary way to share educational data and express interest in a college. Many colleges require an application fee and some do not charge a fee to apply, but all colleges waive their application fee for students whose parents are low income as verified by a school counselor.
  8. College Application Portals. Once the online application is properly submitted you will receive an email (make sure the email address you list is correct) with steps for  checking the completeness of your application and uploading additional documents.