5 Most Common Mistakes of College Applicants

If you want to be desired by college admissions, then be a desirable applicant.

On a winter afternoon in February, the mail arrives to mom’s anticipation. She goes out to check it and finds three letters with college letterhead on the envelope. To the thrill of the family, she yells out “The college admissions letters have arrived, everyone come look!” 

The family circles around her, she hands them off to her child, the applicant, and says, “Here we go, let’s open them up.”

Denied…

Denied…

Deferred…

To the astonishment and utter disappointment of all, they gently put the papers down and everyone moves back to their previous place. “How can that be?” the mother utters in quiet dismay to the father. “That makes no sense at all. I wonder if there’s been a mistake.”

Where did we go wrong?

This is a common scenario, and yes, this family made several mistakes.

Turn back the clock to that mid-month day in November, when mom said, “It’s time to get your applications going. Let’s open up the Common App.” A couple of weeks later, six applications were randomly submitted, casually prepared, a last minute essay written and attached, briefly considered supplemental questions answered, and off they went into cyberspace, to land one day upon a person’s computer for review. Predictably so, denials and defers came rolling in. Why would one expect anything different? 

October comes around each year, then November, then December. For high school seniors across the land, they begin to think about submitting college applications and writing a quick essay. They know the applications are due, but the family is busy and application deadlines are months away. So, no hurry. What’s the deadline date they ask? Oh, we have time, so they think.

They don't...

Then at their convenience, they go online, quickly fill out the “regular decision” application, attach their essay and casually hit the “submit” button. Feeling pretty good, they get through the holiday season informing family and friends of their preferred college interests. After all, they met the basic academic requirements for their colleges with a good GPA, a decent SAT or ACT score and a few AP classes taken. However, in most cases they remain unknown to the admission office. As such, they leave it all to chance and put their college future at risk.

For too many families, this is the typical approach that often results in needless rejections.   

So let me share some insight here. We’ve identified the five most common and costly mistakes made by student-families in the college admissions process. 

Mistake 1: Viewing a weak application essay as being strong.  

There is a big difference between a good essay and a great essay, between a nice story and a meaningful story, between an essay that captures a reader’s immediate interest and those that don’t capture any interest. That’s why many essays don’t get read past the first two sentences.

Don’t get read? That’s right.

Every quality essay has a title and a conclusion, flows from an introduction through to a meaningful conclusion, is written with vivid description, and concludes with a strong statement reflecting probable college success. Quality essays are easy and interesting to read while holding the reader’s attention. Anything otherwise is not good enough and won’t serve the purpose—denied!

Mistake 2: Submitting an incomplete application.

There are a few key areas of an application through which admission officers can quickly determine that a student rushed the application, leaving it incomplete. 

First and foremost is the “Additional Information” box found in the Writing component. It is reported to me that this is left blank in over 95% of applications. That’s a big mistake.

Then there’s the “Activities” section where most people rush through and either enter a couple of activities or list activities that provide little value.

Responses to supplemental questions can determine the fate of an application. It is reported to us that many admission officers go right to this area of the application to review the responses. If they lack insight or attention, then it reflects poorly on the applicant—denied! 

Mistake 3: Failure to connect in a meaningful way with the admissions office. 

Welcome to the key driving term in every admissions office: “conversion rate.” The business model of the university runs through the admissions office and is driven by the conversion rate. The conversion rate reflects enrollments as a percentage of acceptances. 

The admissions office is run by analytics. The acceptance rate is the number of acceptances as a percentage of applications. The number of acceptances is driven by the conversion rate.

This is not an exact science, but suffice it to say the admissions office relies on conversions of acceptances into enrollments. Otherwise, the college is left with open seats and a significant loss in revenue.

It is important to connect with the admissions office throughout the application process. The admission officers must sense the likelihood of your enrollment if you are granted an acceptance. It’s the big business of college at work. If they don’t believe you will enroll—denied!  

Mistake 4: No application and scholarship strategy. 

College is a purchasing-decision, and it should reflect a buy-sell process. In considering that colleges are service providers while families are buyers, it seems that having a proactive, detailed, and knowledge-based strategic plan would be the starting point for everyone. Does anyone buy a house without having a plan and strategy? 

Hoping, waiting, and wishing for good news to come in the mail is not the best way to secure good news. Rather, beginning as early as 9th grade, a strategic plan for finding the right college should be in place.

An effective strategy results in receiving 6 – 8 acceptances, offering a range of experiences and costs to consider. After all, we’re not talking about buying televisions here, rather, we’re talking about buying a college education and a once-in-a-lifetime college experience.

Blindly submitting applications that seem right or that Naviance picked as a match is not a strategy—denied!

Mistake 5: Not paying attention to social media.  

In a recent survey, over 40% of admission counselors acknowledged that they immediately access the applicants Facebook account to look for improprieties that might negate the applicant.

Qualifying credentials and a good essay cannot overcome such improprieties. You know what those improprieties are, anything that might upset grandma will likely negatively reflect on an applicant. Let’s face it, if an admissions officer is looking to make a five-minute decision, then Facebook will do it—denied!

Poor planning, inattentiveness, or carelessness can all contribute to application denials. These are all avoidable mistakes over which you have more power and control than you think. Understanding common mistakes and managing the process to avoid pitfalls will make for improved outcome.

This article was brought to you by Hans Hanson. Founder and CEO of CollegeLogic,   
www.mycollegelogic.com.