Castle High Guidance - Top 10 Admission Mistakes

By Mark Rowh

The number one complaint cited by college officials about applications they receive is poor spelling.

“This seems like a no-brainer, but I wish I had a dollar for every time a student misspelled something,” says Brett Carguello, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Cazenovia College. He recalls one student who, in discussing a math class, wrote: I knew I needed help. I needed a tooter.

Make sure you proofread for errors spell check won’t catch, too; spell check can’t tell if you accidentally wrote “massage” when you meant to say “message.”

Many application mistakes could be avoided with more careful proofreading.

A common pitfall is putting the wrong college name on an essay or application. “Students often use the same essay for multiple applications,” says Rob Durkle, Director of Admission for the University of Dayton. “As they cut and paste their essay, they sometimes forget to edit it to reflect the name of the school they are actually applying to.”

Careful proofing can prevent other problems such as factual errors, poor word choices, and errors in grammar and punctuation.

In this age of e-mail and blogs, language tends to be a lot less formal than it once was. But too much informality, like text-message speak or slang, turns off officials, who want to know if you can write at the college level.

Also, be aware of details that might cast a negative impression. An e-mail address like will almost certainly be a turn-off to colleges.

A college application may include several components. “Don’t rush through the application and leave items blank,” says Carol Rowlands, Director of Admissions at Lafayette College.

But at the same time, don’t overdo it. Too much info can also be a weakness. “Less is more,” says Susan C. Christian, Dean of Enrollment at Rider University. “Students will submit a journal on all of their activities. But we would much prefer to see a short, concise list of those activities that have quality participation.”

“Applicants tend to ignore the importance of the application essay,” says Timothy Dawson, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Systems at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. “This may include failing to read the question to ascertain what the essay is really looking to assess.”

You should be interested in what you are writing about, but it shouldn’t be dramatic. “A lot of applicants seem to feel the need to tell us some horrific story,” says Carguello. “The problem with that type of essay is that the vast majority of the time, I don’t learn anything about who this applicant is.”

In some cases, applications don’t convey any sense that the student really wants to attend the school. Illegible handwriting, missing information, a poorly written essay, and skimpy details can all point to lack of interest.

Failure to visit the college can be another indicator. “Show interest in whatever college [you apply to] by making a visit,” Christian says. “Colleges will often use this as one of the factors in making the final admission decision.”

“Don’t stretch the truth,” Rowlands says. “Sometimes ‘editor of the yearbook’ is listed when a student may be a section editor.”

Some students purposefully misrepresent information, such as leaving out poor grades. Some even alter documents, like transcripts. However, the facts usually come to light through the financial aid process or other documentation.

Chase says that instead of trying to hide negative information, it’s best to provide reasonable explanations. “Be honest and take advantage of the essay portion of the application to explain any items that could be misinterpreted.”

“Missing deadlines is one of the most heart-wrenching mistakes a student can make,” says Mary Grondahl, Vice President for Enrollment Management at the College of Saint Rose.

“Students wait too late to take their first ACT or SAT,” says Durkle. “And be careful about waiting on your last set of scores before you apply, because space might not be available when they are received.”

While parents should be heavily involved in any decisions related to applying to college, some students let Mom or Dad become too involved.

“It’s the student who should ask the questions. You should be the one who demonstrates interest in the college, and you should do your own work on the application,” says Melanie Reed, Director of College Advising at Seattle Academy. She notes that sometimes it’s obvious that parents have completed much or all of the work, and college officials are not impressed.

Just why are you interested in a given school? If you don’t do a good job of articulating this, you’ll sell yourself short.

“Students often don’t invest the time in the question I consider the most precious part of the application outside the transcript: the ‘why do you want to attend College X’ question,” says Reed. “This is where you can demonstrate understanding of a particular school and highlight personal strengths that fit that college and its offerings.”