The Most Common Blunders College Applicants Make
The college application process is full of potential roadblocks and landmines. Every application has multiple sections, various deadlines and a host of specific requirements that need careful attention. On top of that, most students aren't just filling out one application for one school, but several different ones. It is important that all the steps are completed in a timely and professional manner. Here are some of the most common areas where applicants make mistakes.
Meeting deadlines is the most important part of the application process. You could work on your application for months, perfecting your essays and getting great letters of recommendation. It might be the best application they have ever seen, but if it is submitted late it probably won't even get looked at. No matter what, make sure you meet all the necessary deadlines.
Remember, you application won't have just one deadline. There are a number of moving parts in the process and it is important that students keep track of this, especially if you are applying to multiple schools. In addition to the overall application deadline, some important dates to look out for include Early Action or Early Decision deadlines (more on those below), scholarship deadlines and financial aid, which can include state, federal and aid directly from the institution you're attending.
In some cases, college admissions will still accept applications after the deadline if they haven't filled all the spots for the incoming class. Even so, you will still most likely be missing the deadlines for financial aid, scholarships, students housing and others.
While almost everyone will tell you that applying early is critical, there are still some pitfalls that many students are unaware of. In some cases, it will be obvious that a student needed to spend a little more time polishing up his or her application. The advantage you get from applying early will be lost if it isn't looking as good as it can.
Some students unknowingly limit their choices by applying early. This is especially the case at schools with Early Decision policies. Early Decision means that you are only allowed to apply to that one school. Applications are usually due sometime in November and a response will come before the end of the year. To be sure, Early Decision applications are at the top of the stack, but if you're not absolutely certain that this school is your first choice, you shouldn't seek and Early Decision. Many admissions departments will share their list of Early Decision applicants with other schools to ensure that students aren't applying to multiple schools.
A fewer number of schools have an Early Action admissions policy. This is similar to Early Decision, but allows the student to apply to multiple schools at once. This policy is more rare and it offers the student a number of advantages. You could apply to multiple Early Action schools, receive acceptance letters in December, and still wait until the spring to make a final decision. But as always, there are other deadlines (scholarship, financial aid) that you may be missing in the meantime.
As with every part of the process, it is important that you completely understand how each school's admissions policy works. Even Early Decision and Early Action policies vary from school to school.
Involving Your High School Counselor
Many students often forget that throughout this complicated process, they have an experienced advocate in their corner: the high school guidance counselor. Your counselor is there to help guide you down the path. They have been there before and can steer you clear from some of those roadblocks and landmines, often before you even know it. One of the most common mistakes that students make is not keeping the lines of communication open with their counselors.
Your counselor can offer you perspective that you won't get anywhere else. If you're trying to figure out which schools to apply to, your counselor is one of the best people to bounce ideas off of. They will often know some valuable details about particular schools, or at the very least they can point you to the right information and resources.
Once you've chosen schools and begun the application process, your counselor is the best person (other than yourself) to help keep you on-schedule and ahead of the deadlines. He or she will make sure your high school transcripts are sent to the colleges, help you arrange letters of recommendation and even assist you with some difficult sections of the application.
This is basic common sense, but it is also the downfall of many an application. It is absolutely critical that you proofread every part of your application and make sure everything is in order. Once you've done that, have someone else read it. A new set of eyes will catch mistakes that you didn't.
Many schools accept the Common Application, which makes the whole process easier for students. But this leads to a common and embarrassing error: listing the wrong school. If you're writing one essay and plugging it into different applications for different schools, you'll want to make sure that you're changing the name of the school each time. Admissions counselors are thoroughly unimpressed when they read the wrong school name somewhere in your application. It sends a signal that this school isn't your top priority, or just that you rushed the process and aren't a detail-oriented student. A bad sign either way.
Letters of Recommendation
If you've been a good student who participates in class discussions and has formed quality relationships with some of your teachers, coaches or mentors, you should have no trouble getting letters of recommendation. Some students are tempted to ask a famous relative or someone with connections to the school. This is fine if the person actually knows you. But if this is not the case, if the letter is really about the signature on the bottom, it will look superficial and won't do you any favors. It's much better to ask someone who has had day-to-day experience with you and knows you as a student.
Once you have decided whom to ask for a letter of recommendation, it is important to give them ample time. This person is going out of his or her way to do you a favor. If you rush them, the letter will be of lesser quality. But if you allow several weeks or a month, that teacher will most surely spend a little extra time, getting a little more specific about you and your strengths. Admissions counselors read thousands of these letters, and when a teacher really admires a student, they can see so immediately.
Make sure the letter writer knows some details about the school and why you are applying there. You may have already decided you want to enter the engineering program. Knowing this detail will allow the letter writer to include more relevant specifics about your interest and background in engineering.
Finally, once the whole process is complete and you've been accepted into a college, take some time to thank your letter writer. This can be done with a personal visit, a phone call, email or a thank you card in the mail. At the very least, this person did you a favor and it's worth your gratitude. But if you had a good relationship with that teacher, they will be excited to hear the news and proud that they were a part of the process.
Your parents are always going to be a valuable resource for you, and it is important that they are involved in the college application process. But it is very common for parents to be too involved or dominate the process entirely. The student should be the one steering the ship and doing most of the legwork. If a parent's fingerprints are all over an application, admissions counselors will see it.
Even before the application is submitted, parents can often smother the process. When investigating schools and making contacts, the student should take the lead, with parents' help happening behind the scenes. If you let your parents take control of the process early on, that influence will often last through the process. This, in and of itself, is a negative. Admissions counselors are looking for signs of self-sufficiency on the student's part. Your parents aren't going to be there to dot the i's and cross the t's when you get to college, and your college experience really begins with the application process.
Remember, it's your name on the application and your life that will be affected most. The best person to look out for you is you.