3 Significant College Application Mistakes Your Students Are Probably Making

High school seniors have a lot on their plate. Striving to do well in school, getting competitive scores on standardized tests, juggling extracurricular activities, and figuring out what college they want to attend (and how they’ll fund it) are just some of the challenges they’re facing. 

Although most students spend a significant amount of time crafting their college essays and trying to make their applications as mature, unique, and well-rounded as possible, there are a few common mistakes that can unintentionally sabotage the chance that an application will be seriously considered. 

Here are three of the most damaging mistakes that students frequently make on their college applications and how they can be avoided.

Put away that thesaurus: write your essays in your own words

One of the most frequent errors that college applicants make is feeling insecure about their writing ability and overusing a thesaurus to sound more “intelligent.” Although a thesaurus can be a beneficial tool for finding words that convey a precise meaning (and avoiding repetitive adjectives like “good”), it should be used in moderation. 

Students often make the mistake of trying too hard to make their writing sound overly impressive. This can obscure their meaning, and it’s certainly not going to overawe the admissions officers. Considering that they read thousands of essays every year, admissions officers will immediately notice when a student’s writing sounds stilted and unnatural. This is also an issue that comes up frequently on scholarship essays. 

Word choice makes a big difference in how an essay comes across, and college admissions officers and scholarship panel members want to feel like they are really getting to know the applicant. This means writing in one’s own, genuine voice, rather than selecting complicated, academic-sounding words from the thesaurus that sometimes don’t fit the context. 

Make sure to proofread carefully

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s another common issue that can cause admissions officers to make quick, and perhaps unfair, judgments about an application. Often, by the time students finish all of their applications and additional essays, they are tired and frustrated and just want to click that “Submit” button. However, taking the time to read over the entire application before submitting it is incredibly important. Ensuring that an application is professional-looking is essential if a student wants to demonstrate why he or she is worthy of the admissions panel’s consideration. 

Students should always leave themselves enough time to proofread the entire application before submitting it – ideally when they are well-rested and can look at it with fresh eyes. It’s also a good idea for them to ask a parent or older sibling to read it over, as well. 

Relying on a computer spell-check program is not a dependable way to proofread. Some errors won’t get picked up, and you run the risk of accidentally changing words. Although the quality of your spelling and grammar shouldn’t be the overriding factor that determines whether or not you receive an acceptance letter, the truth is that misspellings and grammatical errors can leave a negative impression in the admissions officer’s mind. Likewise, accidentally referring to the college by the wrong name or clearly reusing sections of an old essay that doesn’t match the prompt are significant errors that are likely to land your application in the “No” pile. 

Don’t be afraid to talk about achievements, adversity, and support 

A college application is all about making the applicant look as interesting and appealing as possible. However, many students find it challenging to write about themselves. They may not have done much reflective writing in the past. As a result, college applications can sometimes become overly self-indulgent. Alternatively, if a student is reluctant to talk about his or her personal struggles, the application may end up glossing over the applicant’s most significant achievements, such as overcoming adversity. 

Getting over the embarrassment of writing about yourself and being able to discuss one’s own interests and goals is crucial for pretty much every part of the college application. Students should aim to reflect on their experiences and aspirations thoughtfully and reflectively. This often means discussing some of their proudest or most difficult moments. 

It can be a tricky balance to write about yourself without “tooting your own horn” too much – or too little. Students need to recognize the individuals, institutions, and circumstances that have helped them get to where they are and achieve what they have already achieved. Likewise, students shouldn’t be afraid to mention difficulty or even failure. These are the kinds of experiences that can help them grow and mature – and that demonstrate their strength of character to the admissions officers.