The Top 5 College Application Mistakes to Avoid

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With the majority of college application deadlines just weeks — or even days — away, it’s important that your son or daughter perform a thorough review of his or her applications to avoid making obvious mistakes that can negatively impact his or her admissions chances. When your child is done with that, he or she should do it again and then have a second and third set of eyes do the same. Serious colleges want serious applicants, and a shortsighted error can spell disaster for your child’s admission prospects.

Below is College Transitions’ list of five college application mistakes applicants frequently make, and that you can help your child avoid.

1. Prevent typos. Let’s start with the most obvious mistake. In life, typos happen. Autocorrected texts can turn a “dear friend” into a “dead friend.” Make sure your child reads and rereads her application, then rereads it again. Then encourage her to ask everyone she knows to read it. Because, when it comes to grammar, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

2. Be professional. We know your child’s account has served him well since eighth grade. While others in your child’s social group traded in their Hotmail accounts for Gmail ones eons ago, your son held steady. Advise your son to keep his goofy/offensive/nonsensical email account and use it without shame — except when he is emailing prospective colleges.

His best bet is to open a new account that is as close to his legal name as possible: If his name is Mike Jones, he might have to add a six-digit number after it, but that’s okay.

3. Don’t beat a dead horse. We’re using a cliché here and not referring to actual postmortem equine abuse (tip: that wouldn’t look good on a college application either), but the point is, admissions officers do not like to read the same thing over and over. Advise your child against weaving the same tale of overcoming adversity through field hockey into every essay topic.

Since real estate space on an application is valuable, she should use every open space to reveal something new and important about who she is. That’s what it’s there for.

4. Avoid creating a never-ending activity page. Your child organized a potato sack race at a family reunion when he was 10? “Welcome to Stanford University, young man!” says the man in the tweed jacket as he hands a teenage boy a celebratory cigar. Perhaps this absurd, never-gonna-happen scenario is the fantasy driving applicants who submit activity pages and resumes longer than that of the average head of state. Suggest to your child that he keep his resume and activity pages short and sweet. Colleges know that no matter how accomplished your 18-year-old may be, he’s still a teenager. The great majority of his resume-worthy achievements lie ahead.

5. Keep Mom and Dad on a leash. Speak to any group of college admissions officials and tales of overly involved parents abound. Make no mistake: Excessive parental intervention can harm your child’s admissions chances. Emails and phone calls to the admissions office should come exclusively from the applicant, not the parents. Your child’s application should not show any traces of Mom or Dad’s influence — or middle-aged writing techniques.

For a further explanation of an appropriate role for parents to take during the admissions process, revisit our November 2016 column in Carolina Parent, titled “A Parent’s Role in the College Admissions Process.”

Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also a co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at