Avoid These College Application Pitfalls

by Rachel Ross

For many high school seniors, fall means sweating out the college application process. It would be a shame to mess up that hard work with avoidable mistakes. We asked area college admissions officials what they see as the most common and avoidable application errors students make. Here’s what they said.

Don’t use your nickname or a shorter form of your given name on your applications.
“Find out what name your high school has on your transcript and use this on all application documents. This will help schools link up the various pieces of your application (application, transcripts, SAT scores, etc.),” says Erin Finn, assistant vice president for admissions at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Avoid using inappropriate e-mail addresses on your applications.
“Use an appropriate e-mail address. We see some students with e-mail
addresses such as mygirlfriendishot@aol.com or stonerbob@gmail.com,” says Finn. “One recommendation would be to set up an e-mail account that you will use on all applications, such as maryscollegeapplication@yahoo.com.” She also recommends that students check this e-mail address regularly because it will be the primary way a school will communicate with them.

Don’t leave out information about disciplinary problems or issues you’d rather forget.
“Always be sure to answer suspension-related questions. If a student tries to hide something, we always manage to find out. In many cases, we would have admitted the student despite the infraction, depending on the nature of the issue, but we’ll never admit someone who lies on his application,” says Finn.

Review your finished applications carefully to make sure they are complete and correct.
“Since an application represents the ‘best’ of a candidate, all materials should be carefully proofread for accuracy and consistency. It is never a good sign when a personal statement leads with how much a candidate feels she fits college ‘X’ when applying to college ‘Y’,” says Karin West Mormando, director of undergraduate admission at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Meet, and if you can, beat all application deadlines.
“Sometimes they don’t pay attention,” says David Naphy, assistant director of admissions at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. Some major programs fill quicker than others, and a student’s late submission may not get him into his program of choice. A late application might not even be considered.

Follow up to make sure that each application and all required materials have been received.
Students sometimes inquire about a decision of acceptance, only to learn that their online applications or supplemental documents (such as transcripts, test scores or recommendations) were never received. “They never took the time to make sure everything else was sent in,” says Naphy. For online applications, he says trouble can occur simply by forgetting to click the “Send” button after finishing an application.

Don’t be intimidated by the college admission process. Focus on the exciting opportunity.
“Most of what is published about college admissions focuses on the negatives — how tough it is to get into college, how hard it is to craft a good admissions essay, etc. You will do yourself a big favor if you ignore all that and focus instead on the positives,” says Lou Hirsh, director of admissions at the University of Delaware in Newark, DE.

“For example, college gives you a tantalizing opportunity to redefine yourself. You can re-think what kind of person you’d like to be and the kinds of friends you’d like to have,” says Hirsh. “You can become, if not a ‘new’ person, at least a more expansive one.

“Think about this: What would you like to learn about that you never had a chance to study in high school? What excites your imagination?”

Hirsch adds that students who focus on the positive often tend to submit the most interesting applications. “The excitement they bring to their essays makes us want to have them in our freshman class,” he says.

Rachel Ross is a journalism graduate student at Temple University and a MetroKids intern.