Three Mistakes that Can Derail Your College Application

If you’re a high school senior, chances are you’ve been involved in the college search for a while now and are excited to move on from the search to the application process because it moves you that much closer to making your final college choice. With the ease offered by the Common Application, you might even be fortunate enough to only have to submit one application to the multiple schools on your list.

But before you put finger to keyboard and type your information into the required fields of the Common (or any!) Application, beware the three most common mistakes that high school seniors make during the application process that come back to bite them later on.

They are:

  1. Conflicting names in your application file. Many students have formal first names that they never use, preferring instead to go by a shortened version (or even by a nickname). “Beth” as a shortened firm of Elizabeth; “Ben” who uses his middle name because he and his dad share the first name; or even “JJ,” the shortened form of a student’s full name of John Jones. No matter the rhyme or reason behind the nickname, the colleges you apply to must have your full legal name on your college application to help them distinguish you from any other students in the applicant pool who may share your given moniker and so they can correctly assign your CSS Profile and/or Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) paperwork to the application you submitted to make sure you receive the exact amount of scholarships and aid you’re eligible for. The amount of hours that financial aid officers spend each spring researching whether or not the FAFSA submitted for “Lizzy Smith” should be matched with the application for “Elizabeth Ann Smith” don’t seem on the surface as though they’d amount to much – but if the officers need to do that for each of the 25,000 application and FAFSA documents they’ve received, you can see that’s going to delay your financial aid package’s arrival substantially. Bottom Line: It doesn’t matter what your parents or friends call you, when you submit your applications to the colleges and universities you’re interested in, always go with the name that matches your birth certificate, resident alien visa, and/or Social Security card. It will make things a lot easier!
  2. Conflicting email or mailing addresses in your file. Do you live in multiple households, perhaps splitting your time between your divorced parents or between your home and a boarding school? Do you have a school email address and a personal one? Before you sit down to apply to college (that’s right, BEFORE), make sure you determine which single mailing address and email address you want all college-related correspondence to be sent to. For example, is your mom the one who’s helping you arrange most of your campus visits? Then perhaps you should direct your college snail mail to her address. Or will you spend most of your year away at boarding school and work closely with your school counselor on college applications? In that case, it’s probably better to have your mail sent to you at school so that you don’t miss any important deadlines. In the case of email, it’s not unusual for anyone to have multiple email addresses that they use for different purposes (I actually have five accounts – don’t ask) so the key is to determine which specific account you want to store all of your college information in (hint: which one you check frequently!) and direct all of the emails there. (In most cases, your school account is ideal for this; not only is it something you probably have easy access to during the day, but it’s also professional-sounding and typically includes parts of your name to make matching the email to the student simple on the admissions office end of things as in Bullet Point #1.) Bottom Line: Colleges accept your nomadic lifestyle either in the real world and online but their primary focus is on where they can reach you fastest and easiest. Choosing one mailing address and one email will streamline this process and prevent you from missing important information.
  3. Missed (or misinterpreted!) deadlines. If there was one admissions mistake that were to make the list of the deadliest sin to commit, it would be that of the missed (or misinterpreted) deadline. The missed deadline is easy to explain – you’re supposed to submit your Early Decision application for Prestigious University (your first-choice school) on November 1 and instead you submit it on November 2. There’s typically no grace period or margin of error for this type of oversight; instead, you’ve lost the opportunity to be considered in the Early Decision pool. End of discussion. In the case of a misinterpreted deadline, however, it’s a little more complicated. Typically relating a little more to scholarship applications than traditional college applications (though read instructions carefully, kids, because it happens there too!), the misinterpreted deadline is often seen when an applicant skims the minutiae of the application requirements and assumes that it’s only the application that’s due by a certain date – only to learn later that everything related to the application was due by that date too (e.g. letters of recommendation, transcripts, essays, etc.). Another version of the misinterpreted deadline is seen when an applicant misreads instructions that state an application should be “received by” as opposed to “postmarked by.” Bottom Line: Before you sit down to fill out your applications, make a detailed calendar of all deadlines – including their details, such as “postmarked” versus “received” – and keep it handy through the whole application process. (You can even set your phone calendar to alert you if that will help.) Colleges allow no wiggle room on deadlines unless there’s an issue on their end (technology difficulties, blizzards, Hurricane Sandy, etc.); errors on your end just run the risk of demonstrating that you aren’t the type of applicant they seek or aren’t fully committed to your college search.

Like the application for your first job, the application you submit to your top choice colleges is a life-changing document and one that shouldn’t be glossed over or rushed through. Take the time now to assemble it carefully and it will pay off with streamlined communication, less stress, and hopefully a mailbox full of acceptance packets down the road. Good luck, students!

(Need help with the process? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)


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