10 Things You Can Really Screw Up When Applying for College

Applying to college or graduate school can be a very stressful time – not just for the applicant, but also for everyone on his or her team. That includes parents, advisors, teachers, and even siblings and friends. There are a lot of steps to take and a lot of moving pieces to juggle. Some applicants have great difficulty submitting everything that is required to their list of schools in a timely fashion. Others do so poorly, by not completely following directions.

As someone who has spent time reading applications and interviewing applicants, I can say that one glance at a sloppy application can really turn an admissions officer off. Sure, if you have great credentials, you might still be accepted. But why risk your chance of being admitted to your dream school because you didn’t cross your t’s or dot your i’s? It is just not worth it.

Here are some aspects of the application process that many people screw up. Make sure you’re not one of them!

1. Essay Mistakes

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Image Via Shutterstock

This is a big one. At the most basic level, make sure you COPY-EDIT YOUR ESSAYS! Typos and grammatical errors are huge red flags. They show the admissions committee that you didn’t care enough about your application to rid your essay of mistakes. One that stands out more than any, however, is when you refer to another school by accident. Here’s an example: You’re applying to Springtime College and in your essay you write, “I think that Wintertime College is the perfect fit for me.” There’s nothing wrong with repurposing your writing, but go through it with a fine-tooth comb every single time.

Next Page: How to avoid messing up on essay prompts.

2. Essay Prompts


While we’re on the topic of essays, stick to the prompts! If the question asks you to describe ways in which you showed leadership, this is not the time to talk about your favorite color. Furthermore, keep in mind that you’re telling a story with your essay. Be sure not to ramble on and on. Make sure it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Be organized and to the point.

Next Page: What to avoid if the school asks for a resume.

3. Present the best resume.

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Image Via Shutterstock

Some schools, especially some graduate schools, require applicants to include a resume in the application. If this applies to you, limit it to one page. It should be a comprehensive, succinct document showcasing your job and education history. Keep it organized with bullet points and section headings, and make sure your name and contact info are easy to find at the top. No clutter is a good rule of thumb.

Next Page: Keep your transcripts official.

4. Official Transcripts

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Most universities require official transcripts from the schools you have previously attended. While in the short term it is ok to attach an unofficial copy of your records, it is imperative that you contact your previous schools and arrange for them to have official copies (sealed and stamped) sent to the schools to which you’re applying by the deadline. No transcript often means no admission decision.

Next Page: Recommendations for … recommendations.

5. Recommendations


Choose people who know you well to write your recommendations. And make sure they are different, so the committee can see different sides of your personal and professional life. If you had a professor once who may or may not remember your name, that isn’t the person to ask.

Next Page: Have high standards when submitting your standardized test scores.

6. Standardized Tests

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Oftentimes you have to have your official scores reported to the schools by the testing organization itself. Make sure that you have arranged that every school to which you’re applying will receive the scores. Like transcripts, in most cases, self-reported scores are not sufficient.

Next Page: You won’t get in with an incomplete pass.

7. Make sure your application is complete!

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Don’t leave a question here or there blank. Answer all essay prompts. Attach all required files. If they’re asking for it, they want to see it.

8. Stay on top of things.

The Young Messiah Running

Follow up with your recommenders, previous schools, and standardized testing facilities. No one will chase you down if they don’t have your records or if you have a recent higher score that you want them to see. The responsibility is yours.

Next Page: Only one kind of bird gets the worm…

9. Apply early!

One might hypothetically say of this bird that it is early. Image Via Shutterstock

One might hypothetically say of this bird that it is early. Image Via Shutterstock

For something so important, it is best not to wait until the last minute. In some cases with regard to admissions (especially schools with rolling admissions or different rounds), the early bird gets the worm.

Next Page: Most importantly, don’t be too proud to…

10. Ask for help.

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Image Via Shutterstock

Of course, after writing and re-writing essays, and filling in answers to questions for hours and hours, it can be easy to be bleary-eyed and miss something important. That’s why it is imperative to rely on the team surrounding you. Have your mentor or parents look over everything if you just aren’t sure. That second glance might mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.