11 Common Application Blunders to Avoid

By Patricia Gorden Neill - March 19th, 2013

Every year, students send in millions of applications to colleges, and unfortunately, many of them contain mistakes. The blunder can be as bad as sending the application you’ve filled out for Brown University to M.I.T., or as simple as listing USA for the county you live in. Carefully reading the application before filling it out can help, so you know exactly what is being asked of you. Proofreading the application once or twice before sending it can also save you from some of these common errors. Most of all, taking enough time to fill out the application without rushing is the key to successfully filling it out. Here are some of the more common mistakes.

Using the Wrong College Name

The Common Application has made it easier to apply to many colleges using one application form. Students can write one essay, then send it to all 12 colleges they’ve applying to. However, forgetting to make sure that you’ve used the correct name of the college can cause grimaces in the admissions office. Don’t be writing the reasons you want to attend Yale University and then refer to Florida State as your primary choice of college. If you’re filling out applications when you’re tired, even this dumb blunder might be easy to do. Proofread, then proofread it again. Asking parents, your guidance counselor or English teacher to read over the application before you send it can save you making the kind of mistakes that are common, but definitely avoidable.

Missing Deadlines

This mistake can really cost you. The college application process entails meeting many deadlines, for the application itself, for financial aid forms for the college, federal or state and scholarships. When you’re applying to more than one or two colleges, you have to keep track of each institution’s deadlines. Mark them on a calendar that you’ve dedicated to the application process and that you keep with all application materials. If you miss a financial aid document deadline, you could easily lose out on the money. College is too expensive and application is too complicated to allow yourself to get sloppy about deadlines. However you organize your college search and applications, be sure you have all the deadlines for all the various colleges listed clearly and check it often.

Typos, Misspellings and Grammatical Errors

Believe it or not, one of the things that make admission people gnash their teeth are common and annoying typos, misspellings and bad grammar. Your college application materials is all a college has to judge you by, and to allow these insidious errors to creep into your work sends a loud signal that either you didn’t care enough to check your work, or you were too rushed to make it perfect. Spellcheck does not catch everything. Don’t trust it with something as important as your application.

Forgetting Signatures

For all applications, you must sign and date the forms. Forgetting to do this because the signature line was on the back of the form seems easy enough to do, but the college could interpret this as an incomplete application and put it on the Incomplete Application Shelf where it sits and gathers dust. Don’t let this happen to you.

Leaving Your Guidance Counselor Out of the Loop

Sometimes students fail to let their guidance counselor know that they’ve applied to a, b and z colleges. Make sure you give your counselor a list of the colleges you’ve applied to, and any deadlines for necessary forms. Neglecting to let them know could mean an incomplete application if the college doesn’t receive your transcript or a recommendation letter.

Not Listing Extracurricular Activities

Even if the space on the form is small, do your best to tell the college all about your outside the classroom activities. They want to know, and not discussing your work on the high school play is a mistake. One of the things colleges evaluate in an application is your extracurricular enterprises. Mention your job if you have one. If you’ve won any awards or honors, play it up. Especially discuss any activity that shows you have leadership ability or personal responsibility.

Forgetting to Save or Send Online Applications

When filling out online applications, save your work as you go along. Yes, it is easy to forget to save your document as you go along, but it’s a major hassle having to fill it out over again if it disappears, isn’t it? When you’re done and you press send, make sure the application is actually submitted. If you don’t receive confirmation from the college that the application has been received, then it wasn’t submitted properly or there was an electronic screw up in the process. The college should send you an email or you’ll get a Web response or a receipt.

Letting Your Parents In on the Process

You are applying for college, not your parents. While it’s a great idea to get their impressions and opinions on all of the colleges, make sure you do the actual application yourself. Speaking in your own voice and taking charge of the process is something a college will recognize. They’ll also recognize if your essay or supplemental essays are written by someone much older than the normal high school student. Do your own applying.

Sloppy Handwriting

Make sure your application materials are legible and that your handwriting can be read easily. While crafting a cool signature is one thing, sloppy illegible handwriting won’t win you any prizes. Applying to colleges is a competitive process; if your application is too hard to make out, chances are a college won’t try very hard or very long. There are lots of other students out there.

Completing the Application

If you’re using the Common Application, keep in mind that most colleges have supplemental essays for you to fill out, usually pertaining to that school in particular. Don’t forget to fill out everything that is required, especially these supplemental essays. They can be more important than the general college essay. Make sure everything is complete before sending it in.

Tacky Email Address

A college is going to relate to you as a grown-up. While using a tacky, funny or vulgar email address might get laughs from your friends, it won’t impress admissions personnel. It might get you labeled as, well, tacky or vulgar. Create a new email address for yourself for the college application process. When you tell a college to contact you via email, they will, so be sure to check the email and do it often.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.