Countdown to college: The 10 most common college application mistakes

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There’s no wiggle room for stupid mistakes when some colleges are receiving over 30,000 applications and acceptance rates can be in the single digits.

It’s true that not every school is as selective as those in the Ivy League, but gaffes that cause an admissions person to ask “what were they thinking?” are an easy excuse for any college to say “no.”

The 10 most common college application mistakes:

1. Cutting and pasting carelessly. Some students forget to change the name of the college in their “why this college?” essay, frequently considered the most annoying error.

2. Omitting information. Colleges and universities have to wonder how interested students really are if they don’t proofread their application and/or essay more carefully. Thankfully most electronic applications won’t allow students to move on to subsequent pages or to submit incomplete applications without calling out missing information.

3. Lack of interest. Essays that are too short or don’t fully respond to the prompt communicate that students really don’t care.

4. Silly or immature email addresses. – need I say more?

5. Waiting until the last minute. It’s easy to spot the perennial procrastinator when error-laden applications are submitted.

6. Assuming all colleges are on the Common Application. That’s a big mistake if you apply to most state colleges and universities. The Common Application ( does count more than 500 colleges as members, but most are private, liberal arts colleges.

7. Forgetting about Common Application Supplements. Most colleges on Common App have a supplement. Many will just ask college-specific questions, but many more will have additional essay questions.

8. Asking the wrong teacher to write a recommendation. Many students feel compelled to ask the school’s most popular teacher or the teacher where they received the “Easy A.” The popular teacher is likely already overwhelmed with requests, and you have to wonder exactly what the “Easy A” teacher will say about you.

9. Asking the wrong non-teacher for a recommendation. High-profile politicians or corporate executives won’t carry as much weight in the admissions office as a student’s club adviser, coach or youth director. It’s not who you know, it’s how well the recommender knows you.

10. Missing deadlines. Deadlines vary from college to college, and there may be multiple deadlines at the same college. Check deadlines for Early Action, Early Decision, Priority and Regular Decision. Additionally, students interested in Honors College programs and merit-based or need-based scholarships will often find earlier application deadlines.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.