These application tips from college admissions experts come from COLLEGEdata (

“Many students rush through individual school supplements and supplemental essays at the last minute. This can be a mistake, leading to careless mistakes and missed opportunities to help admissions officers learn more about you. So, treat the supplements and supplemental essays — even those that are very short — with the same attention, thought, and careful proofreading as you do the Common Application or Universal College Application. Every piece of your application deserves your full effort.”

Carolyn Lawrence
Independent College Counselor
San Diego, CA

“Not sharing your authentic voice but rather sharing what you think we want to hear. Get help from your counselors, parents, and teachers, but in the end make sure your application represents you.”

“Not giving strong consideration to your letters of recommendation. These letters are critical, especially at highly selective institutions. Do not let your recommendations be a waste by restating what we already know. Help your recommender understand why you want to attend a particular college and why it would be a good match for you.”

“Not answering everything as directly and as completely as possible. For example, students who do not communicate their level of involvement in extracurricular activities may be at a disadvantage. When a student or parent calls to find out why the student was denied, often we discover the applicant told us the facts but not the entire story. Bottom line? Be upfront and honest. We want to know you as a result of your application. Tell us who you are!”

Douglas Christiansen
Vice Provost for Enrollment
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN
“One of the most damaging mistakes is not being honest about, or fully explaining, discipline issues from high school. We understand that all people have flaws, and it is possible to make bad decisions, particularly during adolescence. Having a transgression on your file does not automatically mean you won’t be admitted. However, not disclosing a disciplinary action is dishonest, and will cause us to question the student’s character. Students who don’t fully explain the situation can appear to lack remorse and the ability to recover from difficult situations.”

Erin Hays
Associate Dean of Admission
Gonzaga University
Spokane, WA

“Speak with your own voice. There’s only one “you,” and that’s who the college wants to hear. There’s a temptation to think you have to say something “important,” so you might want to quote someone famous. But unless you know the quote by heart, that isn’t who you are. Having said that, check grammar and spelling; admissions officers want to hear you, but they want to hear you at your best. And that’s “you,” not “U.” Using texting abbreviations in an essay does not make admissions officers “LOL.”

“Don’t overlook the short answer question “Why us?” Many college admissions officers tell me this is the question that shapes their opinion of a candidate. This question is difficult to answer because you have to be brief, specific, thoughtful, and to the point. Think back on your campus visit, or dig deeply into the college’s website, and really think about this question. Superficial answers suggest the college doesn’t mean that much to you.”
Patrick O’Connor
Director of College Counseling
Roeper School
Birmingham, MI

“One of the most common serious mistakes is not considering how all the pieces of an application paint a single picture of who you are as an individual. Students should review each completed application and reflect on the overall message it communicates. Discrepancies can raise questions. For example, if you took only the minimum number of science courses your school requires and all the advanced classes in humanities, saying you are interested in majoring in biology can sound hollow. Submitting a strong writing score on the ACT or SAT but not bothering to improve a haphazard application essay can raise concern. On the other hand, many applications provide space for students to add information that is not requested elsewhere. Few students take full advantage of this opportunity to show how they are more than simply their transcripts and resumes. Making this extra effort can be the difference between a good application and a great one.”

Julia Surtshin
Certified Educational Planner
Surtshin College Counseling
Portland, OR

“I think the biggest mistake students make is not fully explaining when there’s an “issue.” For example, a student’s GPA may show a significant dip in tenth grade, but neither the student nor the counselor explains that it was due to a serious illness or family problem. Many admission officers will ask for an explanation of what happened, since those lower grades will pull down the cumulative GPA, but some will base the evaluation only on what is provided. Explaining the circumstances in the application shows that the student is proactive, has moved on, and is ready to go to college.”

Maria Furtado
Director of Admission
Eckerd College
St. Petersburg, FL

“One serious mistake is missing deadlines for admissions and financial aid. Miss an admissions deadline and you may lose out on consideration for honors programs or scholarships. Worse case scenario, your application may not get reviewed at all. On the financial aid side, parents sometimes mistakenly wait to complete financial aid forms until after they have completed their taxes, which can be too late. They should submit the forms as early as possible using estimated information and make corrections on the Student Aid Report.”

“This is not universally accepted, but I believe it is a serious mistake when students do not waive their right of access to their recommendations. I fully understand students’ desire to see recommendation letters written on their behalf, but colleges view a recommendation letter that is not confidential differently than one that is.”

Scott White
Director of Guidance
Montclair High School
Montclair, NJ