Are You Making These Deadly College Application Mistakes?


Picture this: after many years in school, it’s finally the summer before your senior year. You spend those usually-carefree months polishing your personal statement, taking virtual tours, and investigating scholarship options. You’re nearly ready to hit “send” on your applications – nearly. Is there anything else you should check before you submit the document that will profoundly affect the next four years of your life?

Well, yes. College admissions counselors report that they observe the same college application mistakes year after year. And some are so deadly that it will land your common application straight in the reject pile.

Don’t make these easily correctible mistakes. Sprint through the tape and make sure your application puts your best foot forward.


Not including a robust, detailed resume

Not all colleges will ask for a resume. Still, it’s in your best interest to provide one – especially if your high school experience includes extracurricular activities not mentioned in your essay, or awards you earned for academics, athletics, or volunteerism.

Your resume is a fantastic place to highlight leadership skills and the long-term commitments you’ve made throughout your high school career. You can also include work experience, internships, honor roll mentions, and unique hobbies. Award yourself bonus points if these areas relate to one another because admissions officers love to find students who demonstrate a passion for one or two subjects or activities.

Decades ago, rumor has it that admissions officers liked well-rounded students who dabbled in several areas. But today, colleges want to build an overall, well-rounded class of high-performing students – in other words, they want a fantastic cellist, a talented pole vaulter, and a genius amateur chemist or two. Your resume is a great place to highlight all the ways you’re interested in medicine (rather than just showing off the A+ you earned in AP Bio, for example).


Not demonstrating interest

You might be surprised to learn that colleges pay attention to when you submit your application. The earlier you send yours, the better it will reflect on you. That’s especially true if the schools you’re applying to use rolling admissions, which means they admit students all year long instead of waiting until a specific date to release all the decisions at once.

If your counselor told you you’re on the admissions bubble, then demonstrating interest is a great way to separate yourself from the pack. After all, admissions officers want to admit applicants who actually might enroll. 

Here’s what you can do:

  • Connect with an academic advisor in your major’s department. If you can’t meet in person, schedule a Zoom call. Come prepared with detailed questions that demonstrate your passion for the subject matter and your desire to study at the school.
  • Complete the supplemental essays. If possible, reference the conversation with the academic advisor, and make sure you customize each essay for the school.
  • If an admissions rep from a college you like visits your high school, go to the information session. This rep will review your application! Make it your business to make a positive first impression by asking thoughtful questions whose answers can’t be found on the school’s website.
  • Visit the school in person if possible. Although it’s true that college tours are pretty much the same from school to school, you can definitely pick up a vibe from the students walking around campus.


Applying early decision when you’re not sure you can afford it

Many students apply to schools with competitive admissions using early decision because early decision admission rates are typically higher compared to the general decision pool. But unless you’re 100% certain you can afford the tuition, don’t apply early decision. It’s legally binding, and you’re not allowed to back out because of a lack of affordability.

The good news is that you can apply for financial aid using FAFSA, plus merit aid scholarships sponsored by the college, and private scholarships sponsored by businesses and other organizations. When you’re deciding how many colleges to apply to, make sure you spend time reviewing the financials first. 


Poor proofreading

Finally – and this is painfully obvious yet frequently ignored advice – do not send your application without printing it out and reviewing it on paper. Ask a parent or counselor to read over your essay, resume, and supplemental questions. Look for typos. Verify you’ve entered your address correctly. Most of all, make sure you’re not writing about how much you love Cal Tech when you really want to study at MIT. Because believe it or not, those mistakes matter. 


About the Author

Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator, personal finance expert, and mom of three fantastic almost-adults. In addition to, Lisa has contributed to OnEntrepreneur, College Money Tips, Finovate, Finance Buzz, Life and Money by Citi, MagnifyMoney, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut, USA.