It’s that time of year. Rising seniors are learning the ins and outs of college applications, causing a range of emotions—from angst to avoidance. Sure, there’s plenty of time to apply. But it’s never too soon to be aware of the pitfalls in the process, common college application mistakes that your child may make (And you may even contribute to the problem.)
If you don’t recall having too much of a problem applying to college, make no “mistake” about it: their application process is far more complex than yours, leaving room for error in many places. And automation? It’s not so easy to just “send it in.” There are multiple application platforms (Common App, Coalition App, UC App, Apply Texas), submission systems (Maia Learning, Naviance, Scoir) preview buttons, self-reporting options, dashboards, and college portals.
Let’s take a look at common college application mistakes facing this year’s crop of applicants.
They wait too long to get started.
Schools in some areas of the country are already in session. Still, some students have barely scratched the surface of their application dashboards. The last thing they need is to be writing essays for Tulane and AP Lit at the same time. Or there may be colleges, especially large public research universities, that use rolling and priority application systems. They could be reviewing while your student is stewing.
They underestimate what needs to be done.
Sometimes, there are small tasks that can sink a student. For example, asking two teachers for recommendations. There are other aspects of the application process that also require serious thought. Say a student isn’t sure of her prospective major and assumes she can change it once she arrives on campus. However, her top-choice college requires an essay on why she’s chosen a particular academic area at that particular university. It could be a deal-breaker.
They don’t tell their counselor where they intend to apply.
There are specific tasks that college or guidance counselors need to do to support their students, none more important than sending off transcripts and teacher recommendations. No matter what gets published on a school’s website, students don’t always listen or read instructions. Checking in regularly with their counselor and clearly communicating their goals and choices goes a long way.
They don’t make use of virtual resources.
Do you need to set foot on a campus to get information? The pandemic drove colleges to put together clever and student-friendly resources. They can speak with admissions officers, check out campus buildings, attend webinars and take virtual student-led tours. And, yes, they have many opportunities to share what they picked up from those sessions on the application. It’s never been easier (or cheaper).
They don’t take the next steps.
Nearly all colleges make use of applicant portals, set up as soon as a student officially applies. Yet students can find these overwhelming, especially when they differ from college to college. Some colleges like Princeton ask students to submit a graded paper. Others, like Brown, allow students to upload a video or research abstract. Claremont McKenna suggests that students request an interview before they submit their applications. Then they post admissions decisions. Checking her many portals regularly will keep your student in the loop—and in the running.
There’s nothing like the college process for reinforcing life skills, from setting deadlines to making them. But remember: It’s your student’s application process, not yours.
Use this handy checklist to ensure that your student has hit all the marks before submitting.
It’s College Application Season. What If My Child Doesn’t Get In Anywhere?
About the Author
Nina is the founder of unCommon Apps, a college and career readiness consultancy. She has an AB with Honors from Brown University and an MBA from the Stern School of Business, NYU. Nina is a Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC). Her ebook, Supplementing the College Supplement, is available on Apple Books or through her website.
Tackling what is notoriously known as the hardest year of high school, senior year, may seem overwhelming. The flawless transcript, a high ACT/SAT score, extracurricular activities, a job and college applications — with this seemingly long list of priorities, it may be unclear where to even begin.
That’s why it’s important to take advantage of all the resources provided and available to you in order to set yourself up for success. As a sophomore in high school, but with many senior friends, I’m learning you can’t be overly prepared for college planning, so take note!
Be prepared for the ACT/SAT
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, universities were beginning to make the ACT/SAT optional. Students can choose to take both, one or none, and each is distinctly different. The ACT consists of four sections: English, Math, Reading and Science. The SAT is composed of math, evidence-based reading and writing.
If your university of choice requires standardized tests (or even if they don’t), you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared if you are opting to take them. One way to prepare for these tests is through private or group prep classes. Prep books that contain practice tests, specific skills and other exercises can also be a great help. Popular prep books include The Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barrons, McGraw Hill and the official ACT or SAT prep guide. YouTube is also a big help with many prep channels that go over tips, skills, timing strategies and anything related to preparing for these standardized tests. Two that I recommend are SuperTutor TV and The Princeton Review. An easy resource is simply making a dedicated effort to read and write more. Whether it’s a school book or read-for-pleasure book, the more you read and write increases your reading comprehension and speed on tests.
Local universities such as Washington University in St. Louis, Fontbonne University and Saint Louis University are test optional for applicants of 2022. None of these schools use test scores for scholarships, however there are merit scholarships, depending on the school, that are offered to a very small number of individuals who have achieved outstanding academic achievement as well as performing high on a standardized test. Whether a student chooses to take these tests or not, it is only a small part of the application process.
Seek out your college counselor
Although the application process is similar for most colleges, it’s important to use your high school counselor for guidance well before you begin. Karen Etlisky, founder of Find Your Voice college counseling, says that she sees students apply from anywhere from three to 30 schools, so having professional assistance is invaluable.
It is important to first have a counselor and get to know them. Etlisky says, “A counselor can help you plan ahead to know what is coming so you can be proactive in the process and not have ‘I wish I knew…’ moments. There is so much misinformation floating around, it is very good to be able to have someone tell you what you need to know.”
A counselor’s job is to find universities that fit the student, create a list of safety/target/reach schools, complete a student’s FAFSA, craft unique application essays, and help regulate any stress or anxiety regarding the daunting process.
Etlisky also adds, “While I don’t think it’s necessary to begin the college process in earnest before spring of sophomore year, many parents like to know they have someone to ask questions and go to for help beginning in ninth grade. Most commonly, my clients begin with their students in 10th grade.”
Apply early and often
A college application can consist of many different components including an application form, essay (main essay and supplementals), transcript, test scores, school profile, recommendation letters and a list of activities. A great way for students to begin is to create a high school resume that consists of all of your activities, extracurriculars, AP courses taken, work experience and internships.
Teachers prefer letter of recommendation requests early on so that they are able to hit the important deadlines. I know that essays can be the most difficult requirement to start, but if you brainstorm all ideas, even if they are not pretty, it will get the process flowing! Students can choose to submit their applications through early decisions, early action or through the regular deadline.
Admissions committees look at applications holistically, so make sure equal effort is given to all areas of the application to give yourself the best chance at admission. Nothing is guaranteed, so give yourself a break in knowing that you did all that you could. And remember, that no matter where you go, if you put forth the effort, you will receive a great education — no matter where you land.
Sofia Ung, 17, is a student at Canyon Crest Academy and recently interned at St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She attended The School of The New York Times journalism summer program and is a writer for her school’s magazine. She hopes to minor in journalism.
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