11 Ways to Avoid Common Application Mistakes

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College expert Mandee Heller Adler of International Counselors weighs in on the ways college bound high school students can avoid Common Application mistakes.

International College Advisors

International College Counselors

Learning from mistakes helps them not get repeated. Even better, learn from other people’s mistakes.

On August 1, 2014 the Common Application went live letting students send out applications to the over 500 colleges that participate in the program. The following are some of the most common mistakes the educational experts at International College Counselors have seen students make on this college application.

“Learning from mistakes helps them not get repeated,” said Mandee Heller Adler, founder of International College Counselors. “Even better, learn from other people’s mistakes.”

1.    Failure to Follow Directions. Applicants should answer all questions on the Common App and they should make sure they are answering them correctly and completely. For example, “country” and “county” should not be mixed up. Answer spaces should not be left blank unless there are spaces on the application that clearly do not apply to the student. Students must also make sure to stick with the word or character limits on essays and other responses.

2.    Not Proofreading Applications. Spelling and grammar mistakes must be avoided. Students should have at least two people proofread their application, including the essay. Among other things, it’s a big mistake to provide incorrect email addresses, telephone numbers or social security numbers.

3.    Waiting too Long to Ask for Letters of Recommendation. Students should give their references at least one month before the earliest deadline to complete and send the letters. The earlier a recommendation is asked for, the better. Some teachers will be writing many letters and this takes time. A teacher will do a better job on a recommendation when he or she is not rushed.

4.    Repeating Information. The Common App offers very limited space for students to sell themselves to their colleges, so the last thing they want to do is to repeat themselves by talking about a certain activity twice. If a student submits a resume in addition to filling out the activity section, it should add to the story, not repeat it and contain accurate and up-to-date information.

5.    Writing a Generic or Unoriginal Essay. Admissions officers are reading hundreds of essays and looking for the ones that stand out. This is the chance for students to tell them who they are as a person. Important things to highlight are strengths, interests, personal background, and what the student will bring to a college. The essay should be used to give the admissions officers insight on the individual behind the information on the rest of the college application.

6.    Unfocused Extracurricular Activities. Students should only put down the ones they think are truly important for their application. Admissions officers are looking for quality over quantity. They are looking for passion and sincerity.

7.    Forgetting to send test scores directly from the ACT or College Board. Students fill in scores on the Common Application, but colleges must also receive the “official score reports.”

8.    Using a Name Other than a Legal Name. A student’s name should be consistent with the name that appears on their birth certificate and should include the student’s middle name. When applicants use different names or nicknames it is difficult for those who process the applications to match materials and email messages submitted on an applicant’s behalf. Middle names distinguish students from other applicants with the same first and last names.

9.    Skipping the Optional. Anything a college says is optional is actually not optional. Optional essays are an extra chance for students to reveal more of themselves, so they shouldn’t pass this up.

10.    Waiting Until the Last Minute. Students who wait too long to start on the Common App are asking to be rejected. Their apps will be messy and easy for admissions officers to dismiss. Many students have been working on their essays all summer, so it is best to get started now.

11.    Failing to Confirm the Status of a Submitted App. It is the students’ responsibility to confirm that their complete application file was received. Students should check the online status via their Common Application account. It is also recommended that they contact a college directly to make certain everything is there.

“Students must not let the simplicity of the Common Application form fool them,” said Adler. “Pay careful attention to all the details and do not rush through it. Students have to present their best selves for the best chance of acceptance.”


This year, college advisors at International College Counselors helped more than 300 students find, apply to and gain acceptance into the college of their dreams. The expert college counselors at International College Counselors are dedicated to helping students and their families successfully navigate the college application process.

CEO of International College Counselors Mandee Heller Adler is the author of From Public School to the Ivy League: How to get into a top school without top dollar resources.

For more information on International College Counselors or to contact an expert college counselor, please visit http://www.internationalcollegecounselors.com.

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