Most students have heard plenty of unsolicited advice by the time they reach high school. In fact, you’ve likely been subjected to wisdom of all kinds: life advice, fashion advice, dating advice, career advice, and more—whether you wanted it or not. Sure, chances are, the well-meaning adults in your life just want you to do well and have a good future. But what about all the things you’re NOT supposed to do? Who’s going to tell you about all that?
Let’s consult the experts
At least in regards to your college applications, Empowerly’s here to save the day with some real recommendations from the front lines, and we’ll tell you straight. Whether you’re facing down senior year or still have a few years to prepare, there are certain things you’d best avoid during college admissions!
How do we know?
Our community of counselors, essay editors, and other support team members stay up-to-date on trends and news in college admissions. Not to mention, we have a vast combined wealth of experience, based on decades of helping students through this exact process. We make sure to bring you recent, relevant information that will boost your chances of acceptance at competitive colleges.
What should I avoid?
Before we dive into the deep end of what not to do, keep in mind that Admissions Officers (the ones who read your finished application and decide your ultimate fate at that school) are humans, too. This means that some of these mistakes aren’t deal-breakers! We’ll offer tips and tricks that usually hinder applicants’ chances, but this list isn’t meant to dredge up past regrets or prescribe only one way to success.
With that said, let’s get into the details. Some of these “don’ts” range from simple faux pas to serious lapses in judgment; ultimately, if you’re unsure whether it applies to you, we’d recommend talking it over with a trusted mentor!
Our designer Sophia has created a handy, eye-catching graphic to remind you of the highlights:
- …only apply to Ivy League and other highly selective colleges.
- Even if you are an extraordinary student with excellent grades and exceptional extracurriculars, there are no guarantees. Today, perfect-on-paper candidates are turned away by the thousands. Including safety schools on your list doesn’t mean you’ve “given up” on your dreams, but that you’re being mature and realistic.
- …forget to include that you are a legacy student (or any other information that could help your case).
- Data shows that students whose families attended and/or have affiliation with the college in question often receive special consideration. While this doesn’t happen at every college, and various schools weigh legacy differently, it won’t hurt you!
- …wait until the last minute to write the essays.
- What does “last-minute” mean? Well, no matter how good a writer you may be, you’ll need more than a few weeks to select your best ideas, draft, and revise in order to produce your best work. So, starting in the spring or summer of your junior year (leading up to your senior year) is as late as you’ll probably want to push it. Any later, and you’ll seriously compromise the quality of what you turn in.
- …write about instances of illegal, harmful, or otherwise inappropriate behavior in your essays.
- Remember, you are trying to present yourself as an intelligent, thoughtful person who will be an asset to the university community. Use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to include details that you wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing out loud with, for instance, your grandmother or a teacher at school.
- …forget to submit an important piece of your application.
- It may seem obvious, but staying organized and ensuring you tick off every single element of your application (and checking it’s all there before hitting “submit”) will already put you ahead of some of the competition. Don’t neglect a letter of recommendation if you need one, and ensure your test scores and transcripts go through.
- …miss deadlines for submitting information, paperwork, or the app itself.
- Colleges that receive hundreds of thousands of applications aren’t going to have the capacity to make exceptions for individuals. If you miss a deadline to apply, don’t assume you’ll get a second chance or extension, even if you have an excuse. Instead, aim to have things submitted a day or two in advance—just in case any mishaps occur.
- …dismiss financial aid as “less important” than other college paperwork.
- Believe it or not, financial aid, as well as student recognition, often depend on these forms. If you don’t fill these out on time, you’ll never know how much you could have saved in expenses. And considering tuition, travel, textbooks, and more—those costs add up quickly.
- …make up stories or experiences that you didn’t have, or don’t exist.
- Lying on a college application is never worth it. Not only are Admissions Officers trained to spot inconsistencies within a student’s app, but they are also likely personally familiar with the schools and opportunities in your area. (AOs are typically assigned to cover a set geographical region.) Plus, we hardly need to say it: getting caught will bring down serious consequences that could follow you through adulthood.
- …catch “senioritis” and let your 12th-grade GPA slip off.
- Especially in the spring of your senior year, when you’re getting back your decisions and even committing to the school you’ll ultimately attend… even then, your GPA matters. Most colleges expect you to keep your grades up and continue putting effort into your studies, just like you will in college.
- …get in trouble for cheating or other serious issues a college might have to be notified about.
- This goes for any time of year, but especially when you’re applying for colleges. Academic dishonesty or other serious behavioral issues can affect your admission status. Think through your choices carefully; even a well-intentioned prank gone wrong has the potential to impact your future.
What can I do?
It’s true, there are definitely things to avoid in your college admissions journey. Today we talked about what not to do during college admissions. But rather than focus on the ways that you might mess up your application, try to focus on putting your best foot forward. You may encounter difficulties on the way, but there are resources (like Empowerly) that are here to help you succeed. Remember to be honest, authentic, and as well-prepared as possible, and the rest will fall into place!
If you have any questions about what your next steps are, reach out to us. We’re here to help you shine.