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5 Mistakes That RUIN a College Application

5 College Application Mistakes to Avoid

So you’re starting to think about your college application and want to get accepted into your dream school but might not know where to start… 

As senior year rolls around, applying to college may seem like a daunting task ahead of you. But don’t worry – it’s really not as difficult or stressful as you think. 

As long as you avoid these 5 common mistakes, you’ll be sure to have a stellar application and stand out to college admissions. 

1. Writing a Generic Essay

Your common app essay should be anything BUT common. 

Discuss a life-changing experience or a topic you’re genuinely passionate about. Don’t be afraid to share a personal struggle or perhaps even a creative story. The bottom line: be yourself, and be real. After all, that’s what makes you unique from the tens of thousands of others with similar grades and test scores who are applying to the same school.

Tons of students write generic and self-aggrandizing essays about winning an award or an extracurricular they want to show off to admissions committees. Don’t blend in with the crowd. Be different, and feel free to take risks. This is your one shot, so why not make the most of it?

2. Forgetting Deadlines, Testing Policies, and Other Requirements

Of course, this seems obvious. But in a day and age where many students apply to over 15 colleges, it’s probably harder than you think to keep track of everything. 

First, make sure to know the application deadlines of each school to which you’re applying. Also decide on which schools you intend to apply early to (more on that in a bit) and mark your calendar accordingly.

Here are a few deadlines for popular colleges from the 2019/2020 admissions cycle:

  • ~11/1: EA/REA/ED for Ivies and most Top 20 schools 
  • ~11/30 University of California (all 9 campuses)
  • ~1/1: RD for Ivies and most Top 20 schools

(Note that deadlines may change marginally from year-to-year, so be always sure to verify.)

Different schools have different policies for reporting standardized test scores. Some allow you to self-report (on your Common App), while others require official scores to be sent via the testing agency. So be sure to check the website of each college you’re applying to for its specific testing policy.

AND DON’T DO SO LAST MINUTE! The College Board typically takes a week to send over score reports. If you find out the day before the deadline that a school requires official test scores, you’ll be too late to send them in on time!

Pro tip: Don’t go at it alone! Before submitting your first few applications, arrange a meeting with your guidance counselor to make sure all required transcripts, recommendations letters, and other documents are sent in by the deadline. 

This whole process might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but you’ll get the hang of it after several applications, and applying to the rest of the colleges on your list will be a breeze!

3. Waiting Until the Last Minute

It’s a good idea to get started before the end of junior year! If you’ve already finished all your standardized testing by then, you’ll have a good idea of where you stand.

Research different schools and determine which ones best align with your interests, preferences, and future goals. Create your college list and start visiting those schools over the summer. And spend time crafting a well thought-out Common App essay and revising until you see fit. 

Don’t wait until winter break of senior year to finish everything! Under high pressure and a narrow time constraint, you might not be able to think everything through and compose the best essay possible. You also won’t have much time to edit, proofread, or ask for others to look over your writing. Remember: essays can make or break an application, so don’t just rush through them!

4. Not Applying Early

Some students don’t realize that many colleges allow you to apply well before the regular deadline and receive a decision at an earlier date. So take advantage of this opportunity! If you’ve already identified your dream school, consider applying in the early round.

Colleges typically offer one of three early application policies: Early Action (EA),  Restrictive Early Action (REA) policy, or Early Decision (ED).

If you don’t know what these terms mean, check out our new blog article (link) to find out the difference between EA, REA, and ED decision plans. 

Benefits of Applying Early:

  • Increased Acceptance Rate: Colleges reward you for identifying them as your first-choice school and submitting your application early. Applying EA/REA/ED will almost certainly increase your chance of admission! For most Ivy League schools, the early acceptance rate is nearly double that of regular decision. And in 2019, Johns Hopkins’ admitted more than 30% of ED applicants, compared to a mere 7.7% in RD. So if you have a particular dream school in mind, go for it early! Plus, you won’t have to wait as long for a decision!
  • No Need For Safety Schools: Most colleges release early application decisions before January 1, the regular decision deadline for most colleges. So if you find out in mid-December that you got into at least one target school during the early round, you won’t need to waste application fees on safeties! And if you’re accepted into your first-choice school, even better! You’re all done with college applications! 

5. Aiming Too Low

Most guidance counselors will tell you to pick a only certain number of safety, target, and reach schools for a maximum of 10-12 in total. While such suggestions are certainly reasonable, you don’t need to feel restricted by them! In fact, many high-achieving students fail to end up at a selective school simply because they didn’t apply to enough of them.

As long as your grades and scores are sufficient, don’t be afraid to shoot for more reach schools than recommended. Especially nowadays, with college acceptance rates declining to record lows, you should try for as many top schools as possible to increase your chance of getting into at least one.

After all, it doesn’t hurt to aim high. Applying to colleges is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t waste it! 

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The Big Takeaway

When it comes to college applications, a seemingly minor error such as not knowing the testing policy or applying RD instead of ED could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. By avoiding these 5 critical mistakes, you’ll be ready to create a fantastic college application and increase your chance of getting into your top-choice schools.


1. Don’t write a generic essay

2. Don’t forget deadlines, testing policies, and requirements

3. Don’t wait until the last minute 

4. Apply early

5. Aim high

Good luck!

What’s Next?

Guess what’s another KEY part of your college application?

Your admissions test scores! Colleges rank this as a top factor when it comes to choosing to accept one student over another.

Whether your focus is College Test Prep or APs, we have a solution to improve your scores! 

To inquire, call 855-346-1410 or contact us here! 

Alex W.

Alex W. is an alumni of MEK Review's BCA Prep and SAT Prep programs. He also graduated from the prestigious Bergen County Academies in the Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology (AAST). Currently, he is pursing a STEM degree at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor.


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