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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.


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