The 411 on college applications: tips for avoiding mistakes

Lambeth Hochwald

November 17, 2013

If you know a high school senior, then you’re well aware that it’s college application season — AKA one of the most stressful times of the school year.

To help make the process a bit easier, we asked two higher education experts to weigh in on the ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ of the process.

— Do’s —

DO let the admissions committee get to know you.

Use your college essay to provide new information to the admissions committee that shows them who you are as a person, says Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, an educational consulting firm and a LinkedIn Higher Ed. expert.

“Choose a single incident that defines who you are today,” she says. “Share a story where you’re the star, not the supporting cast.”

DO tailor each application.

While it’s key to put a lot of time and effort into the Common Application, some students neglect each college’s specific supplements, especially the essay ‘Why do you want to go to this college.’ Do your research.

“Be able to articulate which courses you want to take, professors you want to study with, extracurricular and volunteer activities you want to take advantage of and, most importantly, how you will make an impact on that campus,” Cohen suggests.

DO write thoughtful answers.

While certain applications include sections that require shorter responses, word choice is important.

“Take the time to be original and make your answers personal,” Dr. Cohen says.

— Don’ts —

DON’T write a clichéd essay.

As tempting as it is to write about the two Ds (death and divorce), avoid the topic because it can easily feel clichéd.

“Also, you don’t want the admission person to feel down by reading your essay,” says Bev Taylor, president of Ivy Coach, a Manhattan-based college consulting firm. “Your essay can be the tipping point to getting into a college, so say who you are and make the most of it.”

DON’T forget to proofread.

Wait to hit ‘submit’ until everything you’ve typed is letter perfect.

“If you send in an essay with a typo, you’re not going to be able to send it again,” Taylor says. “Your best hope is that they don’t notice it.”

DON’T ask your parents to contact admissions on your behalf.

Your goal during this process is to avoid stalking the admissions office in any way. Your parents or letter or recommendation writers shouldn’t reach out to them and you shouldn’t send many emails to an admissions officer you may have met at a college fair.

“It’s great that you have her email address and you can email questions, but keep it to significant ones only,” Taylor says.