Rocketing Past the College Admissions Blunders

Deans and college counselors have seen it all, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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Keep it clean. A profane word is "not an accident, and we don't view it as an accident," says Debra Chermonte, dean of admissions and financial aid at Oberlin. "We view that as a deliberate attempt to be noticed." And not in a good way. 

Schools H8 2 C texttalk. You don't want the admissions officer thinking, "This kid spends way too much time on his cell."

Explain easy courses. You took honors English through 11th grade, then slid down to a standard class. Colleges want rigor, not relaxation, so state the reason. "Burned out" is not so good. "Decided to focus on my real love—­science" is much better. 

Own up to any bad behavior. Don't lie about school pun­ishments. The school is dutybound to report them. And don't pretend your suspension for boozing it up at a foot­ball game was a one-time thing if you had two warnings beforehand. Your school will report that, too. What does matter is your take on the experience. "Accept responsi­bility; show contrition or lessons learned," suggests Sim­mons of Furman.

Optional essays aren't optional. Some students think that, since they live in a democracy and are very busy, they can opt to ignore the optional essay. Don't opt out, says Ja­cobs of SAR High School. This could be the place to ex­plain bad grades or other glitches in your résumé. 

Be electronically savvy. Colleges get calls from students in April. They say they submitted the application in De­cember and never heard. Guess what: "They didn't click the final 'submit' button," says Wagner's Nowicki. And guess what else: April is typically too late to click.

Don't overcompensate by pressing "submit" seven times. Just send an E-mail after a week: "I want to make sure you received my application and all supporting documents." 

Don't send the E-mail to Do send it to the admissions staffer you met at one of your high school's college nights or during a visit to the campus. Or ask for the name of the person handling your region.

Handwriting counts. A few students apply the old-fash­ioned way—with penmanship so sloppy that the college admissions office can't read the E-mail address to ask for clarifications. 

"Sometimes you get a handwritten application and it's clearly not the student who filled it out," adds Rodriguez of Pitzer College. "You wonder who's interested, parent or stu­dent?" One obvious tipoff is when the handwriting doesn't match the signature on the application. 

Don't assume your counselor will handle it. Students think high school counselors will handle any request from a college for missing information. They can't if they don't know about it in the first place. As Missy Sanchez, director of college counseling at Woodward Academy near Atlanta, puts it, "Sometimes counselors are included in the cor­respondence, sometimes not." 

Don't be cocky. Jacobs recalls a senior who fig­ured he was a lock at two Ivy League schools. At School No. 1, his parents had a friend of a friend on the board. At School No. 2, an admissions counselor told him he'd be a good bet. Or at least that's how he remembered the conversation.

Both schools said no. Part of the reason was that his test scores were more impressive than his grades. He could have addressed that in the "optional" essay, but he didn't feel he needed to write one (see above). 

He did get into a state university but hadn't bothered to apply for the honors program. At the 11th hour, he was giv­ing FedEx a lot of business.

Eschew artiness. College deans will surely groan/If your essay is a poem. 

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