For the class of 2017, colleges and universities across the nation expect to see a record number of applications. As always, students are searching for an edge, looking for some way to stand out. Most do a good job of putting their academic records in the best light, but there are always some who make basic mistakes that drive admissions counselors crazy and (if applicants only knew) doom their chances of being accepted.
U.S. News asked a number of admissions officers around the country to share some of the common missteps by students during the application process. Excerpts:
Vice president for admission and student financial planning, Drake University, Des Moines
Being someone you're not: I become leery about a candidate when I notice his or her list of extracurricular activities increase significantly during senior year. Shortly before application time, it seems the student has an immense interest in serving the poor, working with children with special needs, and protecting the rain forest—as well as participating in the chess club, drama club, the yearbook staff, student ambassadors, and pep club (all on top of the hours volunteered weekly at the Humane Society)! I don't necessarily doubt the authenticity of the student's list, but I do question the candidate's sudden dedication to multiple causes.
Instead of a laundry list of commitments, we admission officers want to know which one (or two) of these activities is truly a passion. We are trying to shape our university community to include a diversity of interests and getting a clear read on the student not only helps us—it helps the student find the right kind of environment.
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Assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of admissions, University of Arizona, Tucson
Neglecting the personal statement: While we do not specifically state that our personal statement is optional, we let students know the following: If you choose not to provide one, we will be lacking important information about you. If given the option, always take it!
There are times we have an academically borderline student who does not share a personal statement. This student may have worked 30 hours per week to help his/her family financially, or maybe a family tragedy contributed to a semester or year of below-average grades. Without the statement, we cannot consider additional circumstances.
On the flip side, when a school says it does not require recommendations or want supplemental materials, adhere to that. And we have received some wild supplements—from a music video made by a parent sharing why her son is so wonderful to a restraining order against the applicant (sharing why she needed to go to school out of state)! Yes, we looked at them, but I can't say they helped the applicants.
Adele C. Brumfield
Director of admissions, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Writing about the wrong school: There was an applicant who talked about our exciting school spirit, fun football games, and tremendous academic programs, all to mention that Ann Arbor would be a great town to live in. Definitely not good, since this is Wisconsin! This is a classic mistake, using a generic essay for similar schools and switching out the name. Instead, invest the time to know about each university and to demonstrate that knowledge.
Director of admissions, Swarthmore College, Pa.
Asking questions that make us go, hmmm…: When I receive E-mails or calls asking me about deadline dates, whether or not we have a certain major, or what is required to apply, I can't help but wonder how the student will navigate the complexities of college life with all this information plainly stated on our website and all of our printed materials. Perhaps some students think they need to send E-mails or make a phone call to show "interest." As Oprah says, what I know for sure is that we do not want our inboxes cluttered with "just want to say hi" or "feigning interest" E-mails.