Avoid These Big College Application Mistakes

Admissions staffers from across the U.S. tell you what not to do when applying to college.

Don’t let easily avoidable mistakes such as poor grammar or procrastination derail your college admissions chances.
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Colleges are sure to find your international baccalaureate degree impressive – but not if you call it an "international bachelorette" on your application. That's a spell-check-induced gaffe cited by deans of admission at more than a couple schools. 

What are some other mistakes that drive college admissions staffers crazy – and sometimes send the applicant straight to the rejection pile? U.S. News asked pros from around the country to weigh in on what they'd strongly rather you not do. Here are some of the highlights. 

[Get additional tips and advice on applying to college.] 

Robert Barkley, Director of undergraduate admissions, Clemson University 

Neglecting to read directions: We have a place on our application that is marked clearly for international students. But we have gotten applications from American students who have not read that, and where it asks, "Do you have a visa?" they say yes. 

And when it asks what kind, we're expecting to see an F1 or a J2, something administered by [the government]. In one case we got Bank of America. And where we asked for the number of the visa, we got the credit card number. We were not impressed. 

Tom Weede, Vice president for enrollment management,  Butler University  

Letting parents take the lead: 
It doesn't tell us that a student is interested if we get 15 phone calls from Mom. Some parents are annoying – we get that. We try not to hold it against the student, as long as he or she has played a role in the process. We want families involved. But the student needs to take the lead.

Leigh A. Weisenburger, Dean of admission and financial aid, Bates College 

Submitting a lengthy resume:
At my stage in my career, I shouldn't have a three-page resume. So no 17-year-old should be submitting a three-page resume. 

I know many college counselors encourage students to write one as a process to help the kid recognize all she's accomplished, but we don't need to see it if you've filled out the application properly. It just rubs me the wrong way when students submit a resume rather than filling out the activity portion of the application. 

Debra Chermonte, Dean of admissions and financial aid, Oberlin College 

Hitting submit without proofreading:
Using spell-check isn't enough – you have to proofread. Julie Taymor, who wrote and directed "The Lion King," is a graduate of Oberlin, and we had a student who was really passionate about [Taymor's] work and wrote a really well-done essay about it. But she neglected to proof it, and throughout she referred to the musical as "The Loin King." 

She didn't get in. It wasn't just because of that; it didn't help, though. It was a really good essay, but that just put the pause button on it. 

[See 10 tips for writing the college application essay.] 

Julie Shimabukuro, Director of undergraduate admissions, Washington University in St. Louis 

Waiting until the last minute:
Many students who submit on the date of the deadline assume that everything transmitted and was received. But sometimes things are lost in cyberspace. 

By the time we process the thousands of pieces of information that come in on the final day, the actual deadline has come and gone, and it's possible that something is still missing. We try to give a few days' grace period, but colleges and universities expect you to confirm that your application has been received and that it is complete. 

Amy Jarich, Assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions, University of California—Berkeley 

Repeating yourself: When I keep hearing the same thought over and over, I really feel like it's a missed opportunity. In the application, real estate is so valuable! 

Each part of it should be telling us something new ... If you've told us in one essay how you live with your extended family and how important that is in your life, don't tell us in the second essay about how the person you most admire is your grandmother ... You want us to think: "That brings a new piece to this puzzle. I like that."