7 Steps for Fixing Errors in Graduate School Applications

Your instinct may be to panic about your mistakes, but if you follow these steps, you will be fine.

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Children with ADHD often grow up to be adults with ADHD, a new study suggests.
Children with ADHD often grow up to be adults with ADHD, a new study suggests.

On occasion, graduate or business school applicants discover that the applications they have already submitted contain errors. These mistakes can occur either in the essays—such as grammatical or punctuation errors, typos, and out-of-order paragraphs—or in the general application, where applicants might forget to answer a required question, provide the wrong dates on their résumés, or forget to include a promotion, recognition, or leadership experience.

Students who have submitted applications with errors tend to find themselves in one of three situations: They discover a mistake or two after submitting the application; realize that they have sent a rough draft (perhaps with highlighted sections, comments in the margins, or notes to themselves about how to improve a sentence), rather than the final draft; or find that they submitted the final draft, but it is still error-ridden.

Any of these scenarios can be very disconcerting, but there may actually be an opportunity to be positively noticed by the admissions committee.

[Learn how to avoid the biggest mistake grad applicants make.]

While it will not feel very good to discover an error in your submitted application, don't panic. Here are seven steps to follow:

1. Correct the error in your notes. If you submitted your application online, correct the errors there, and save the changes, but don't resubmit yet.

2. Take this opportunity to go through the rest of the application, and if you notice any other errors, correct those as well.

3. Only after you have completed the first two steps, place a phone call to the admissions office, and explain that you have discovered an error, or several mistakes, in your application.

4. When you reach the admissions office, do not ask the staff—who are already swamped—to make any corrections or changes. Instead, ask how you can submit the corrected information. If admissions personnel offer to make changes or corrections, accept the offer with your gratitude. Then send a thank you note to the person who helped you.

[Get tips for completing graduate school applications.]

5. Before you end the conversation, be sure you have done four things. Know exactly how and when the corrections or changes will be made. Thank the admissions staff for its patience and assistance. Ask if you should call to confirm that the updates have been made. And get the name of the person who is assisting you.

6. If you are sending corrected or updated information via overnight mail, make sure to enclose a note indicating the name of the staff member with whom you spoke, and once again, thank the admissions staff for its patience and assistance.

7. Do not be overly apologetic or dramatic. We all make mistakes. If you handle things calmly and do not overreact, you may help yourself by demonstrating to the admissions committee how well you handle a difficult and potentially embarrassing situation.

In some instances, particularly with essays, applicants discover that there are multiple errors in the applications they have already submitted. Responding to this is the same as responding to one or two errors. Simply call the admissions office, explain what happened, and ask how to send the correct essay. But be sure it is perfect this time.

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What happens if you made several mistakes on final versions of your essays, or in other parts of the application, and simply missed them? This is probably the toughest situation to be in, and may require extra work on your part in resolving the matter.

My advice is to follow the steps above, and then do a bit more. I strongly recommend writing a personal letter to the director of admissions, letting her or him know that you deeply regret your oversight. I would also suggest having a professional colleague write a short letter of support, and enclosing their comments with your letter.

I've occasionally been asked if there is ever a time when an applicant should not correct an error, and I always respond that there is not. If you discover any error, it is better to let the admissions committee know. This demonstrates your diligence as an applicant, and also shows how well you handle and correct a mistake.