Ten ways seniors can still ruin your college applications

We're getting close to the end of college application season.  And unfortunately, the mad rush to finish can lead some seniors to making some big mistakes.  So here are some things to avoid.

And just to clarify, these are things you should not do.

1. If you send an email to an admissions office, completely ignore the standard rules of English grammar, capitalization and punctuation.

When you email each other, you and your friends might not care about anything other than just getting the basic point across. But colleges do. Emails devoid of things like punctuation and correct grammar make admissions officers wonder if you were too lazy to use them, or if you just didn't know how.  Both are equally bad.  

2. Do something goofy with your application.

What's goofy?  Sending a box of cookies to the admissions office with a note that says, "There's more where these came from if you admit me!"  That's goofy.  Seriously.  Don't do that (or anything like that).

3. Don't thank people who helped you, like your high school counselor or your teachers who wrote your letters of recommendation.

It's not unusual for a college to contact your counselor or one of your recommendation writers if they have a question about something that was unclear on your application.  If that were to happen, what final impression have you left on those people?  You wouldn't want your teacher to be thinking, "He's the kid who asked me to write his letter ten days before the deadline, gave me no supporting materials, and never bothered to say thank-you."  Be nice.  Say "Thank you."  Maybe even buy them a little gift.

4. Don't call the colleges to make sure they received all your application materials.  Just assume it all got there.

Testing agencies, teachers, counselors–a lot of people besides yourself are responsible for sending parts of your applications to colleges.  And colleges are absolutely inundated with materials at this time of year.  It's easy for something to get lost in the shuffle.  So follow up and make sure they've received everything for your applications. 

5. Stop studying and let your grades drop (Just hope that colleges won't notice).

A lot of colleges will ask to see your first semester grades before they admit you.  And I've yet to find a college who won't ask for your second semester grades before they let an admitted student become a freshman on their campus.  So don't let your senior celebration start too early.

6. Recycle an essay from another application but forget to switch out the college's name.

This is like phoning a girl to ask her to go out with you and calling her the wrong name.  It's not going to go over well.  And it happens a lot (the application mistake, I mean). 

7. Post some questionable pictures of yourself on your Facebook page.  And make it public for all the world to see.

Admissions officers have Facebook pages, too.  And they know how to use them.  So, no party pics.  No photos of you making obscene or lewd gestures at the camera.  No blog entries detailing things that you wouldn't want colleges to know about.  The internet is public (it is the world wide web, after all).  So keep  your content clean, and keep everything private so that only your friends can find your profile. 

8. Let your parents get way too involved.

Over-involved "helicopter parents" who fill out applications, help write essays, and call the admissions office repeatedly inadvertently paint a picture of a college applicant who can't/won't do things for himself.  I'm not suggesting that parents have to stay out of everything college-related.  Be a supporter.  Answer questions.  Maybe even help impose some organization.  But this should still be your kid's process. 

9.  Bend the truth as much as possible.

When you sign a college application, you are signing a document in which you are claiming that everything, to the best of your knowledge, is true and accurate.  You should never, ever sign a document that says that unless you feel comfortable that it's accurate.  So if you've bent the truth anywhere on your application, bend it back and be straight.  No college admissions officer in America will fight to admit you if you lie on your application, even a little bit.

10.  Don't bother checking your email regularly.

It's not unusual for colleges to communicate via email.  So check your email once a day, at least.  If you created a separate email address for your college applications (a good idea if your email address is sexypartyguy@email.com), don't forget that once you list it, you also need to check it.

College applications with personality, and a side of bacon

After a recent seminar I did for Collegewise families, one parent who filled out an evaluation answered the question, "Are there any other comments you'd like to share with us?" like this…

"I like bacon."

I don't know who wrote it (the evaluations are anonymous), but I like that parent already.  This was probably a fun person, someone who knows how to enjoy him or herself, someone with a spirited personality.  I have no way of knowing if my assumptions are accurate, but you can tell a lot from an answer like that. 

College applications are the same way. 

A lot of kids are so wrapped up in trying to sound impressive that they won't be playful even when the college is begging you to play.  A question about why you want to attend this college requires a thoughtful answer.  A question about your favorite food or what book you would bring to a desert island or what one person, living or dead, you would like to have dinner with is begging you to be yourself and have fun.  Your answer doesn't necessarily have to be funny, but it should be true and revealing.  There are no right or wrong answers–just use the opportunity to help the college get to know you a little better.  So admit that you eat more Oreos than could possibly be healthy.  Tell them there's no way you'd go the rest of your life on an island without Harry Potter. Come right out and admit that you'd want to have dinner with the lead singer from Coldplay so you could ask him to please stop writing songs.  

A college will never come out and ask you to describe your personality.  But they'll be looking for it in your answers.  So make it easy for them to find it. 

Nice Kids Finish First

Be_nice Good things happen to nice kids. 

During application season, the Collegewise counselors are a little bit like the legend of Santa Claus.  We know which kids have been naughty and which have been nice.  We notice the seniors who were on time for all of their appointments, who always returned our phone calls, and who said, “Thank you so much” after our meetings.  And while we don’t treat them any better or work any harder for them than we do for our few naughty kids, we do notice them.  We’re human, after all.   

College admissions officers are the same way.

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5 Things Seniors Can Still Do to Help Them Get Into College

Timer Seniors, whether you’ve already submitted your applications, or if you’re planning one final application assault over the holiday break, here are five ways you can still improve your chances of admission to college. 

1.  Keep working hard in school

We know that might sound like the same old advice, but the truth is that a lot of colleges ask to see your first semester senior grades before they make admissions decisions, and those grades can absolutely impact your chances of admission.  Of all the things you can do to improve your chances (or not do that will hurt your chances), this one is the most important.   

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The One Thing You Need To Know About…


The more advice you’re given about college admissions, the more complicated the whole process seems.  So this month, we picked some of the most common college admissions topics and, for each one, asked ourselves, "What’s the one thing a student really needs to know about this?"  Read one to find five of those of those one-things.      

1.  College Essays

Don’t write what you think the colleges want to hear.  You’ll inevitably end up writing about how community service taught you that it’s important to help people, or how your trip to Spain taught you to appreciate different cultures.  And those are the essays that everybody writes. 

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Inside the Admissions Office

Be_yourself Arun Ponnusamy, director of our Los Angeles office, is riding high these days. His beloved Ohio State Buckeye football team is ranked #1—he hasn’t missed a game on his flat screen all season.

When she’s not in the office next to Arun, Collegewise Counselor Jessica Schattgen is planning her wedding. This means she can recite all the advice from Martha Stewart’s last six “wedding guides.” And in our Irvine, CA office, Allison Cummings thinks that Burger King’s “Whopper with cheese” is a culinary delicacy to be enjoyed as frequently as possible. She’s acting on that belief. Regularly.

Fascinating? Not necessarily. But that’s the point. All three of these Collegewise counselors are regular people like the rest of us. And all three used to work as admissions officers at selective colleges.

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How to Ruin Your College Application

Stupid_4 Jay Mathews of the Washington Post does it again.  We love Jay's take on the college admissions process because he's a member of the press who takes every opportunity to inject a healthy perspective, not fear, into his writing on education.  In fact, we like his book Harvard Schmarvard so much that we give it to our Collegewise families as a thank-you when they refer a friend to us. 

This week, Jay's column offers up Ten Stupid Ways to Ruin Your College Application.  From posting questionable photos on Myspace to letting parents get too involved, all of his "don'ts" are mistakes we've actually seen kids make. 

Summer To-Do List for Soon-To-Be Seniors

It’s summer.  And you rising seniors deserve a little rest and relaxation.  But while you’re soaking up your summer, here a few college-related things you can do to make your upcoming application season much easier. 

1. Aim to finalize your list of colleges by the end of the summer.
A lot of students wait until the fall to even decide where they want to apply.  Why wait?  Deciding where you’re going to apply is much easier than deciding where you’re actually going to go (which doesn’t happen for most students until late in your senior year).  So do your research, talk to your parents, and visit any colleges you can get to this summer.  Remember, you can always alter your list this fall if a visit to a college (or the advice of your high school counselor) prompts you to rearrange the list just a bit.    

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Easing the Stress

Stress_2 Boy, do we like Jay Mathews, Education Columnist for the Washington Post and author of one of our favorite admissions books, Harvard Schmarvard.   And his most recent column, "Ten Ways to Reduce College Application Stress" reminds us why.

Some of the tips actually suggest ways the colleges could do more to ease the stress on kids, like tip #3,  "Make the super selective colleges tell all potential applicants that their admissions processes are often irrational and that getting accepted is akin to winning a lottery."

I like tip #9 the best–"Repeat this phrase every day: In America, people succeed because of the quality of their character, not the notoriety of their college." 

And as usual, he's got great data to back it up.

Thanks Jay!

Give it the old college try…again.

This is the time of year when seniors get all their news–both good and bad–from colleges.  Some of those applicants across the country will, unfortunately, get all bad news and be left with no college choices.  This article reminds them (and the rest of us) that there is still plenty of room on lots of college campuses, like UC Riverside, UC Merced, Cal State Northridge, Cal State L.A., Loyola Marymount University, Whittier College and Mount St. Mary’s, to name a few.  It’s nice to be reminded that, no matter who you are, if you want to go to college, you (still) can go.