It was an easy mistake — small print, lots of application balls in the air at once and a teenager who had never managed a complex process before. When my oldest son applied to college, he and I thought we knew when the application was due. We assumed his Common App and art supplement needed to be submitted by Nov. 1, for early admission. As I obsessed about him applying to college, a not uncommon response to the looming reality of a teenager leaving home, I reread the admissions website and discovered his supplement was due before the application. He now had three days to finish what he thought was not due for almost three weeks.
In that moment, we both came to understand how a simple error could have an outsize effect on admissions.
Here are other mistakes to avoid, according to college admissions officers around the country:
• Telling your story.
Don’t waste precious words on the admission essay by restating the prompt or discussing an activity listed elsewhere on the application. Gary Clark, director of undergraduate admission at UCLA, says it is also a major missed opportunity when students spend too much of their essay describing a scene or another person who plays a role in their story. The essay needs to offer new insight into the candidate.
Admissions committees are time-constrained. An essay that gets to the main point quickly with a very strong opening sentence and drops the reader right into the moment without a long buildup is more likely to grab the reader’s attention.
• A chance for your voice to be heard.
“As an applicant, you need and should have an editor,” says Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech and co-author of “The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together.” “Sometimes the best editor is a parent, someone you trust. But students need to watch for when an editor becomes a second author. I tell students that even in your high school you can think of someone who basically has the same grades, classes, and test scores as you do and is just as involved with their activities. The essay is your opportunity to separate yourself, to insert your voice. Don’t let someone rob you of the very thing that we are looking for: that unique, personal voice. I think parents can unintentionally do that.”