Most students (and parents) make several seemingly benign errors in their college admissions process that can cost them dearly. Below are nine ways families make common mistakes and suggestions how to avoid them. If you like the tips, do let us know what you think.
1. Dropping Context
Context is critical in the admissions process. What is context? It is your background. Your family's background. For example, applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds are measured with a different yardstick than affluent applicants who have had numerous opportunities for personal and academic growth and exploration. Those who have to work to help with family finances simply do not have the time to take extracurricular activities or even AP classes. Some students may have a learning disability or a physical handicap, or a difficult family situation. Colleges look at all of this information.
Make it easy for colleges to know your context. Where do you live? What kind of family responsibilities do you have? What kind of difficulties do you face? What opportunities you have had that you made good use of? Do not leave our vital personal story. If you do, you will lose out in the admission game. You want to stand out and therefore make sure that the admissions committee sees the real you.
2. Lack of Balance
Be mindful of the number of times you use “I” in your essays. Do you give credit to teachers, mentors, parents, and others who have helped you along the way? Of course, you have to write about yourself and talk about yourself as the unique individual you are. At the same time, however, you have to talk about how you can contribute to the college. For example, if you an art major and the school of your dreams has a great theater program, think of how you can add to the value of the program. Or, if you have an interest in science, think of what unique work you want to do that will help the science program at your college. Etc.
3. Lack of Ambition and Vision
If you are applying to a top school, you must demonstrate ambition and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish there. Don't say that I just want a job after graduation. You can go to a community college (and save a lot of money) and do just that.
Think about what you want to do after college. What will you learn in the school that will help you achieve your goals? Which courses? The more specific you are, the more you will impress the admissions officers. Plus, it will show that you know what you want and have done your homework about the school.
4. Not Improving your IQ (Interest Quotient)
Today, college admissions are ultra competitive. Many students have similar GPAs, test scores, and even extracurricular activities. You will need recommendations and your Interest Quotient (IQ)--your demonstrated interest--to tip the scale in your favor.
According to the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC), from 2003 to 2011, the percentage of colleges rating demonstrated interest as a “considerably important” factor increased from 7% to 21%.
Schools want to admit students who genuinely know and like the school, and if admitted, want to attend the school. How do you then demonstrate your interest? First, you have to increase you IQ (interest quotient).
5. Writing One Essay for All
It’s tough applying to 10 schools while you’re juggling a busy school schedule. It’s tempting to try to answer the essay prompts for all 10 supplements with that one great essay you worked so hard on -- but be careful. You can score low marks on the demonstrated interest test if it is obvious to the reader that you have repurposed an essay for another school. Admission officers usually know the prompts from competitive institutions, so they could notice and be unimpressed with your essay.
6. Poor Grammar & Punctuation
You are expected to have a strong command of proper grammar and punctuation. In today's age, you have no excuse given the grammar tools available. You don’t want to give the admission committee ANY reasons to put your application in the reject pile, but poor grammar and punctuation will get you there quick. Even if English is your second language, try to have a native speaker review your application for glaring errors in grammar, word choice, and punctuation. Use a grammar and spelling tool to correct obvious mistakes.
7. Not Proofreading
Having mentioned spell-check and other word processor tools, don't just rely on them. They can also fail you. There is a lot riding on your college application. Treat it as very important and not a chore you got to do. That is not the attitude you should have. And that is why we advise to focus only on your top 10-15 -- one by one.
8. Forgetting the Admissions Rubric
Admissions officers use a “rubric” as a guide. They differ from school to school, but their function is to evaluate core components of a student’s profile:
Be aware of this rubric. Make sure you have addressed the rubric in your application.
9. Not Understanding the 'Yield'
Yield in college admissions is the percent of students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university after having been offered admission. [Source: Wikipedia]
Schools like to manage their yield, or the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll, and IQ can be a great predictor for that. Many students do not enroll due to various reasons: money, girl or boy friend, family, fear of the unknown or distance from home, etc. The top, top students may not go to a specific college, given they have a plethora of choices. You can increase your opportunity by helping the school increase its yield. Increase your IQ (interest quotient) for the colleges in your list.
If you need support and have questions, do not hesitate to consult with the Hillview Prep team!