How to get rejected

So you know everything you're supposed to do on your college application, but do you know all the things you're not supposed to do? Several interviews with a number of deans of admission have revealed the following common mistakes -- and how to avoid making them:

  • Lying or omitting facts
    It may seem that a small exaggeration of your time spent volunteering or a claim that you were a first-chair saxophonist when you were really fourth won't be caught by the admissions committee, but the truth is that claims are sometimes researched. Getting caught lying on your college application will not only destroy your integrity and thus chance for admission, but may also be grounds for dismissal even after you've been accepted. Don't be tempted to misrepresent yourself.
  • Use acronyms or titles without explaining their meaning
    It doesn't matter how many years you were the president of the TRDP if the admissions officers haven't a clue what the TRDP even is. Explain every organization and every position. "President" may seem self-explanatory, but every president is different. Talk more about what you did and less about what you were. Also, while most people know what an Eagle Scout or a Quarterback or a Debater is, the admissions committee will not understand why it's a big deal unless you tell them. Be detailed and descriptive for everything you've done.
  • Poor research into the college and its programs
    Few things are as annoying to admissions officers as proof in your personal statement that you did not research the school before applying. Mentioning your dream to study Engineering to a college that doesn't even offer the major will likely tempt them to reject you to help you pursue that dream. Showing that you have read the college catalog and are an informed applicant will certainly earn points. Don't go overboard and start quoting from it, however.
  • Show little effort
    Misspellings, poor grammar, and illegible handwriting show that you did not put as much effort into your application as the admissions offers would prefer. Not only should you proofread every application several times, but you should also have one or more other people proofread it for you.
  • Copy a clever, "unique" essay idea
    Admissions officers read hundreds upon hundreds of essays. Chances are if you think a particular essay is clever, someone else did too. And while writing your own obituary may have been clever the first time someone used it, its uniqueness certainly wears off after the 30th essay that copies it. Be original in your essay and avoid getting 'inspired' by what other essays have done.
  • Leave things unsaid
    It's rather disappointing for an admissions officer to see something interesting in your resume, but never see it mentioned again. You may have done student government for 4 years to appear on your application as a committed individual with leadership skills, but the admissions committee won't give you credit for it unless you talk about commitment and leadership in your essay.
  • Ignore weaknesses and don't talk them
    If there's a D on your transcript or a semester full of C's, you should be prepared to acknowledge it. Talking about a flaw in your record doesn't call attention to it, but rather shows you as a mature individual capable of recognizing your weaknesses. It also gives you the chance to explain it. If the admissions officers see a problem with your application, they're going to be looking for an explanation somewhere in your file. Make sure they find one.

Most of all, try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who are going to be reading your application. Think about what you would want to know about yourself and make sure you write about it. Give detailed explanations about why your strengths are so great and your weaknesses aren't really that bad. Then, be sure you're viewed as a serious applicant by doing your homework and ultimately producing a well-polished final product.

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