Oops! Rookie Mistakes That Even the Experienced Make on College Applications

College ApplicationsBy Barbara Bellesi

If you waited a few years to go to college, or are just now about to finish your degree or enroll in grad school, you might have discovered that more life experience doesn't necessarily guarantee that you'll be a natural at college or financial aid applications.

Transcripts and test scores aside, admissions counselors and financial aid officers are noting some glaring errors in application packages -- and they're not all from "immature" high school students, either.

"White coat syndrome" is the term for a rise in blood pressure that can result just from having your blood pressure taken. So for those who get the jitters when filling out a stack of applications, let's call that "white paper syndrome." Frazzled nerves can lead to mistakes, and you can count on admissions counselors finding them.

It doesn't matter if the error is one you can laugh off -- with such stiff competition for seats these days, your application should be as perfect as possible.

Degrees of App Goofs

Rod Bugarin, college admissions and financial aid adviser at Aristotle Circle, a company that matches college-bound students and their parents to admissions experts, has noticed some cringe-worthy mistakes that were completely avoidable. "There are substantial goofs and minor goofs," says Bugarin, though he is quick to mention that "minor goofs can become major."

An oversight in paperwork can lead to a student submitting the wrong application to a college. For example, a student might accidentally submit his or her Wesleyan application to the wrong Wesleyan campus. Since many wait until the last minute to send in paperwork, a mistake like this could be irreversible.

One mistake that Bugarin notices particularly among the more experienced applicants is a lack of basic research about a school's academic offerings. He knows of more than a few students who've applied to a program that simply doesn't exist at a particular school, or one that exists on level (graduate school, or instance) at which the student is not applying.

"Are [potential students] rushing through their apps or not doing enough research?" Bugarin wonders.

Being a Shoe Queen Won't Make You a Shoo-In

Jennifer Easter, who directs the MBA program at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Penn., has had a bit better luck with applicant mistakes.

"We haven't had any really big blunders," she says. "But we do see some unprofessional email addresses. One that comes to mind was an application ... submitted under an email address that was the applicant's first name followed by 'shoe queen.' " While that might be a fun reflection of the individual's personality, Easter admits that the choice is "not the best for an MBA application."

Having "shoe queen" as a handle is probably mild in comparison to some of the more colorful and racy email addresses that are out there -- again, suitable for personal use, but not for scholarly use. Since most email addresses are free, it would be helpful to simply get one with your full name as your address, even if you only use it for application or professional purposes.

The 'Right' Stuff?

Sometimes embarrassing mistakes happen while one is currently in an academic program. Sarah Anderson of Millersville, Md., shares a story of her co-worker's unfortunate gaffe when she working on her second master's degree program: "[My coworker] was told the semester before she expected to finish that, yes, even as an adult student she would still need to complete the required basic research and composition course. She was livid."

The co-worker did have a right to be angry; she had previously won writing awards for her research papers, many of which Anderson had helped to proofread.

One thing that Anderson didn't proofread, however, was the vicious letter that the co-worker fired off to "the head of the department, the dean, the president of the university, and anyone else she could think of." Anderson read the letter only after it was sent and was quite dismayed to read the following: "With my qualifications, I find it absurd that I should need to prove that I can read and right at a college level."

Wonder if her request was granted?!

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