The Not-To-Do List Written by College Admissions Officers

College applicants dream of getting into their top choice colleges, but, being teenagers, may not always make the best choices, and to be fair, neither do their parents. Here are some of the pet peeves of college admissions officers Joseph Connolly, a guidance counselor at New Oxford High School in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, learned from members of the National Association for College Admissions Counselors.

The annoyances centered around the areas of Communication, Not doing your homework, Gimmick overkill, overzealous parents, campus visits, and essay. Here are some of the highlights below:

  • Offensive or silly email addresses
  • Paying attention to your phone during an interview
  • Not responding to emails or responding using texting shorthand
  • Stating that you'd like to major in a major not offered by the university
  • Not spell checking your application
  • Using the wrong college name in an essay
  • Sending gifts from a cake in the shape of the school's mascot to life-sized sculptures
  • Parents attending interviews and jumping into the conversation
  • Not dressing appropriately for campus visits
  • Wearing a different college's sweatshirt when visiting a school
  • Acting bored and distracted when visiting and/or interviewing
  • Not answering all parts of an essay or responding to a question not asked
  • Writing about accomplishments many years prior to applying to college

Make sure to check out the complete list here before you turn in your applications!

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Planning a College Road Trip?

Now that we're into fall, seniors may be feeling the pressure to narrow down their college lists--especially considering that early application deadlines are just days away. While Early Decision is known to have advantages such as higher admit rates, nobody wants to be bound to a school that is in fact not a good fit!

For those of you planning last minute trips, U.S. News has put together some great resources for you here. To get started, just pick the state that you're heading, and take a look at their own notes on each school before you head out and get a feel for the schools yourself. Ultimately, visiting the school is really the only way to be sure that a school feels right!

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College Admissions Frequently Asked Questions

As we near early application deadlines, applicants can feel overwhelmed by all the choices floating around in their heads. It can be a stressful and confusing time, and no one wants to make the wrong decisions! Here are a few answers to frequently asked questions:

Is it better to declare a major even if you're undecided?

Generally, there is no issue with not declaring a major when applying to a liberal arts program as schools understand that interests can change. However, some schools like California Polytechnic State University require you to declare a major, so make sure to research each school's policy and talk to an admissions counselor before you decide.

Should I submit more than one recommendation? 

Schools may require only one, so make sure to have one strong recommendation that highlights your best qualities. Schools don't always prefer more recommendations as their time is limited, so make sure that any additional recommendations are strong, and check the school's requirements before deciding if it's appropriate to send.

If a school is test-optional, should I submit my scores?  

If you have strong test scores, then definitely submit them as schools love to report high scores. A test-optional school is geared most towards a student with a strong GPA who has struggled with standardized test scores, so in those cases it's best to take advantage of that policy.

For more answers to frequently asked questions, see this article.

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Important Steps as You Apply to College

Now that you're in the swing of working on your college applications, here are a couple important tasks:

1 - Whenever you get an email from a college, open it. Colleges track demonstrated interest more than ever. This means that when they send you an email, they track your activity. Make sure you open each email, click on each link, click on other links on that page, and leave those pages open for a while.

2 - Clean up your social media footprint. You may not think it matters, but colleges are Googling you more than ever and checking out your social media posts. With competition fiercer than ever, colleges are looking for reasons why you may be better or worse than other applicants. Make sure that anything publicly visible would make a grandparent proud.

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Expert Advice on Writing Those Supplemental Essays

Hopefully, you've gotten a head start on writing your Common App main essay over the summer, and you're focusing more on your supplemental essays now. But whatever your situation, the first step should be organization. If College Essay Organizer is supplied by your school, then you're all set there! It will display all of your essay questions in one place instantly showing how the topics overlap, a step recommended by former Dean of Admissions at Columbia and Harvard turned admissions consultant in this post.

Other important tips shared focus around how you, one of the thousands of applicants, can stand out, especially in the supplemental essays which normally center around why you want to go to a particular school. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Think outside the box: Find a creative way to present your case that breaks the monotony of an admissions counselor's job.
  2. Pinpoint your most unique qualities: Highlight something about you and your goals that are different than everyone else's.
  3. Create a narrative: A good story will grab a counselor's attention and be more memorable.
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University of Georgia Requires Essays for All Applicants

University of Georgia's early applicants always had a great incentive to apply early — no essays to write! This year, things have changed, and ALL first-year applicants must write two required essays whether they apply through the Coalition App or UGa's School App. This is in line with the ever growing importance of college essays in the decision process. How to deal with this shift? University of Georgia's first required essay question frames it perfectly:

The college admissions process can create anxiety. In an attempt to make it less stressful, please tell us an interesting or amusing story about yourself that you have not already shared in your application.

Keep smiling and finding the humor in all of this. It will definitely get you through the rough patches!

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Yale's 2017-2018 Essay Questions Have Been Released

After days of waiting, the Common App has finally released Yale's essay questions for the 2017-2018 season. As we can expect from more competitive schools, the wording of the essay questions has changed, though the spirit remains the same.

However, what we can't expect from a top-caliber school which demands total excellence from the less than 7% of applicants lucky enough to receive an acceptance letter, is a mistake on the application! We don't know how it slipped through Yale's gilded fingers, but the proof is below in this screenshot. So for all those who have experienced a college rejection letter (or will in the future), let it be a comfort to know that even Yale is not perfect!

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Check Out University of Chicago's Essay Questions for 2017-2018 Season

While there are many unknowns in the college application process, especially in regards to essay questions, one thing that is predictable is that the University of Chicago will release intriguing essay questions! This year the tradition continues, and students will not be disappointed in their options. Even if you're not applying to college, take a moment to decide which topic you would choose, and consider writing it. It just may lead to an 'Aha' moment...

Essay Option 1.
“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert

Sometimes, people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed?

-Anonymous Suggestion

Essay Option 2.
Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History... a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here:

-Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018

Essay Option 3.
Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart! Captain Planet supposes that the world is made up of these five elements. We’re familiar with the previously-noted set and with actual elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, but select and explain another small group of things (say, under five) that you believe compose our world.

-Inspired by Dani Plung, Class of 2017

Essay Option 4.
The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization." Tell us about your “armor.”

-Inspired by Adam Berger, Class of 2020

Essay Option 5.
Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something that you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections.

-Inspired by Alex Serbanescu, Class of 2021

Essay Option 6.
In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. Be original, creative, thought provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

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Didn't get in early? Or just procrastinating? Here's how you finish up strong!

timeWhile we hope you got in early, if you didn't, you're not alone. More than 70% of applicants who apply early don't get in and many students wait until the last minute. But you can still submit winning applications that get you accepted! For tips, check out this webcast with Dan Stern, founder of College Essay Organizer. It will help you rock the essays for the rest of your schools.

To finish quickly and get accepted, remember that 97% of students who upgrade to our Essay RoadMap finish faster and significantly increase their admissions chances.

Just login here, and enter promo code finish2016 by December 31 for 25% off.

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What to do if You're Deferred

deferAs early application notifications head your way, you may be undergoing some anxious moments. If things don't go your way, remember to keep breathing! It may be helpful to take a moment to reflect on your options moving forward, knowing that ultimately you will wind up at the right place, and that college is more about what you make it than where you go.

If you do get a deferral, you should still continue applying to additional colleges, but there are a few steps you can take that could increase your chances of getting in. This Common App article highlights some important points:

  • A deferral means that you are still in the running along with other regular applicants, and you are no longer bound to accept an offer of admission.
  • Take your time before communicating with the college to ensure that you can calmly express yourself without sending the wrong message.
  • Research what the school recommends you do and don't do. Usually there are some specific steps you can take to let a school know you are still highly interested such as sending along a commitment letter after some time has elapsed.
  • Find out how many deferred applicants have been admitted in past years so that you have a better idea of what to expect.
  • Inquire if taking an additional round of standardized testing would be possible or helpful.
  • Don't blame yourself or your application. Instead, focus on your remaining applications, schoolwork, and relaxing with friends and family as much as possible as you bring in the new year.


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