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Countdown to college: Application mistakes to avoid

By Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

College applications are out; let the careless errors begin.

A sloppy college application, while one of the easiest missteps to avoid, is probably among the most common mistake applicants make.

Here are pitfalls that you can easily prevent:

- A silly email address. If your student created their email address in the second grade and it sounds something like "beachbum4life" or "cheerleadercutie," it's time for an update. Students can create an "acceptable" email account with Gmail in just a few minutes. Colleges communicate almost exclusively with students via email, and setting up a more professional account is an easy way to dodge a red flag.

- Inappropriate material on social media. There is a lot of buzz in the college admissions community and among students and parents about the morality and the reality of college admissions professionals checking up on the Facebook and Twitter accounts of applicants. I tell students, "If you aren't comfortable with your grandmother seeing/reading what you have out there in cyberspace, remove it during your college admissions process." Vulgar language and inappropriate photos and posts (drinking, etc.) are obvious candidates for removal, but if you or your student thinks something is questionable, my advice is to "be safe and sanitize."

- Procrastination. Many college applications have already been released, and the remainder will be available by the end of August. Applications are due as early as mid-October with the majority of regular decision deadlines hitting on or around Jan. 1. Why do as many as 50 prcent of students wait until the last day, or even the last hour, to submit their applications?

Every year, without fail, college computer servers get overloaded with applicants applying at the last minute and shut down. "Panic-stricken" is probably a mild term for the chaos this creates in many households. You can imagine the conversation:

Student: "Help, it's not letting me submit my application."


Parent: "When is it due?"

Student: "By midnight tonight."

Parent: "Why did you wait until the last minute?"

Avoid this experience at all costs, start the applications now, and plan to submit them at least one week prior to the deadline.

- Misspellings. Spell-check is not a college applicant's friend. Most applications are not enabled with spell-check, and that means that all your mistakes and careless errors are in full view. I recommend at least two rounds of proofing. Don't use abbreviations unless you're short on space. Be consistent with how you refer to organizations (i.e., your use of acronyms, uppercase and lowercase, etc.). One of the most common errors is that students forget to capitalize "i" - likely a carryover from texting. Proof, take a break of two or more days, reproof and then submit.

Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.

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