In the fiercely competitive landscape of elite college admissions, students must take a proactive and strategic approach to the application process. However, even the most talented and creative students make common missteps that can hinder their chances of earning a coveted spot at their dream schools. Often, students make incorrect assumptions about what admissions officers want to see in applicants, resulting in inauthentic and contrived application materials.
If you have aspirations of attending an Ivy League or other prestigious university, here are five things you should avoid when building your admissions profile:
1. Engaging in a Bevy of Unrelated Extracurricular Activities
Many students believe that colleges want to admit “well-rounded students” who have participated in a host of activities in different subject areas. While involvement in extracurriculars is indeed crucial to the application process, it’s essential to prioritize quality over quantity. Admissions officers are more interested in your authentic commitment and demonstrated leadership within a select few activities than in superficial involvement in numerous clubs. Extracurricular involvements should support your “hook”—the core interest that you are exploring in and out of the classroom—and tell a cohesive narrative about your passions. Focus on what genuinely interests you, and emphasize your dedication and leadership within those areas.
2. Only Focusing on Grades
While some students put their time into signing up for every club or activity on campus, others forgo extracurriculars altogether, assuming that all they need to get into a top school is perfect grades and test scores. Although strong academic performance is essential, it is only the foundation of a successful application. Top schools could fill their entire freshman class with valedictorians and students with perfect SAT scores; they are looking for students with unique interests and passions who will contribute to their communities in positive ways. Admissions officers are interested in your character, your passion, and your experiences being a leader and changemaker in your community throughout your high school career. Be sure that your application showcases your personality and guiding interests both inside and outside the classroom.
3. Writing Generic Essays and Supplements
Since admissions officers read thousands of essays each cycle, submitting a generic or recycled essay will make your application blur together with hundreds of other applicants’. Writing supplements that lack authenticity or fail to address the unique qualities of the institution to which you’re applying and how they align with your goals and interests will significantly hurt your chances of admission. Instead, take the time to customize your supplements for each school, highlighting why you’re an ideal fit for that particular program and how you will contribute to their campus community.
4. Failing to Demonstrate Interest
Some applicants underestimate the value of demonstrating genuine interest in a college if the college indicates that they track demonstrated interest. However, some colleges and universities’ admissions officers take demonstrated interest into account when evaluating applications, in part because it can indicate a greater yield rate. For those schools, take the time to visit campuses, attend information sessions, or connect with current students and faculty. If you are unable to visit in person, look for informational webinars or Q&As or reach out to the admissions office to inquire about meeting with an alum in your area. Doing so shows that you have a sincere interest in the institution and have put in the effort to learn about what it has to offer.
5. Forgetting the Value of Editing
One of the most common mistakes applicants make is submitting unpolished or error-riddled applications. Small mistakes in grammar or spelling or larger mistakes—such as failing to address a critical component of an essay prompt—will distract from the positive and compelling aspects of your essay. Before hitting the submit button, double-check your application for any missing information, typos, or formatting errors, and have a friend or family member look over your application for such errors as well. Receiving feedback from someone who knows you well will also ensure that your unique personality and voice are conveyed through your application materials. A polished and complete application will demonstrate your commitment to the admissions process and the institution.
In the fiercely competitive world of college admissions, avoiding these common pitfalls will significantly improve your chances of impressing admissions officers and earning a spot at your dream college.
Originally Published on Forbes