Preparing for College

Goof Proof College Apps

Granted, most of you high school seniors out there have no doubt completed all your college applications. However, for those of you who are still looking to apply to some rolling-admissions schools, and for all you high school juniors who will be in the college-app barrel this fall, here's some excellent information from Smart Money about how to approach those apps without having to utter the Big Duh!

application form

As the deadline period for college applications draws close, high school seniors are busy filling out financial aid applications. But some simple-to-avoid mistakes could jeopardize both college entry and aid.


Oversights on admissions applications include such basics as forgeting to include a high school transcript or SAT scores. If that happens, the college will contact the student (typically by email) to inform them. Delaying a response could mean the applicant might lose his place in the class, might not be able to find a dorm, or worse, he could risk the financial aid package he would have received if he’d applied earlier.

“Every year, we take calls from students and parents who are disappointed because they didn’t get a decision. Most of the time, it’s because they didn’t complete their application,” says Ronne Turner, vice president of enrollment and dean of admissions at Northeastern University, which is currently reviewing applications and preparing to contact students with incomplete submissions.

There are several steps students can take to ensure they meet their deadlines without risking rejection or less financial aid. Here are five:

Create a checklist

The two parts of an application that must be in on time are the basic application (this includes your identifying information, your education background, a short-answer question and a personal essay) and the college’s application fee.

Roughly 400 colleges accept the Common Application to receive this information. Colleges that don’t use this form often make their application available on their web sites.

Students have to submit a supplemental application if a college requires it, which can include additional short-answer questions and personal essays. Students should also send a resume that lists the jobs they held while in high school, extracurricular activities and community service where they demonstrated leadership skills, and sports teams they belong to, says Paul Hemphill, a college admissions coach and founder of PreCollegePrep.com.

Several crucial components of a student’s application are sent in by other parties. The guidance counselor’s office will submit a student’s high school transcript to the colleges, the College Board submits SAT scores (assuming they're notified of the colleges a student is applying to), and teachers and guidance counselors send letters of recommendation. In most cases, if these components are late, they won’t immediately derail a student’s application, but it’s the student’s responsibility to confirm that their guidance counselor and teachers have sent in everything, says Turner.

Contact the colleges

Students shouldn’t hesitate to contact a college’s admissions office especially to confirm that all their application materials have been received.

Should the admissions department inform you of an incomplete application – and say a letter of recommendation or your transcript is missing – speak with your teacher or counselor responsible for sending that. (If your transcript or test scores are late, ask the college admissions office if they’ll accept unofficial copies in the meanwhile.) Let the college know that you’re on top of this and call seven to 10 days later to confirm they’ve received everything, says Hemphill.

“It’s really critical that the student be doing these things, not the parents,” he says. “This way, the student comes across as being in control of process, mature and having initiative.”

With an “incomplete,” give yourself two weeks max

Unless a college sets a deadline, there’s no official rule about how quickly a student should complete an incomplete application.

Still, students should give themselves two weeks maximum to file whatever is needed. “It can be a disadvantage if you don’t reply quickly because your application could fall to the bottom of the pile,” says Bob Chonko, dean of admissions at Longwood University, a public college that’s part of Virginia state universities.

Don’t give up because of missed deadline

If the deadline to submit an application has passed and a student hasn’t applied to that school, “it’s not necessarily over,” says Melanie Reed, director of college advising at Seattle Academy, an independent Seattle-based school that ranges from sixth through 12th grade.

Interested students should call the college’s admissions office to find out if they can still apply for the upcoming academic year. It’s also helpful for the student to explain why they didn’t apply earlier, especially if they were initially unaware about the college and it offers a top program in a major they plan to pursue.

Don’t take rolling admissions for granted

Even colleges that have rolling admissions are likely to reach their class size limit before the summer. That means students should pick up the pace on their applications even if there is no set deadline.

Part of the immediacy this year is the expectation of increased applications at most colleges as parents and students shop around for a college that offers a top education without requiring them to incur many loans or out-of-pocket expenses. At Longwood University, applications are already up 13% from last year, says Chonko. “We’re not taking any more freshmen than last year because we don’t have space and the budget is a little tight,” he says.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.