The 5 People You Should Definitely NOT Emulate When Applying to College

Even though you may have never heard of these people, more people than you think make these five mistakes when applying to college.

1 | Eddie Haskell

Leave It To Beaver was a hit show that began way back in 1957. I wasn’t alive then either, but the neighbor boy has become synonymous with “sucking up.” You will get this message over and over, but you can’t guess what the college admissions office wants to hear.  You have to be genuine.  Perhaps you’re wondering which critical eye will be evaluating your application, eagerly searching for the one flaw that will keep you out of their college.  Perhaps you’ve been coached by parents or friends of parents to create the perfect recipe for the perfect college….an ounce of athletic success, a pound of overwhelming concern for the less fortunate and a pinch of humor.  You don’t need all of that. Like Eddie Haskell, you feel that if you just say the right thing, whether it’s disingenuous or not, you will find the right combination to be admitted. It simply will not work. Show that your human, be vulnerable and be yourself.

Instead of: “I qualified for national debate, I’m a member of the National Honors Society and I have been voted as a captain for the tennis team for two years.”

Try: “I do feel overwhelmed sometimes. I can’t remember a day when I didn’t contemplate giving up in debate.”

Sound weak? No, of course not. We all identify with feeling overwhelmed. You do NOT have to market yourself. Yes, show your strengths, but be open about how you feel as well.

2 | Icarus 

You know Icarus, right?  If not, it’s okay.  He’s the ancient Greek with wings of wax who flew too close to the sun, plunging to his death in the ocean.  He got a little excited and a little over confident, which won’t land you in the ocean, but it could hurt your application.  You’re coming of age, you’ve got your you-know-what together, and you can handle this.  That’s great, but you still need a team.  Trust me, I’m happy your parents aren’t doing your essay, but they are on your team.  So is your counselor, and so are your teachers.  Friends, siblings, anyone you trust.  Reading essays and supplements over and over again can be mind-numbing; you will skim over the same mistake fifteen times, but a fresh pair of eyes can work miracles.  It’s still your application, but use your team.

Instead of: Hitting the submit button as soon as you’re finished with an application (yes, this does feel great!)….

Try: Getting into the hands of your counselor, a friend, older sibling, a parent or teacher one more time for the final check.

3 | The Hare

We’ve all read the folk tale where the slow and steady tortoise wins the race against the speedy hare. This one may be an obvious choice, but I’m talking about starting too late on your applications or not giving enough time for your supplements. College admissions officers will consistently tell you that they are impressed with an applicant after the first ‘main’ essay, but then are ultimately disappointed when reading the supplements or short answer questions. It’s about pacing. That’s what the hare got wrong. The true lesson to this parable for your purposes is pacing, leaving time to treat all parts of the application equally. Tips to setting a good pace are applying to a reasonable number of colleges, starting early and creating a spreadsheet with your tasks and deadlines.

Instead of: Relying on your gut instincts to get you through this process….

Try: Keeping a spreadsheet with the following columns: College, Application Deadline (check for scholarship deadline = your REAL deadline), Recommendation Deadline (3-4 weeks earlier than Application Deadline), Essay, Supplements, Transcripts, Complete. Add more columns if you wish. Sort how want. Just don’t emulate the hare.

4 | Fat Guy in a Little Coat

If you know who this is, you may already be laughing. If not, it’s a classic Chris Farley skit. For the purposes of college applications, you have to find fit. Using the Common Application, Universal Application or the Coalition Application to apply to twenty-seven schools is a mistake. Your applications should go to schools in places you want to live, and frankly, where you can afford to live. The school should be a social fit, a values fit and an academic fit. The key to all future success, happiness and earnings are not wrapped up in a US News and World Report list. Even though the mis-matched clothes got some laughs on late night TV, for you to ignore what fits you would be a mistake.

Intead of: Applying to Stanford, Duke, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Brown and Princeton because they are ranked higher in a magazine….

Try: Colleges that Change Lives (www.ctcl.org) or try visiting some schools in your area for starters to determine the type of college you prefer. A values fit, for example, would be distance from home or the amount of debt you are prepared to incur. For an academic fit, find a school’s ‘middle 50’ ACT or SAT range. Try searching specific programs and dive into the curriculum at schools. There are many places to be happy and successful, and those places are not found in the rankings. Find YOUR fit.

5 | An Ostrich

I realized this is not a person, but you don’t want to emulate an ostrich either. The senior year is hectic, and working on your college applications might as well be another course in your schedule, except that no one is there to give you assignments or grade you. Perhaps the biggest mistake of all is putting your head in the sand and ignoring your situation. If you need help, ask for it. Whatever you do, take action. Getting overwhelmed is easy, but you cannot allow it to paralyze you. Acting like an ostrich and putting your head in the sand will get you behind and overwhelm you even more in the long run.

Instead of: Allowing yourself to get ‘stuck’ on one part of your application and worrying that you are getting nothing accomplished each day….

Try: Making an appointment with your counselor. Even counselors with a large caseload will make time for you if you ask. If you are not successful, ask me! On Twitter, it’s @askmrreeves. The website is www.askmrreeves.com. And if you’re over 30 years old, find me on Facebook at Askmrreeves.