College Application Red Flags

A strong college application that will stand out in the crowd should be every student’s goal. Stretching the truth and trying to garner favors in the quest to gain admission to that top choice school is unfortunately nothing new. But, thanks to recent events this practice is now front page news and going forward applications will be scrutinized like never before.

The basic premise of a good application is that it is an honest reflection of the student. There exist strategies to highlight strengths when an academic profile is on the weaker side, but as a whole the information provided on a college application is the truth.

Nevertheless, many students and parents get caught up in the stress and competitiveness of the college application process and feel the need to manipulate the information provided in a way they feel will improve their chances of being admitted. Some of the most common application red flags include:

  • Transcript and test scores that aren’t in sync. Students with a high GPA/class rank are expected to have SAT/ACT scores that correspond to their academic strength, and the same is true for those with low GPA/class rank. Yet, when these two critical parts of an application are really off kilter it will beg an explanation.

  • A lack of extra curricular activities. You are more than your test scores! Well rounded students are especially attractive to colleges, and high schools today offer so many ways for students to express themselves that an applicant with virtually no extra curricular activities will stand out. On the flip side too many activities are almost humanely impossible to maintain. It’s all about quality over quantity.

  • Essay does not match student’s academic ability. Regardless of GPA or class rank, an overly edited essay filled with SAT words that doesn’t correspond to the academic level of the student’s transcript will raise suspicions about who actually wrote it. It could also put into question the balance of the application.

  • More than two high schools in four years. There could be valid reasons for attending more than two high schools in four years, but it might also be a sign of trouble. The Common Application has a required question that allows applicants to explain their situation.

  • Letters of recommendations from people who DO NOT know you. A good letter of recommendation will highlight the ambition and skills of the student, in addition to the attributes he/she would bring to the campus community. Recommendations from political figures or CEOs just come across as an effort to impress admissions by who you know versus allowing the applicant to be the focal point. Do not waste this opportunity to present another facet of the student.

Admissions officers are able to spot discrepancies on an application in seconds and if they have any concerns they will reach out to the guidance counselors for clarification. One of the best ways to avoid application red flags is to provide explanations, which can often do done in essay form or with a short answer. So make sure that this does not happen to your college application because presenting the genuine you will serve you better in the long run.