More Mistakes to Avoid in Your College Application

The challenges facing Common Application may be making the headlines, but many students applying to college with or without Common App are hurting their chances of admission by failing to follow some pretty basic steps:

Send Your Test Scores -- Now! Students are already hearing back from colleges that have a rolling admissions plan, and the news is mixed -- but not for the usual reasons. Counselors report that some students are being admitted while others are being denied -- but many are being told their application can't be read because the applicant never submitted their ACT or SAT scores.

Students are so afraid a "low" set of test scores will lead to a rejection, they are waiting to see the scores before they send them to the colleges. That strategy has been discussed here many times, but the key to its even questionable success is to make sure to send in at least one set of scores to colleges that require them. Students who got off to a speedy start with their application now have to go to the end of the admissions decision line due to the lack of scores -- and that's no way to begin the application process. Go to your college's Web site and see if low scores will hurt you; if not, send all of your scores now.

Remind Teachers to Write Letters Some students are also having trouble communicating with the teachers who have agreed to write the student's letter of recommendation. Most students had the good sense to ask for letters last spring, but some are thinking that one conversation in May is all that's needed to keep your teacher in the college application loop.

If you haven't talked to your letter writers this fall, you could have twice the trouble of the students who didn't send scores. Your first challenge is getting your teacher to write the letter in the first place; if you haven't touched base since last year, there's a good chance they've assumed you don't need the letter after all. This latency period leads to the second challenge, where reigniting their passion to write your letter could also understandably ignite their frustration with wanting to help you, but now being in a time crunch. So go have that conversation with them, bring armloads of apologies and good chocolate, and be ready to understand why they may turn every color in the rainbow before saying OK -- or saying no.

Request Transcripts Early Many high schools now have an online transcript request program, where students log in to the site, enter the name of the college needing the transcript, and hit Send. This process is so easy, many students forget to make their requests until the night before the application is due -- but since it only involves hitting a computer button, how hard can it be?

It may not be hard on the student, but consider the poor secretary/counselor/registrar who comes to their high school office the day applications are due to find 300 requests for transcripts. Each copy has to be prepared before it's sent, and the student's request does nothing to make the document ready to send. That either means the person sending out the transcript will be ordering pizza for dinner, or some transcripts won't make the deadline -- and either option is avoidable.

Applying to college should be the good kind of exciting for everyone involved, and you're driving the bus to your application destination. Use these tips as your GPS to a safe journey -- and don't forget the chocolate.