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7 college application mistakes to avoid


(MoneyWatch) The college application season has officially begun.

The newest version of the Common Application, which more than 500 mostly private colleges and universities use, is now available to high school students who are eager to get a jump-start on their applications. Whether teenagers begin now or wait till the fall, it's important that they make an excellent impression with their applications. It's all too easy, however, to make mistakes.

With that in mind, here are seven application mistakes that the California Institute of Technology advised teenagers attending its summer academic camp to avoid.

1. Leaving any section of the application blank

Failing to provide information about why the applicant wants to attend a particular school paints him or her in a negative light. An applicant claims to be interested in the school, but has nothing to show for it.

2. Not sharing activity details

Teenagers need to share details about their activities. For instance, don't assume that an admission rep will know what being president of the math team entails. A math team president could share that he led daily practices and facilitated local and regional competitions. The more detailed the description, the more useful the information.

3. Expecting your stats to do all the talking

Applicants shouldn't assume that a school will be eager to accept them because they have great standardized test scores, grade point average and class rank. Beyond academic profiles, colleges want students who will become a part of the community.

Here is what Caltech says on this point:

Applicants should take special care to address how they will take advantage of the college's resources to develop themselves both in the classroom and in the community.... Admissions committees cannot derive your potential community impact from GPAs or class ranks, so applicants must make cases for themselves as people as well as students.

4. Submitting application materials under more than one name

Only use your legal name when completing a college application, and instruct your counselor and teachers to do the same. By using variations of a legal name, your materials might be filed in different places.

5. Asking unfamiliar teachers to write recommendation letters

Teenagers should only ask teachers who know them well enough to write about their specific abilities. The more a teacher knows and respects a student, the better the letter is likely to be. What's important is for the teacher to be specific about what he or she likes about the students. Details, details, details.

Students should also give teachers plenty of advance notice about the recommendation request.

6. Submitting late application materials, or failing to submit them at all

Applicants won't be considered a good admission candidate until a school has all the necessary paperwork. The documents typically include:

- College application
- Application fee or waiver
- Supplemental application (if applicable)
- Letters of recommendation
- Secondary school report
- Official college transcript (if applicable)
- Official SAT/ACT scores
- SAT subject test results (if applicable)

7. Writing a short or hastily written supplemental essay

Students applying for schools using the Common Application will typically have to complete secondary essays that might include answering some variation of this question: Why are you applying to this school? They need to provide well thought out answers.

These essays also provide applicants with an opportunity to share more information about their extracurricular activities and their passions.