The Stress of Early Decision and 10 Irrevocable Mistakes on the Common App

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 10.13.48 AMby Dr. Paul Lowe

It’s early decision time and anxiety is beginning to fill the air. For some, within the next two months or so it will be a time to celebrate – accepted! And for others, it will be discouraging and disappointing – deferred or worse, a rejection letter.

This is expected to be another highly competitive year. The number of applicants is increasing, while the admissions rates to the Ivies, highly selective and competitive schools continue to fall.

These facts are daunting. Why?

First reason, the number of available beds/slots remains essentially the same. Schools are not building additional dorms to accommodate the number of applicants, for example, an additional ten thousand students.

Second reason, more colleges and universities are using the Common Application. It’s simply easier to fill out the application online, then press submit – you’re done! Therefore, more students are applying. Notice, this does not mean that it’s easier to get in!

Third reason, there is a more diverse application pool. This does not necessarily mean race, as may be perceived by many high school students, their parents and school counselors.

Admissions committees assemble diverse incoming freshman classes. To increase diversity of incoming classes, colleges are now increasing the recruitment of international students, veterans, adult students, home-schooled students, transfer students from community colleges and students from cities, counties and states where the college-bound rate is low.

In December, high school seniors at the local, regional, national and global levels will receive the verdicts from the colleges of their choices. I often reflect on my College Admissions seminars’ Question and Answer sessions and the parents’ and students’ comments that I hear at college open houses. Many students sound the same and will ultimately sound exactly alike on their Common Applications and even in person!

“Students applying early often make several irrevocable mistakes on the Common Application.

(1) Not submitting the applications by the deadlines

(2) Not following directions.

(3) Not answering the questions.

(4) Not understanding the supplement.

(5) Not writing in one’s own voice.

(6) Not personalizing the application.

(7) Incorrectly listing extracurricular activities.

(8) Incomplete applications.

(9) Not submitting letters of recommendations.

(10) Not proofreading the application for spelling or grammatical errors.


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More importantly, I find that students often take advice from peers, use the same resources (periodicals, books, internet) and use the same “unique” strategies and game plan. When admissions officers are reviewing thousands of applications in a short period of time, it makes their jobs easier to reject applicants when everyone sounds exactly alike. Everyone sounds uniquely special!

So how can you best stand out? My advice to applicants who are apply early is be yourself and seek professional, expert, college admissions advice to help you stand out. This is easier said than done in a society where everyone is encouraged to be “unique” just like everyone else.


Dr. Lowe is the managing director and lead admissions expert at Greenwich Admissions Advisors  Tel. (203) 542-7288.

Dr. Lowe is an active member of several professional organizations including: the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the National Association for College Counseling (NACAC), the New York Association for College Admission Counseling (NYACAC), the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling (NJACAC), the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC), and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), and the Admissions Leadership Consortium (ALC).

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