How To Avoid College Admissions Red Flags

Imagine being a college admissions officer, and your job is to say no to 75 percent of the applications you see. You’re supposed to decline students, and when you accept students or give your approval, you must have a very good reason. When you decline a student, there are no questions asked.

So, admissions officers’ jobs are easier when they decline students, and some are just looking for reasons to decline you. If you claim to volunteer for 100 hours of community service every week or your application is full of typos, you’re probably not going to make it to the next round. Avoid these following pitfalls to improve your application.

The US News & World Report asked a group of college admissions officers and deans at the Unigo Admissions Experts Network what they are looking for in students’ applications.

Ralph Becker, Ivy College Prep, LLC told the US News & World Report that the two biggest red flags are exaggerated extracurriculars and over polished essays. Your essay should be free from grammar errors; however, if your mom or dad wrote it for you, an admissions officer will know immediately.

A writing tutor can help you make your essay error free and help you find your own voice. If your essay causes red flags, some colleges may even dig up your SAT/ACT essay and see if the writing styles are similar. If they are not, then you’ll find your application in the wrong pile. Consider getting professional assistance from either an English teacher or writing tutor to help you write an essay that is true to you.

Becker also said if you are trying to portray yourself as someone you’re not through exaggerated extracurriculars, admissions counselors will red flag your application instantly. He said that the University of California has a “truth-in-application” program, which statistically examines and verifies activity claims.

It places an average number on extracurriculars (say at 8 hours a week). And if your application claims that you have well over 8 hours a week, it will place you in a higher percentage of likelihood. If you claim a lot of activity, you may fall in the top 90 percent of students in terms of extracurriculars, which will create a red flag. Colleges will then try to verify that by doing some research on you.

Nancy Meislahn, dean of admissions and financial aid, Wesleyan University advises students not to leave blanks in their application – literally and figuratively. According to her, colleges want to see your story. They want to know how you became who you are. Just tell that story from beginning to end. Anything that does not seem authentic or true to you could create a red flag.

Ralph Figueroa, director of college guidance, Albuquerque Academy, said that he applies the “do-you-want-to-be-this-student’s-roommate” test when he reviews applications. He said he is looking more so for positive traits than red flags.

“Colleges are trying to build a community, so red flags about character—honesty, integrity, and behavior—can be extremely damaging,” he said. He recommends that students just be honest about their accomplishments and just be themselves. Colleges will see the good in you.