10 Common Pitfalls of the College Admissions Process

Written by College Cliffs Team At, our team, comprising seasoned educators and counselors, is committed to supporting students on their journey through graduate studies. Our advisors, holding advanced degrees in diverse fields, provide tailored guidance, current program details, and pragmatic tips on navigating application procedures.

Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: February 26, 2024, Reading time: 14 minutes

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Enrolling in the college or university of your dreams might mark a significant turning point in your life. However, before you get admitted, you should know that there are admission processes and requirements to go through first. You have to exercise extreme caution on some things, even when you feel so close to getting admitted. 

To successfully pursue higher education, you need to submit a university application. More than 18 million Americans attended college in 2021. However, competitions can vary significantly depending on which institution you’re planning to attend. Hence, as early as possible, proceed with caution when applying for college.

Common Pitfalls of the College Admissions Process - fact
College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

10 Common Pitfalls of the College Admissions Process

Not Putting Effort in Drafting Application Letter

One of the common requirements for admissions in many colleges is the application letter. The admissions counselors of your dream school can identify a well-written and comprehensive application letter. And most often, they’re looking for well-written materials, insightful responses, and comprehensive experiences. A strong application means you should have mentioned your best traits, morals, accomplishments in school and outside of it, and how you might benefit the university. 

Ignoring the Importance of Tests

High school seniors usually have too many things on their plate as their graduation day gets nearer. It makes sense that so many students find it difficult to find the time to prepare for the SATs. However, it’s important to understand that the results of candidates’ college application tests reveal a lot about them to admissions staff. 

Admissions staff observe your diligence, perseverance, and commitment to your studies based on what scores you get on your tests. You should create a workable study schedule for your standardized examinations, regardless of whether you choose to take the ACT or the SAT. Take advantage of free online practice exams, buy quality study materials, and sign up for a SAT preparation program. There are many study strategies to apply even when you’re simultaneously busy with graduation commitments. 

Setting for One-Sided Essays

One crucial aspect of college applications is the submission of essays. The admissions department would often make this a requirement. But one common mistake that applicants make is to make these essays one-sided. They are too focused on explaining accomplishments and fail to realize how the university can benefit when they admit you. In context, your writing should discuss what this college can do for you as well as what you can do for it. 

Your application essay serves as a way for universities to learn more about you and your qualifications for admission. They won’t have a cause to add you to their student body if you don’t make the effort to introduce yourself. It’s the only area where you may customize the program.

Failing to Do Exhaustive Research

Another pitfall that some college applicants are prone to is failing to do exhaustive research. College admissions require you to gather as much information about the school as you can. Students frequently make the error of not conducting enough research. Consequently, a lot of students have to think about the courses and chances before applying to colleges. Their interests and what the college offers become mismatched as a result. 

Research institutions of interest as early as your freshman year of high school to see whether the university is a perfect match for your academic and personal goals. This will help you make an informed and wise choice. Find out about the offered courses, the yearly cost, the professors, clubs, and even amenities available. Students who truly know the school that they might attend are the ones that colleges want to enroll. Additionally, this raises their yield rates, which every college wants to raise because it affects their ranking and may have an effect on bond ratings.

Providing Too Much Information

While failing to share enough information, doing the opposite and proving over information might also take a backlash on your application. Before starting to write your application letter, make sure to sit back and see what information about you would be best shared. Your application is a platform to showcase your best self, and it’s best to leave out unnecessary details. 

In case you want to share a difficult experience, you should be able to show that you have overcome it and learned from it. Providing too much information will only allow the admissions officer to check loopholes in your application. Also, they need to decide fast and would prefer materials to be concise and straightforward. If the school mentions a limit on certain materials, be thoughtful and strategic about what you submit.

Ignoring Seek Support from Advisors or Counselors

A crucial resource for high school students applying to colleges is a counselor, but not everyone can see value in this. In addition to providing you with personalized guidance or advice and answers to your questions in one-on-one meetings, counselors may also do research, write recommendation letters, and submit official transcripts to universities.

Advisors and counselors can do so many things to help you with your college applications. Because counselors act as personal college admissions advisors, their services have assisted many students in being admitted to colleges. In some cases, they also have network and professional relationships with others who can share more insights about the college, major, or department. 

Not Checking Student Reviews and Feedback

At this point, it’s necessary to gather as much information as you can. So, after seeking advice from counselors, it’s equally important to read students’ reviews and feedback. Using the guidance of previous students may save you a great deal of time and effort, much more so than consulting a professional counselor. You might be able to learn from the mistakes made by current college students if you conduct some research and discover what they discovered to be true during the college application process.

During these reviews and assessments, you should analyze college application essays written by current students that helped them get into their dream universities and discover what they did differently to make their essays stand out! Also, by using these resources, you may be able to avoid certain essay writing errors that many students unintentionally make on their applications. You can also understand many student’s struggles, relate to them, and find solutions to your current dilemma and issues.

Taking the Deadline for Granted

College and university admissions usually follow timelines and deadlines. It’s never too early to begin the application process, even if the majority of high school students don’t focus on them until their junior year. Four years go by quickly, so it’s helpful to have a plan for your remaining four years of high school by finishing your college application research ahead of time and posing some targeted questions to yourself in your freshman year.

It’s helpful to have a sense of the type of institution and the subjects you want to study when selecting student organizations, extracurricular activities, and summer internships. Remember that you must begin the application process as soon as possible and create a calendar to ensure that you don’t miss any deadlines. By doing this, you may help yourself get into the best possible position for admission by preventing missed deadlines.

Not Including Extra Curricular Activities

You have to stop the notion that getting into a highly selective US institution would only need having flawless grades and a SAT score. In fact, this is no longer the standard nowadays. One of the most significant factors that distinguishes attractive applicants from just qualified ones is what you do outside of the classroom, such as your extracurricular activities. It’s best to have participated in several extracurricular activities that have helped you develop skills valuable in college life. 

Remember to include the number of years you participated and if you’ve ever landed a leadership role in clubs and organizations. Consider which activities are primarily beneficial to your college admissions when there are too many of them. Choose to include those that are aligned with your current program or studies. 

Being Unclear of Your Interests

While you are filling out your applications, it might be really beneficial to have a basic concept of what you want to study. Connecting the dots between why you belong there and how you will benefit the student body is one of the most important aspects of college applications. 

You may utilize the fact that you are already aware of which of their academic programs you are interested in as leverage to justify your decision and discuss how it will help you progress in your profession. By communicating that you are sure and clear about your interests, you allow people to understand that you’re serious and passionate about them.

Tips to Overcome These Admission Process Challenges

Tips to Overcome These Admission Process Challenges - Image

If you’re wondering how to overcome some challenges in the admission process, read along:

Participate in campus tours.

After doing intensive research on possible schools to attend, it’s important to participate in campus tours. This is a fantastic place to start, but it might be challenging to conduct during the academic year. Thus, see whether the college offers campus tours or get in touch with them to arrange one for yourself.

Take time and draft your essay well.

You will require one or more essays during college application. It’s best to start early in writing them. This allows you enough time to share your drafts with your professors or classmates. They can provide insight and feedback, allowing you to improve its structure and content. The essay must be an original work of yours; however, you may use the advice provided. 

Start early.

Time is of important value in college admissions. A few weeks before their due date, establish timelines for finishing essays, gathering references, and submitting paperwork. Put these early due dates on your schedule. Another way to keep track of dates is to put up a spreadsheet. Collect the dates from all of your college applications into one page so you can see them all at once. The greatest source of precise deadline information is the college website.

Consider participating in activities that benefit your admissions.

Make efforts to strengthen your application. Participate in activities that can attest and prove that you’re capable of living a well-rounded student life. Join clubs, organizations, and other extracurricular activities that can strengthen your application. The college is able to comprehend that you have much more to offer than just a good education.

Don’t feel pressured or stressed.

Unfortunately, college admissions come with stress and anxiety. It’s important to discover coping mechanisms for the stress associated with college admissions. To keep stress levels down, be in open communication with your parents and counselor. Make sure your life is balanced, with time set up for learning, resting, relaxing, and enjoying yourself. Be open to being rejected, but stay positive at the same time. 

Try to be consistent.

Consistency is key during admissions. Admissions officials’ jobs are made easier when you use the same details in all applications. Stay consistent with your shared information in order to ensure that you’re sharing true and legitimate details about yourself and your achievements. 

Plan for an interview.

For some colleges, there will be interviews during admissions. Try to schedule an interview for admissions during your visit to the institution. One-on-one interviews with admissions officers are frequently part of it. Try to research resources on how to ace interviews. Anticipate questions and prepare answers early on. It would help to do mock-up interviews, too. 

Give it all you’ve got.

Always do your best in whatever college or program you’re applying to. The subject you choose and your junior year grades are the two most important components of your transcript. Make sure to give it all you’ve got. 

Why College Admissions Got Even More Competitive

It’s harder than ever to get into a prestigious university. College admissions have become even more competitive in recent years. Simply said, things have changed since students applied even ten years ago. In the past, college applicants would apply to two or three in-state universities, generally with little preparation, and they would be accepted into their first choice. 

A few decades later, admission to state universities is becoming more and more competitive. It’s almost tough to get into a college or university of your choosing. This is because their acceptance rates are getting smaller, narrowing down only qualified applicants. 

Low acceptance rates and record numbers of applications have become the norm. These days, it takes more than just above-average grades and test results to receive an admission letter from your desired university. This is why it’s essential to prepare for the admission process thoroughly and get into your dream college. 

Most Important Factors in College Admissions

Most Important Factors in College Admissions - Image

Here are the important things to prepare for when applying for college:


As mentioned, interviews may vary depending on what school you’ll attend. During interviews, candidates have the opportunity to showcase their personality and engage with the interviewer in a way that goes beyond their written application. They are able to express their excitement, passion, and sincere interest in the college. Intentional answers and lively dialogue are two ways candidates may make a lasting impression on the interviewer.

Essay and Letter of Recommendation

Recommendation letters and personal essays are essential parts of college applications. They offer perceptions of a candidate’s personality, background, and likelihood of succeeding in college. Students get a rare chance to express themselves and show off their uniqueness through the personal essay.

It enables students to express their ambitions and goals, think back on difficulties, and share personal experiences. This essay gives the admissions staff a better knowledge of the applicant’s motives, values, and viewpoints by enabling them to get to know them beyond their extracurricular activities and academic accomplishments.

On the other hand, letters of recommendation serve a different purpose. They hold equal significance since they offer an outside viewpoint on the student’s aptitudes and moral qualities. Referrals from mentors, instructors, or counselors who have worked closely with the student might provide insightful information about their character, work ethic, leadership potential, and academic standing. These letters can support the material provided in the application and offer a more comprehensive assessment of the applicant’s qualities.

SAT Scores

High results on these standardized examinations can demonstrate a student’s intellectual prowess and ability to separate from the competition. They provide admissions personnel with a uniform standard against which to assess candidates from various backgrounds and schools. High test results might indicate a student’s aptitude for critical thinking and problem-solving and a solid understanding of the major academic disciplines.

Grade Point Average

The student’s Grade Point Average is the first important factor taken into account. A student’s total achievement in their courses is reflected in their GPA, which also serves as a gauge of their constancy and commitment to learning. Admissions committees look closely at the total GPA as well as the GPA in subjects like science, math, and English. A strong GPA indicates aptitude for the classroom and a dedication to achievement.

Extracurricular Activities

An applicant’s profile may be greatly improved by actively participating in extracurricular activities, which also show off their interests and abilities outside of the classroom. They can prove to have developed soft or hard skills that can be applied in the program or their projects. Candidates who have committed their time and effort to worthwhile endeavors in line with their interests and values are highly valued by admissions officers.

Uniqueness and Own Identity

Colleges work hard to provide a welcoming and diverse campus community. They value students with distinct viewpoints, experiences, and backgrounds. Admissions administrators look for those who can add to the student body’s diversity and create a vibrant learning environment that values a range of opinions.

Exceptional Skills

The admissions process can be significantly impacted by exceptional abilities and accomplishments in fields like music, art, athletics, research, or entrepreneurship. Admissions authorities may take notice of students who have proven to be very talented in their subjects. These successes demonstrate a student’s commitment, self-control, and capacity to succeed in endeavors outside of the classroom. Applicants may stand out from the competition and improve their chances of admission by demonstrating their enthusiasm and ability.


The complicated process of applying to college may be difficult since there are a lot of things to think about, but with the right tips and guidelines, you can be prepared. To give yourself the best opportunity of getting into the institution of your choice, it is crucial to know what steps to take and what mistakes to avoid.