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Top 5 college application mistakes to avoid

Getting good grades, scoring high on achievement tests, and making a name for yourself can't wait if you want to stand out from the crowd of applicants.

By Stacy Johnson Apr 14, 2011 12:26PM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.

 

Talk about long odds: 2011 admissions stats at Harvard show that only 6% of applicants are getting in this year. Stanford is at 7%, and Yale is only slightly higher. (You can check out other top schools' stats at that link too.)

 

It's depressing for high school seniors to realize that many universities admit only a fraction of those who apply, but it's also a wake-up call. High school students can radically improve the odds of getting into the college of their choice with a better application. 

 

Check out the video below to see what college admissions expert Pam Proctor says are the biggest application mistakes.

Here's more detail about the top application mistakes and how to avoid them:

 

Not having a hook. Proctor says applicants need to "find that one thing that's going to leap off the page and set you apart." So, what's your passion? Each of us has interests that make us different and interesting. Connect with what's special about you. If you don't know what it is, your friends probably do, so ask them.

Ignoring your online identity. Facebook used to be just for college kids, but these days everyone uses it -- including the admissions department at your schools of choice. Proctor says that 82% of admissions officers have used Facebook in evaluating candidates. So get rid of any photos, messages, pages or "likes" that may reflect badly on you. Her advice in a nutshell? "If you wouldn't want your mom to see it, remove it." Instead, she says, "Use Facebook to promote your hook." Highlight what you're good at and what you want to do with your life in the future.

 

Not getting help early and often. Guidance counselors aren't there just to help you pick your class schedule. They keep up-to-date on admissions trends and understand how the process works. Make friends with your high school counselor as soon as you can, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Proctor says, "You can't underestimate the importance of this process, and do not wait until the last minute." Counselors can help you pick classes you will be challenged in but can excel at, and recommend tutors and prep resources for important admissions tests like the PSAT, SAT and ACT. They may also know what kind of applicants specific colleges are looking for, and who has the best programs for your career interests.

 

Not planning ahead. It's important to start thinking about college early in high school, even if you have no idea what you want to do, where you want to go, or if you can afford it. Those decisions can wait, but getting good grades, scoring high on achievement tests, and making a name for yourself can't. Proctor says, "If you have the top three -- the grades, the scores, and the hook -- that's going to set you up for merit aid" and easier admission, even at the top schools.

Relying too much on your parents. Your parents may have some good advice, and they will definitely want to help you. But make sure you take charge of your own future, starting with your admissions essay. Proctor says, "Over-involvement by parents in the application process, particularly in brainstorming on essays and editing essays, can be deadly for your applications." You want an essay that sounds like you -- not them. If you need input or editing, ask another relative or favorite teacher.

 

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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