Dec 23

5 College Application Mistakes You Should Avoid

Every year, more than a million foreign students apply to attend colleges in the United States. You should stay away from these all-too-common errors if you want to improve your chances of being accepted.

5 College Application Mistakes You Should Avoid

Do you want to improve your chances of getting into a top-tier university? Schedule your consultation with Tokyo Academics today!

Mistake #1: Creating the Impression of Being “Well-Rounded”

Conventional wisdom suggests that a plethora of extracurricular activities are necessary because colleges prefer well-rounded applicants. However, if you’re aiming for an institution with more stringent admission standards, this advice might not serve you well.

Securing a place in a top-tier college requires more than just good grades and diverse extracurricular activities.

This is because you’re competing against many other highly-qualified candidates whose profiles closely resemble yours. The number of international students enrolled in higher education has surged by 73% over the past decade, and by 10% in just the last year, according to the most recent annual Open Doors Report by the Institute of International Education. This is the fastest recorded annual increase ever.

The key is to stand out. Selective universities often prefer applicants who excel and show interest in diverse areas but also have a “spike” – a deep, unique interest or accomplishment in one area. This type of applicant is sometimes referred to as being “T-shaped”.


Mistake #2: Over-Favoring “Big Brands” or Highly Regarded Universities

Professional college advisors don’t rank colleges, but rather categorize them into tiers. For example, Princeton may be considered top-tier, followed by UC Berkeley, and then UC San Diego. Official rankings can offer some insight into these tiers if you’re determined to attend the “best” college. However, they don’t help much beyond that.

It’s more beneficial for you to create your own tiers based on your unique needs. Consider classifying universities into reach, match, and safety categories, choosing ones that align with your academic fit, campus culture, and other factors.

Much like rankings, international students often overlook excellent undergraduate programs at small liberal arts colleges or less prestigious regional universities. Don’t let a university’s brand name dissuade you from applying to other equally impressive undergraduate programs. You might stand a better chance of acceptance at these institutions, as they often receive fewer applications from international students.


Mistake #3: Applying without Effective Storytelling

Submitting an application to a college involves more than just filling out forms. Whether you realize it or not, you are presenting a narrative about yourself. This story can be conveyed either effectively or poorly.

College admissions officers read your application and form an impression of you based on the narrative they construct from your information. You have the power to shape this narrative.

Focus on one or two main themes that genuinely interest you instead of trying to cover all your high school activities. Make sure to support your interests with substantial achievements.

For example, if a student is passionate about environmental sciences, they should ensure their application materials emphasize this interest and highlight any relevant achievements. This might include showcasing the research conducted over the summer with renowned college professors and papers accepted for publication in academic journals.

Remember to start assembling the key components of your narrative well ahead of the college application season. For instance, starting the process in your first year of high school gives you ample time to develop the accomplishments that make your story compelling.


Mistake #4: Starting Test Preparation Late

We often encounter students who start preparing for standardized tests like the ACT/SAT® or the SAT® II subject tests too late. Do not wait until the end of your junior year or the beginning of your senior year to start preparing for these exams.

Whether we like it or not, standardized tests play a crucial role in the college admissions “formula.” By preparing early, you can gain a significant advantage over other students. Don’t procrastinate; you have control over this aspect of the application process.

Ideally, you should take SAT® II subject tests right after studying the subject in class, while the material is still fresh in your mind. For example, you should take the Chemistry SAT® II soon after completing your 10th-grade Chemistry class (leaving time to study, of course).


Mistake #5: Lacking a Clear Passion

This point ties back to the first mistake. If you don’t demonstrate achievement in a field you genuinely care about, colleges are unlikely to find your application compelling.

College admissions officers look for applicants who demonstrate keen interest in both extracurricular activities and specific academic fields. Merely having excellent grades and test scores isn’t enough; you must also be genuinely passionate about your subject and have made notable strides in it.

With the right guidance, high school students can identify and pursue their interests and passions. We offer a specialized college admissions counseling program. You can find more about it here. Many people simply don’t take the time to carefully consider their interests, nor are they encouraged to do so. Discover your academic and extracurricular interests as early as possible in high school and dedicate time to pursue them further.

Do you want to improve your chances of getting into a top-tier university? Schedule your consultation with Tokyo Academics today!

SAT® is a trademark owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse Tokyo Academics.

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