Before submitting college applications, students should make sure their applications are free of red flags. A red flag in college admissions can be anything the admissions committee may question about a student as they are reading applications for admission. These red flags could lead the admissions committee to not admit a student. Therefore, it is important for students to cover all bases as they are applying to colleges and explain anything that may raise red flags for admissions officers.
Red flags could include:
- Grade dips. Sometimes something can happen in a student’s life that can affect their schoolwork. If this happens, students should make sure they explain the situation. If it is not explained, admissions officers could assume the student was lazy during the term the grades fell.
- Extracurricular activity changes. If a student quits an activity after a year or two, admissions officers may assume the student just quit. However, if there is a reason the student stopped their participation, this should be explained. For example, if a student was injured and no longer able to participate in sports, this should be mentioned.
- Exaggerated volunteer and extracurricular activities. We sometimes overestimate our activities, and when put on paper, the hours might be impossible. Students should be honest and only share activities they actually participated in during their high school career. For example, students should not make the mistake of putting down 20 hours of participation for an activity they did every week, when in actuality they only did 20 hours one week and the rest of the year they spent just one hour on the activity.
- Unmatched grades, test scores, and essays. While there is no specific formula that tells admissions committees what test scores a student should have based on their grades, big discrepancies could cause questions. For example, if the student has an 800 on the math portion of the SAT, but C’s in math classes, this will probably be a red flag for the admissions committee. Or, if the student submits a flawless essay that could be professionally published because it is so extraordinary, but only received 400 on the Writing portion of the SAT, that is a red flag.
- Disciplinary issues. The majority of college applications ask about disciplinary issues. Being late or absent a few times or getting a speeding ticket is not a big deal. However, suspensions, expulsions, or arrests will be major red flags. If the situation can be explained, or the student can share what they learned from their past disciplinary issues, they should take the time and share with the admissions committee.
- School changes. When students change schools because they move far away from their home, this does not need to be explained. However, if students change schools during their high school career and move to a school across town, this might raise a red flag and the admissions committee might make assumptions about the change.
- Inconsistent information. If there is anything that can be contradictory in the application, students should make sure they correct these mistakes before submitting. In addition to the application and essay that the student submits, many colleges require recommendations. If students exaggerate on their application, the recommendation writer could contradict the information the student submitted. Therefore, students should always be honest.
As students are preparing their applications and discover there is a red flag, they should fix it or have an explanation. Many college applications have an area on their application that allows students to provide additional information. This is the perfect spot for students to explain anything that could raise a red flag as admissions officers are reviewing applications. Students should:
- Admit mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Students should own up to the mistake.
- Provide explanation. The situation should be explained so the admissions committee has a clear picture of the situation.
- Take responsibility. Students should not blame others for their mistakes. Others may have played a role in the mistake, but if the mistake is the student’s, they should take responsibility for their actions.
- Share learning experiences. Many mistakes can be learning experiences. Admissions committees will want to learn what the student learned from their mistakes and how they handled the situation.
Everyone, including people who serve on admissions committees, has made mistakes in their lives. By leaving a red flag in the application, admissions committees could make negative assumptions about situations. Students should be honest and open about their mistakes and experiences and provide a clear picture for the people making the admissions decisions. By taking the time to correct or explain red flags, students could help their chances at admission.
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