One of the most common red flags for admissions officers occurs when an application offers contradictory or incompatible information. For example, if a student’s resume claims that they had a lead role in The Glass Menagerie but their drama instructor’s recommendation lauds them for their admirable work as a stagehand, suspicions will inevitably arise.
Incongruity in an application can actually cause an applicant more harm than a mere blemish or two. A student with a 480 score on the writing SAT whose admissions essay is composed with Hawthorne-level prose will raise more red flags than a Kyrgyzstani color guard (their flags are red - Google it!).
Do not exaggerate your level of volunteer, work, or extracurricular experience or the number of weekly hours that you spent engaged in such activities. The notion that you somehow volunteered at a nursing home 20 hours per week, while playing three varsity sports, taking four AP classes, and editing the school newspaper can be invalidated through basic addition.
Make sure that your stated academic interests can be supported by your experience. If you claim to be passionate about political science and yet passed up the chance to take AP government senior year in favor of a massive block of study halls, you have some ‘splaining to do. This is not to say that the above scenario cannot represent a sincere and compelling true story. Maybe you had no interest in history until you watched the film Lincoln this past October, which then led you to clear out the history/politics section at Barnes and Noble, igniting a passion that fueled your search for the nation’s top poli-sci programs, and forever changed your life course. No problem. Just be sure to chronicle your unique journey in the application.
An admissions officer does not want to see a supernaturally well-rounded applicant who claims to have filled every waking moment with some type of extracurricular activity and even volunteered for a sleep study at a research institute just to cover those (embarrassingly lazy) non-waking moments. Colleges want to see a real human being capable of communicating their passions and actual life experience. Be genuine. In the world of college admissions, an honest stagehand is always a more marketable applicant than a fraudulent lead player.
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