What are some red flags in a college application that not many people talk about?

Red flags found in college applications?

Moderator Note: This might be useful to many students about to submit apps so it will be pinned for the next couple of months.

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Lots of good information in the pinned threads here: College Essays and Writing Help - College Confidential Forums

The word “diligent”, used by either the guidance counselor or the teachers. It’s perceived as a code for “grade grubber”. Also- a recommendation that notes punctuality, tidiness, etc. which is generally considered “filler” material when there isn’t something substantive to write about!


As discussed on another thread today, some schools literally flag any application where mental health problems/disorders are discussed in essays. The flagging means the app is read by more admissions people and/or discussed by committee in order to make an admission decision.


School related ECs that are not referenced by any recommender.


Poor spelling and grammar.


Supplemental essays that are very generic. If any other college’s name can be swapped in, the essay isn’t specific enough.


My “favorite” all-time diplomatic put down in a letter of recommendation would be this:

“No one would be better for your institution than Student X.”

Not from personal experience! :sweat_smile:

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I know these things happen, but if a teacher can’t give a positive rec they should decline when the student asks.


I heard from someone who deals with admissions at one of the highly rejective universities people like to talk about on this site that they try pretty hard to screen out people who stress out about grades in high school.


A description of yourself that is not supported by the rest of the application. You describe yourself as charismatic, for example, and teachers describes you as very quiet…


How can they tell? I’m hoping that just getting good grades isn’t an indicator of this.

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I understand your point.
But there are kids going to under resourced public high schools where there are 2-3 counselors for 600 students and they don’t know any student personally unless they get into trouble. If they write generic sounding recommendations I would think it’s merely neutral - doesn’t help the applicant - but not necessarily a red flag.


I don’t read applications, so can’t be sure. I suspect grade anxiety seeps into essays and letters of recommendations. Grade inflation makes a high gpa nearly meaningless at many schools. I think the top programs are looking for the kids for whom the hs grades come without a lot of stress so they have an extra gear to use in college.


This is not that big of an issue at colleges with admissions that are not “holistic” or barely so.

On the topic of ECs: “Established a non-profit”


“I cannot recommend student X highly enough.”
“I can’t say enough good things about Student X”
“It’s rare to see work of Student X’s quality”


That’s true of course, but I was referring to ones that do look at ECs and where someone writes stuff like “founded the school’s first robotics club” - and neither the counselor nor teacher recommendations say anything about that.

Out of curiousity, why are these red flags? Obviously my student has no control over recommendations, so it’s of little use to be concerned about this particular aspect of her application. But I can’t understand why these sentences are red flags.


There’s an unseen ellipsis. E.g. It’s rare to see work of Student X’s quality…because it’s so crappy.


Some times teachers try to tell them to ask someone else in the nicest way possible, but the parents get involved or the student does not get the hint.