3 Big Mistakes Students Make on College Applications: The most important college admissions criteria now mean less

Wake up.

Attend classes.

Eat lunch.

Come home.

After-school commitment (i.e. soccer practice, Robotics club, etc.)

Complete homework assignments.

Study for quizzes/tests.

Eat dinner.

Study more.

Sleep at 1 am.


To beat the college admissions competition, high school students are overloading AP/IB classes, taking on more commitments than ever before, and staying up past midnight to make sure they ace their tests.

Even if your child gets good grades on quizzes and exams, it just feels like a checkbox to them.

(And remember this: When so many students have outstanding GPA and SAT/ACT scores, these 2 factors will mean less and less to the college admission committees.)

In the midst of all overwhelm, WHERE is your child going to find the time or energy to find their “passion?”

And here’s why that’s potentially deadly to their college application:

#1: Instead of taking the time to truly explore their interests, students are only spending time on extracurricular activities that look “good” on the application. (And that doesn’t work!)

For example, I had a student, let’s call her B, who joined 5 different clubs on campus because she thought it was going to help her “add” more to her college application.

But when I asked her the question – “What club would you really join if no one judged you…meaning, if the college admission decision was not a factor?”, and she immediately said, “I would not join any clubs because I’m not interested in any of these” (And trust me, college admissions officers can tell when students feel this way!)

Here’s what she said that was really interesting though: “Instead, I would create a digital art club because I love doing that. I want to teach other friends how to do that too”

Immediately, I advised her to drop all her clubs, we filled out the new club application form, got the school’s approval, and started her very own Digital Art Club and by the end of her senior year, she had more than 50 members.

My student created something new. Made an impact. Left a legacy. Exhibited leadership skills. And got accepted into her dream colleges – UMich, NYU, and USC.

#2: Students rarely know what their strengths are, which means they can’t clearly convey to the colleges how they’ll contribute on-campus.

If I were to ask your child, “what is your strength?” — What would your child say?

Having worked with more than thousands of high school students, they typically say something like, “I don’t know”.

And that’s normal, but there is a systematic way to identify what your child is really good at.

If I were encouraged to play in the NBA (because I’m passionate about basketball), I wouldn’t be able to perform well because shooting hoops and dribbling is not my intrinsic strength. 

Remember, everyone is born with a special gift (yes, even your child!).

We want to utilize that gift as soon as possible.

Remember…colleges are looking for a diverse group of students on their campus. How will your child contribute with his or her strengths?

#3: Students think that passion has to be something grand or extravagant.

In 2017, I had a student get accepted into Cornell without the best GPA and SAT scores. And do you know what she wrote about in her essay?

Her passion for bullet journaling. She created tutorials and blog posts on the Internet. She had more than 50K followers, spread her love and skills for bullet journaling, and worked with companies for sponsorships as well. This student wasn’t particularly active on campus too.

If your child does what he/she loves and if that makes your child happy and fulfilled, we are good to go.

And that’s exactly what colleges are looking for too.

Don’t let your child’s strengths, passion, and talent go unnoticed in 2019.


By Julie Kim Ed.M Harvard University