How to Overcome 5 Common College Application Mistakes

Let me tell you a story about a recent college consulting client of mine.

The parents did not reach out to me until after the their son had already applied to colleges for music.

They told me that their son (before he started to work with me) had already been rejected from three schools within just two months of applying to college, including his own in-state safety school.

I was already thinking what these parents were feeling:

“Maybe this particular student just was not cut out for music school?”

She told me his GPA – it was above average, definitely good enough for entrance into any major music school or a good university.

Puzzled, I said to her “show me his application materials.”

She showed to me everything; I reviewed his music, his recordings, his standardized test scores, his resume, his essay, etc.

And it became very clear and obvious to me that the reason this student wasn’t getting into music schools wasn’t because he was without musical talent.

Musically, he was talented.

However, his applications were sloppy.

His essay had a rude tone to it; his original scores were missing important components; his resume was poorly constructed…

Everything about the application screamed amateur and unprofessional.

Listen to me when I say this one thing:

When a music school is reviewing your application, they are also reviewing thousands of others.

What makes one application stand-out above others?

Simply put, the following:

The excellence of the application.

So what mistakes can you avoid to create an awesome application specifically for music school?

Here are 5 common ones I see.

5. Don’t Record Your Prescreening In Your Bedroom On an iPhone

Prescreening recordings are required by many schools.

These video recordings determine your candidacy for a music school audition.

They are perhaps the most important part of your application to music school.

As such, don’t record them in your bedroom with an iPhone.

The iPhone camera has become quite good, and can be a suitable camera in some circumstances.

However the sound is still not that great from an iPhone.

I’d recommend using a professional to help you record this.

4. Choose Any Common App Prompt Except the One That Says “Write An Essay On Your Topic of Choice”

The idea behind the common app essay is that it is an open-ended essay.

There are six absolutely good prompts on the Common Application asking you broad questions about yourself.

The problem with prompt #7 is that it allows you to write about anything.

So, you may have written a great essay about Beethoven, the Civil War, Germ Theory, or really anything at all for your high school classes…

However, they wouldn’t be appropriate for the common application essay.

The common application is a place for you to highlight something interesting about yourself.

That includes triumphs, challenges, a story, your musicianship, or really anything else.

3. Pay Attention to a School’s Follow-Up Communication

Music students have to pay close attention to their email during application season.

It is in the emails after submitting an application in which a school communicates with a student the timing for auditions.

These can be overlooked easily.

However, they are the highest priority in this process.

After all, most students cannot get accepted to a college music program without an audition.

2. Your Resume’ Should Be Just 1-2 Pages

An exceptionally long resume’ is not usually a good sign for college music programs.

It might look impressive to someone who is not versed in college music program admissions.

However, my experience consistently shows that just 1-2 pages is sufficient for a resume’.

A brief, easy-to-read overview of your background, summer programs, performance experience, training, academics, and awards is all that is needed on a resume.

1. Use a Spreadsheet

Plan out every single requirement for every single school in a master spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet helps you stay on track.

Outline all of the requirements, due dates, college application deadlines, etc.

This way, you you can clearly see in one document exactly what you need to accomplish for each school.

I work with all my students on their spreadsheet and it is an absolute life-saver.

The spreadsheet is a tool for preparation.

By preparing these college applications with the spreadsheet, you are saving yourself a 10+ hours of back and forth checking.


These 5 tips should help you get started on your journey towards an excellent college application for a music program.

Photo by William Iven firmbee via Wikimedia Commons

One Response

  1. Victoria August 6, 2019

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