10/10/2012 02:21 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2012

Applying to College? 10 Mistakes to Avoid

College application season is in full swing, with many deadlines looming. While time is of the essence, so is quality; there's nothing like a poorly completed application to kill your college chances, especially if it's submitted nice and early -- so your college can spend plenty of time looking at it, wondering what you really meant to say.

It's possible to beat the crowds and the odds -- just avoid these common college application traps:

1. You don't know the application requirements Most colleges want your test scores, but some will only take some, while others want all of them; many colleges don't want any letters of recommendation, some want a couple, and one will almost kick you to the curb if you turn in too many. Don't do too much, too little, or be too late -- take a minute to review the application requirements of each college, and make a quick chart with five columns: college name, application deadline, testing requirements, number of recommendations, and number of essays.

2. You don't send in your test scores There's an ugly rumor that students should only send their test scores after they've applied, and certainly after they've seen the scores. Nothing could be more wrong; colleges will hold on to those scores until next spring, and will match them to your application once it arrives. Since test scores take up to three weeks to arrive, it's time to head back online where you registered for the test and order official scores; your high school can't do this for you, and the scores have to be official.

3. You don't tell your school counselor you need a transcript You may be one of 60 bazillion students your counselor works with, but until you let them know you need a transcript, your application will go nowhere. Many high schools let you order transcripts online; some want you to request them in writing; others want you to tell them in person. If you don't know what your high school's policy is, now is the time to find out -- and maybe ask your counselor if they think the college is good for you.

4. You complete a "VIP" application to a college you know nothing about Many colleges are sending "Special" applications to "a select few" students (that's really "a select few thousand" students), where they will waive the application fee and the essays, as long as you apply soon -- like yesterday. This is a great way for students to learn more about other colleges, but it's also a great way for students to waste their time and energy if the college doesn't meet their needs, and only wants to move up in the college rankings based on the number of applications they receive. It's fine to be flattered that you're like no one else -- now do what no one else does, and spend an hour investigating this college, to see if it has any real chance of being a match.

5. You write your college essays during the week After seven hours at school, two hours at practice, a wolfed-down dinner, and three hours of homework, do you really think you're going to write The Best College Essay Known to Western Civilization at 10 o'clock on a Tuesday night? Block off two hours of college app time on Saturday, and another two on Sunday; your writing will be great, you'll complete your applications before Thanksgiving, and you can enjoy your senior year more. Oh yeah -- and you'll learn more from your classes to boot. Whoa.

More application advice to come.