Do you make these 11 Common Graduate School Application mistakes?

Almost every graduate school has an online application facility that works along with the traditional paper-based application system.

Sometimes it takes a long time to fill out an entire online application and some terms and conventions followed in U.S. will look different for international students and it will take some time to get used to them.

But as you apply online at more schools, it will be easier because you will notice that they follow almost the same styles, formats and arrangements.

I have listed some of the most common mistakes that students make when filling out online or paper format graduate school applications.

The first application you will fill out, submit and send documents to will always be a good learning experience. I have seen some people ask so many questions for each field, before they type or write anything.

And that’s understandable because we can see our future career in front of us while filling out the application. I hope the following list of common mistakes will give you a general overview on what to expect while submitting graduate school applications.

Student ID or SSN

If you are an international student and you haven’t submitted any online graduate school application yet, you will not be given any student ID. Your social security number (SSN) will be issued only after you had arrived in the U.S. (how to get SSN).

If you have submitted online applications, some forms of ID will be assigned to you. Make sure that you include the ID number in all pages while sending hard copies of your documents.

For example, your Reference Number or Student ID after you have submitted your online application is 444-023-5555.

Make sure that you include that ID (or Reference Number) at the top of the page of your SOP, recommendation letter cover, resume, and other documents that you’ll send in the application package.

Type Name or Print Name

Most students have a hard time to understand what do when they come across “Print Name” or “Type Name” in paper based applications. Those 2 are equivalent to ‘Write your name here’.

If it’s an online application, you just need to type your name in the space provided.

Missing Last Name

So far, 2 students had asked me on what shall they do or what will happen if they don’t have a “Last Name” entry in their passports. It’s simple, universities will not admit them.

Although some schools might give admission, they cannot issue an I-20.

No one can survive in the U.S. without having a last name. So I strongly suggest those with similar cases to first have their names changed in their passports to include a last name long before your booking dates for GRE and TOEFL exams.

The “last name” is also referred to as “family name”.

Your “given name” is your “first name”.

I have read about an actual student who applied at a graduate school in Oregon and he was not given admission since he didn’t have a last name.

Date Of Birth

You have to write in the following format MONTH/DAY/YEAR. Different places in the world follow different date formats.

But in the U.S., make sure you fill in dates using the Month/Day/Year format.

Transcript (Name)

You will be asked what other different names you have used in the documents that you’ve submitted. In India, we use initials before our first name. So your name could be like this in your passport.

  • Given Name: John
  • Last Name: Young

However, documents in India will bear the name, “Y. John.” If that’s the case, make sure you write that name under the field asking for “Alternate Names” that would appear in the documents (transcripts, recommendation letter, SOP, resume, etc.).

How to attach a Resume

When attaching a resume, it would be always better to upload a well formatted ASCII resume (*.txt file). If you attach the resume in a Word document format (*.doc), it will look distorted when schools download the resume.

Here’s a link on how to convert a Word file into an ASCII file.

Wrong Email Address

I have encountered a few students who shared that they gave a wrong email address while submitting their application documents. Make sure you give the right email address all the time.

Also, try to use professional-looking email addresses.


How to Paste Documents when Submitting Online aapplication

Some online applications facilities will ask you to paste your SOP, resume, etc. into free-form fill text boxes. As what I’ve said in the section, How to Attach a Resume, don’t paste the content directly from a Word document file (*.doc) into the box.

Instead, convert your text into an ASCII file or at least copy DOC -> TXT File -> Paste into Application.

Recommendation Letter: Email and Hard Copy

Even though you have submitted SOP, recommendation letters, etc. online, it is always better to send the hard copies of all the documents you had submitted so that the schools will have formatted copies of your documents.

If you had some certification images in the resume, those will not go through very well when submitting the document online.

Again, I strongly suggest that you send all the hard copies of the documents for verification purposes, especially diplomas and other legal academic certificates.

Student Signature

If you have to sign any of the documents, make sure you use a blue ink ballpen. If in case the paper gets wet, your signature will remain intact.

Another reason why formal documents must be signed using blue colored pens is that if you make photocopies of documents signed using black ink, it would be hard to find out if a document is the original copy or just a photocopy of original document.

So using a blue pen instantly eliminates the confusion and difficulty.


  1. saira on December 25, 2016 at 10:54 PM

    Hi ,
    I made a grave mistake of applying to the wrong program by mistake because due to some confusion in u wash and have paid the fees . I really want to get into that college and i have sent my toefl and gre scores to the college which has got reflected in my application . What do i do ? Should i make a new application in which case should i send my toefl and gre scores again? I am very worried …

  2. Sandy on December 25, 2016 at 10:53 PM

    Hi ,
    I made a grave mistake of applying to the wrong program by mistake because due to some confusion in u wash and have paid the fees . I really want to get into that college and i have sent my toefl and gre scores to the college which has got reflected in my application . What do i do ? Should i make a new application in which case should i send my toefl and gre scores again? I am very worried …

  3. Apoorva on January 14, 2016 at 1:30 PM


    I made an error while emailing my MBA application ti the university. In the subject line i wrote “Supplement documents for MBA application” rather than “Supplemental documents for MBA application” . What impact will the Adcoms have on this error? Can this be a reason for the rejection of my application? Can you please advice?

    • Raghuram Sukumar on January 14, 2016 at 4:01 PM

      That shouldn’t be an issue.

      • Apoorva on January 17, 2016 at 3:24 AM

        Thanks Raghuram! I have spotted another issue, after submitting my application. In my SOP i have mentioned MBA in Information Technology rather than “MBA in Information Systems” what will the impact of this error? Would the Adcom consider this as a case of rejection?

        • Raghuram Sukumar on January 17, 2016 at 10:36 AM

          Probably you copy pasted and it doesn’t reflect well on your skills to pay attention to details.

          • Anuttama wagh on January 26, 2017 at 1:37 PM

            Is there any possibility that there could be a Correction done after submission of the form

  4. Nirmala on December 29, 2015 at 10:50 AM

    Hi…I have a problem with my passport. I don’t have my last name as same as my all documents like my birth certificate and marks card.Is there any problem in booking for GRE.

    • Raghuram Sukumar on December 30, 2015 at 9:31 AM

      Get new passport with last name, then book your GRE dates.

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  6. Rahul on November 5, 2010 at 10:28 AM


    I have a problem regarding my toefl registration. My dob is 02/05/1989 but when my dad registered it for me he made a mistake and registered it as 02/04/1989 due to a drop down box mishap. Just before my toefl I had a major accident and distracted by pain I failed to pay too much attention to this detail just before starting the test. Now it has come to my notice when I checked my online account and ets is not permitting me to change this detail. What kind of a problem will this pose? Will the universities reject the score report outright? Will I have to take toefl again? Or can I just get an affidavit from a notary

    Explaining tat it's a clerical error attached with a copy of my birth cerificqte and other govt Id proofs like voter id, dl, passport, etc. My toefl score was 110 tats y unless der s absolutely no option I do not wanna write it again! Can you pl help me regarding this query of mine

  7. nita on November 2, 2010 at 1:08 AM

    I am looking to apply for my Doctoral programme to US universities. My undergraduate college is an autonomous college in India. When I enquired about the transcripts, they informed me that the Vice Principal will be signing it and thats the usual procedure. However, I am given to understand that the registrar is needed to attest the mark sheets. The position of registrar does not exist in the college. Please guide me as to how I should go about this issue.

  8. Hari Krishna on October 17, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    Great job sir but I am having a few doubts.
    I want to pursue my under graduation so I just am confused about what are SOP and recommendation letters? Are they that necessary? From where do I have to take them? Do I need to take them from my 10th class teachers also? Please reply me quickly…

    • HSB on October 17, 2010 at 9:49 AM

      Check the articles under LOR and SOP category.

      • Hari Krishna on October 17, 2010 at 8:17 PM

        Thank you sir,

        I've an another doubt regarding in-state taxes and out-state taxes.

        What are that? And I've applied for New Jersey Institute Of Technology. So in order to stay in New Jersey, do i need to take some kind of test?

  9. Dhanya on October 7, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    Hello , is my no.1 source for all the information i need about applying to US universities.The site provides all the required information.

    I have a few specific questions
    1)While sending copies through postal mail,should we include application form as well,if we have already filled up the online application form?
    2)If we have received certificates of internships from reputed companies,should we send a photocopy of this?Does this photocopy need any further attestation?
    3) Plz could you list the documents again to be sent through postal mail to clear all doubts,considering we apply online.
    4)Which courier service is better?How long will it take to reach the destination?
    5)I am taking GRE on Nov 3rd,2010.By when should i be ready with all the documents for postal mailing ,deadline of most of the universities i have considered is in Dec 2010.

  10. abhay pratap singh on September 21, 2010 at 6:25 AM

    I saw in the profile of the most of the USA universities that they need official transcripts to be sent directly by the last institution to their admission office in order to apply for phd positions.
    My last institute is not sending my transcripts directly but they are able to provide the sealed transcripts saying me to sent it by myself. So if am sending the sealed and packed transcripts, will they accept it or not….
    Thanks if someone has idea about that……

  11. mcneil allan butler on July 22, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    sir,the name on my transcript is Allan Butler and the name on my passport is McNeil Allan Butler.i have worn an affidavit.which name should i use to register my GRE exams if i want to get admitted with out the problem of family name is on both.

  12. sandeep on July 21, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    in my passport my given name is "sandeep kumar" and surname is "behera".

    but during gre reg i filled up my first name as:"sandeep" and last name as "behera". i did not fill kumar as middle name was not asked.

    what should i now?

  13. anubandh on June 30, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    hello sir, like many others i also have this problem that i have always used my first name i.e. Anubandh, and only this name appears in my marksheet of class 10th, 12th, graduate and in my passport. so will it be a problem for me then?

  14. Mitesh Patel on February 14, 2010 at 1:00 AM

    Nice article. I received lot of resumes having such mistakes. Good efforts.

  15. mamta on December 23, 2009 at 4:33 AM

    Hi my name is mamta bharti,i have to fill up an inter application to the US and they require first name, middle name and last name,should I fill bharti as middle name or last name?

    my passport has the name as mamta bharti only.

    Looking for reply.


  16. Anu on September 26, 2009 at 2:57 AM

    I have filled in a wrong start date for one of my employment in my resume, but have filled in the correct start date in the Employment History of the online MBA application form. I know this a big blunder. As per the application policy of the school, no changes can be made after the application form has been submitted online. How can I rectify this now? Shall I write a mail to the school or should I inform the admissions committee if called for an interview, at the time of the interview? Please help.

  17. Anu on September 25, 2009 at 10:51 PM

    I have made a mistake in updating one of the employment start year in my resume, but have updated the correct year in the work history column of the online mba application form. I have already submitted my application. The School policy says that once the application is submitted no changes can be made and the school will not accept any additional document via email. I know this is a big blunder. How can I rectify the mistake now? Can I inform the admissions committee of the error if called for an interview? Please help.

  18. Bahul on September 6, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    hello sir,

    My First name is Bahul and in all my document regarding academics and all other personal documents(Passport) i have only my first name ie. Bahul….

    I dont have my middle name and lastname in any of the documents,but i have to fill online application for GRE, and the last name is must

    So, what should i do now, please guide me .Thankyou!

  19. Folake bramm on August 10, 2009 at 5:17 AM

    This has really been passport expired a week ago and my gre exam is in a u suggest i renew it or i get other supporting documents

    • HSB on August 10, 2009 at 3:27 PM

      @Folake – Check with the exam center or ETS for identification requirements.

  20. Janmeet on July 24, 2009 at 10:10 AM

    hi, i am Janmeet Singh Saini and i have given the GRE with the name 'Janmeet Singh' as my passport bear this name only not my surname or family name. But now i have added Saini as my surname to passport and i am gonna give TOEFL with 'Janmeet Singh Saini' as my full name.Can i get my name changed in the GRE test scores from ETS now. I haven't sent my scores to any of the institute till now as i wish to pursue my studies abroad from august 2010. My educational qualifications also bear my name as 'Janmeet Singh' only.. . Pls also suggest how can i inform various institues about my name diffrence in my educational qualifications?


    • HSB on July 25, 2009 at 12:30 PM

      You are in tough spot here. It's not possible for ETS to change your name. You will have to find out from schools you plan to apply, if thats acceptable and then apply.

  21. b.kamaleshan on June 16, 2009 at 2:04 AM

    i had got the uncondition letter from u.k colleges ,name and address are ok but the date of the birth is wrong is there any problem in the u.k visa

  22. priya on December 14, 2008 at 11:15 AM


    can anyonehelp me in calculating my GPA … its urgent…

  23. v sudharsan varma on November 2, 2008 at 2:22 PM

    plz evaluate my profile and suggest some universities for MS in bioengineering………




    B Tech-73 % till 6th sem

    paper presentation-2




    national conference-1

  24. Shailesh on October 14, 2008 at 10:01 PM

    Very Informative. I was just giving my first application and went through the same feeling as mentioned in the article.

    I have one query. What do i do in case the place provided is not enough to complete the input. This happened with the place to provide my official email id.

  25. Raghuram on February 10, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    @@ Lakshmi I have replied to your comment here

  26. laxmi on February 7, 2008 at 1:24 AM

    hai, my name is Laxmi subhasini my initial is H, in all my marksheets it apeears as H Laxmi subhashini and in my passport it is Laxmi Subhasini Rupesh here rupesh is my last name , and the same is in my gmat and toefl. while ffilling application can I use laxmi subhasini as my first name and rupesh as last name, because i dont want to use subhasini as middle name.pls suggest

  27. Yash on November 7, 2007 at 1:27 AM

    for resume/sop its better to upload a pdf !

  28. Raghuram on November 7, 2007 at 2:30 AM

    @ Yash

    It's better to upload Txt file or Word Document.

  29. sudhanshu on October 23, 2007 at 12:57 AM

    hi….gr8 work…i have only my first name in my certificates of 10th, 12th and my degree but i have added my last name in the passport. i have registered for GRE and TOEFL with my first and last name, but he problem is in my certificates i have only my first name….so wil that work???

  30. Life Strikes on October 11, 2007 at 3:26 PM

    @ MohanMake sure you correct the name when you appear for GRE n TOEFL exam. If you dont get the name right, universities cannot match your score with the records they get from ETS. Its my understanding that, you can change your name before the exam at ETS testing center.Good Luck.

  31. Anonymous on October 9, 2007 at 2:18 PM

    gr8 work dude . i've been troubled with one doubt.. ive registered for toefl and gre with only one last name and in my pass port my name is combined with two last names like, m.p.ram in transcripts mohan pankaj ram in pass port and ive registered with mohan ramin gre registration and pankaj is my father's namewill there would be any problem please clear my query iam tensedabout it.

  32. Gurjinder Singh on October 6, 2007 at 12:57 AM

    nice job done dude, but m a bit doubtful for the last name query..
    like my name is gurjinder singh. In my passport last name field is empty..
    So when i registered for GRE or toefl i wrote singh as my last name and gurjinder as my first name..

    will that work for application process too??

  33. bindu on October 4, 2007 at 8:01 AM

    really great work. i am very happy to see your articles and it is helping me alot.Thank u

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