Here are some of the things from various admissions files that have made me sad (details changed to preserve anonymity)
• “I’m sure Stu Dent could do well in graduate school, provided you can get him to talk to you more than I ever could.”
• Transcripts with three times the number of courses (and substantially better grades) in music than in physics.
• Deep, Meaningful quotes from rock bands and dead hip-hop artists in the footer of the applicant’s cover letter.
• “No other institution would benefit more from my presence than yours.”
• “I only want to work on Topic X! Nothing is cooler than Topic X! My intellectual life is a shrine to Topic X.” Except, our department has no relevant work on Topic X.
• “Stu Dent has excellent physical intuition and will undoubtedly succeed in graduate school”. Except, Stu has mostly B’s and C’s in their physics courses and a 15th percentile on the physics GRE.
• Students who have taken no math beyond calculus.