Select a Myth below to see it debunked.
Myths about the Application Process and Admissions Officers
To be sure, a lot of work has gone into the process before getting to the application. But think of it as different work beginning rather than the hard work being done. You have a few pages to represent 17 years of your life. Don't underestimate the time it takes to make sure your application is the best it can be.
Admission committees can't tell if the applicant wrote the essays themselves.
After their reading thousands of essays, you can put your money on their being able to spot what is a genuine essay and what is not. No one else can create the specific incidents and emotions that convey a student’s voice.
Be modest when writing your application and resume.
Admissions officers read thousands of applications, so make it easy for them and don’t expect them to read between the lines. Admissions officers do not know you personally; they only know what is in your application file. If you don’t tell them in your application all that you have done, they will not know about it. This is not a time to be humble. There are ways to convey your accomplishments without sounding like a braggart.
Colleges are looking for well-rounded students.
Colleges are looking for a well-rounded, diverse, freshman class. That might mean a virtuoso violinist, an Olympic level gymnast, and an All American football player. Though improbable for a single individual it is but reasonable for a class comprised of different individuals to reflect such diversity. Focus on what you can excel in and bring to a college’s freshman class.
You want to get recommendations from teachers who have given you A's.
You want to get recommendations from teachers who know you the best. That might very well be a teacher in whose class you received a B but who was also your track coach and saw evidence of your work ethic, your leadership, your camaraderie, etc.
A great interview can make up for a so-so academic record.
Interviews can make a difference along the edges. They are useful, but definitely not sufficient to make up for a so-so academic record. Thought not required as part of the admissions process, if you are a decent interviewer they are definitely something you want to do.
The Common App makes applying to lots of schools just as easy as applying to a few.
No doubt it is a big plus. The Common App now can be used for over five hundred schools. You no longer have to fill out the data pages and a personal essay over and over again for multiple schools. But many, particularly the more selective schools, have supplements to the Common App with additional essays to write and questions to answer. These supplemental questions and essays are equally if not more important as the Common App.
The best time to visit colleges is after you have been admitted.
The best time to visit colleges is gradually over your four years of high school. Visit small and large schools, even if you feel you know you are not interested in one or the other; you might be surprised. Having a sense of small, large, private, public with various curriculums, environments, and opportunities helps you identify questions to ask when the time comes to decide which colleges to apply to.
Don't tie yourself down to one school by applying early decision.
The impact of early decision varies widely from school to school. Realize too that recruited athletes typically apply early, which skews the numbers somewhat. At some schools ED has no discernible impact on admissions while at others it can easily increase one’s chance of admission by 5%, 10%, 25% or more. With colleges increasingly focused on “demonstrated interest” (to identify applicants who are likely to attend if admitted) the impact is likely to grow. If you have a first-choice college, you should absolutely apply to it early decision.
No college will take the time to look at your Facebook page.
Admissions officers will absolutely look at any and all of your social-networking profiles. They can’t and won’t look at them all, but they do when there is a question. Alumni are a frequent source of calls to the admissions office to check out an applicant’s social media. When alumni call, the college looks. Make sure your social media is something you want them to see and that your email address is appropriate.
Myths about Grades and Standardized Testing
The most important thing is your transcript. It shows both your grades, the challenge of curriculum, and trends over the four years. SAT’s are #3 in importance with 56% of colleges stating it is of “considerable importance”. Grades and curriculum are identified as “considerable importance” by 82% and 65% of colleges. (NACAC 2013 State of Admissions report).
You have to have a certain standardized test score to be admitted.
Think of standardized test scores as a “hurdle” that must be achieved in order to be considered for fit. Schools refuse to state a minimum score because they vary depending upon various factors for an applicant. Unless a student has a “hook” (legacy, recruited athlete, diversity) shoot for the 75th percentile of the class profile scores at a minimum. Admissions officers indicate that, based on grades and test scores and regardless of a school’s selectivity, between 70-80% of applicants have the ability to succeed academically at their school.
It's better to get good grades than take challenging courses.
It is better to do both. Seriously. Transcripts are the most important part of an application in part because they include both grades and courses. Technically, the #1 criteria is grades and #2 is curriculum within the high school’s context (if your school does not offer APs you will not be penalized for not taking them ….but taking the initiative to take them online would be viewed positively).
You can't get into a selective college if you did poorly in ninth and tenth grade.
Not necessarily. Many colleges, including selective ones, do not consider 9th grade in their calculations of GPA. However, in many high schools the more challenging classes are restricted to those students who performed well in 9th grade, so it does matter. Also, though the importance of grades and curriculum is preeminent, they remain individual factors among many.
A lot of out-of-class activities will compensate for poor grades.
Not so. Grades, curriculum and standardized test scores remain the top three most important factors to college admissions. A student must first hurdle the school’s question of whether they can succeed academically at their school then the out-of-class activities come into play to determine if a student is a good fit for their school.
Freshman year grades don’t matter.
It’s not true or at best, short-sighted. Many (not all) colleges do not count 9th grade in their recalculation of GPA. Many colleges take the overall GPA without recalculating and overall GPA is affected by 9th grade. California high schools provide both 9th-12th and 10th-12th grade summaries on the transcript - highlighting 10th-12th as the official GPA; colleges will use whichever they choose. Stocking up A’s in 9th grade when they come more easily than 10th and 11th makes sense. Colleges look at everything “in context”. Some will compare your GPA with the highest in your school. Good chance freshman year matters in looking at those overall GPA comparisons.
Now to what really matters — student’s expectations of themselves. No doubt their high school personal expectations are in great part set based by 9th grade performance. We all know the impact of initial impressions — the administrations expectations of a student are shaped in 9th grade. Those impressions and expectations are formalized in school policies that put Honors and AP courses out of reach unless an A in received in the freshman classes… and AP classes do matter in college admissions.
The best way to study is to take practice tests.
Yes and no. Taking multiple practice tests is only part of the answer. The most important aspect is to learn from the test. What content areas are you weak on? It is ideal to have a teacher or a tutor to help you here. And pacing is the most important "testing strategy" -- understanding how to attack the test. Practice tests help you here to try out differnt approaches and pacing. A tutor or free on-line test taking tips can give you ideas to try out.
The ACT is not accepted by some universities.
The ACT is accepted by all universities in the US and is perceived as equal to the SAT by admissions departments.
Some testing dates are harder than others.
Not really. Given the number of students that take the exam, the few additional that take it in the spring or fall are just not enough to make a difference.
Myths about Financial Aid
There are multiple factors in calculating aid, not only income, and certain factors are not included (for federal aid, such as retirement accounts and your primary residence). Also, the greater the cost of the school, the greater the likelihood for aid. Definitely run the net price calculator for each school under consideration.
We can save a lot of money if our child lives at home during college.
Living at home isn’t free – utilities, food (including food purchased on campus) – but most importantly are the costs of commuting: car insurance, maintenance, gas, parking fees, and public transportation. Of course, there is also the cost of not engaging in campus life.
Private schools are far too expensive for us to consider.
The cost of college can be mind-boggling. But, “sticker price” is not reflective of actual cost. Private schools can (and do) provide more merit aid, which reduces their sticker price, at times below public school in state costs. There are schools, which commit to providing 100% of “demonstrated need” as calculated through FAFSA – though this need may have little relation to what a family believes they can afford.
Financial Aid is complex. I need to hire an expert to do this for me…which costs money!
No one can make those decisions for you. Filling out the FAFSA and CSS forms is not terribly complex, information comes primarily from your tax return, and there is a massive amount of free (and legitimate) assistance. Evaluating your aid options is more emotional than difficult.
I need to go to the most prestigious school, regardless of cost. It will pay off in the long run.
Not necessarily. Financial fit is a key part of overall college fit. Your performance in college can be as important as the prestige of a school. Debt can be debilitating. Know what your loan payments will be after college and the average salary for your likely career(s) before making that decision.
There is no point in applying for scholarships. I am not a straight-A student.
There are scholarships for everyone! Great grades open up more opportunities, but they do not close all doors!
It is unreasonable for a 16-17 year old to be expected to know what they want to do when the graduate from college. If they do, it is best to feel able to change their mind. It helps, however, to have an idea of what you enjoy based on your classes and on your extracurricular experiences during high school (e.g.: research, teaching, medical assistance, business, artistic performance).
Big colleges are best if you haven't decided on a major field.
Consider the likelihood of accessing one-to-one advising from a professor or advisor who knows you personally at a small college versus a big college. Consider the restricted availability of courses in cash strapped state schools. It is true that big universities could offer more varied opportunities, but this is only one of several considerations. The most important consideration being where a student feels comfortable enough to thrive.
Your life will be ruined if you don't get admitted to your first choice college.
It can sure feel that way, but talk with friends who did not get admitted to their first choice and you will find the vast majority is more than happy to be where they are. Realizing that there is never just one path to reach our goals refocuses thinking on how best to get there.
Liberal arts colleges do not have good science programs.
“Liberal Arts” is short for “Liberal Arts and Sciences”. In fact, science programs can be quite strong at liberal arts colleges, which have small classes with fewer students in the labs. The "liberal" in liberal arts means "broadening" and "freeing" -- as in freeing one's mind from narrow thinking. Proportionally, far more Ph.D.s in the sciences have earned their undergraduate degrees from small liberal arts colleges than large universities.
You should go to the most prestigious college to which you are admitted.
You should go to the college that "fits" you best -- academic fit, environmental fit, and financial fit. Fit has to do with how you feel when you are on campus, the match with how you learn and how the professors teach, the peers you will find on campus. If the college and you are not a good match you are likely to graduate, but unlikely to thrive… regardless of the prestige.
Residence halls are simply a place to sleep.
That’s unlikely. At any size university, who you meet in your first weeks at school can affect the clubs you join and even the classes you take, which in turn can profoundly affect your experience. Some colleges make significant effort to match roommates who are diverse but compatible. The impact can be even more pronounced in honors programs of large institutions group members into the same residence halls, and smaller colleges which have "residential colleges". Residential colleges blend social and academic activities for its members and may include academic counselors. Residential life will likely have a big impact on your college experience creating life long friendships and loyalties.
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