Urban Myths of College Admissions


Mar 7, 2013 Bully Pulpit 1 Comment

I read The College Lady’s admission blog listing common myths in college admissions, and I felt compelled to share an adapted version of her list. Some of the myths, noted by *, are taken directly from her site—they were just too good to tweak. (Her whole site is very well done and worth bookmarking.)

The world of college admissions is strewn with many conflicting statistics, confusing numbers and maladapted computations. It’s easy to see why myths have sprung up around college admissions as students and parents try to understand what can be very confusing data.  It’s very important to dispel these common misconceptions so that students can build healthy college lists that lead to success and choices! The following list of urban myths can lead to disappointment and heartbreak when they lead students to wrongly estimate their chances of admission.

1.  The Common Application makes applying to college a breeze!  (Maybe this was the original intent of the Common Application, but it is not the reality.  Even though the Common App does have one main essay to submit to all the Common App schools, and it does limit the number of times students have to fill in their basic information, applying to college is still very complex and TIME CONSUMING.  Many schools ask for extra essays on their individual Common Application supplements, and you still have to pay for each submission.)

2.  If your grades and test scores meet the school’s standards, then the rest of your application really doesn’t matter.  (This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most selective colleges today perform what they call a holistic review of applicants, gaining insight into the student by carefully reading essays, understanding outside activities, and generally getting a sense of the applicant from the entire application package.)

3.   If your grades and test scores put you in the middle 50%, you’ll probably get in. (No Way! That middle 50% is an average. In reality, it is not unusual for students whose scores are in the middle 50% range to be denied or wait-listed   Their applications must be compelling and authentic in order to get accepted.  What colleges never tell us is how many students in the mid-range get denied!  That’s because they want to entice you to apply.)

4.  If you apply to 10 schools that each have a 10% acceptance rate, you’ll definitely get in to at least 1 of them. (Unfortunately, life just isn’t this easy.  Even if you have top test scores and grades, each school has its own institutional priorities, and you CAN get rejected from all 10.)

5.  If you are a legacy at a college, you have a pretty good chance of getting in. (Often being a legacy affords your application an extra read, which makes it less likely that an application will fall through the cracks, but schools still expect legacy students to meet the same standards of achievement that the general admitted pool of students meets.  Many legacies each year are denied.  Some schools want their legacy students to apply Early Decision to show their commitment to matriculate. Some schools will notice whether your parents were big donors of time or money.  Being a legacy can improve your chances, but only if you are already qualified in the pool.)

6.  If a coach says he really wants you on the team, you can sleep easy that you will be accepted. (Wrong again!  Too many students get a sense of false assurance when a coach shows them a little love.  You must remember that coaches are showing more students than they need that same love to make sure that they end up with enough student athletes to fill the spots on their team.  Don’t be naive. You might end up heart-broken mid-December—or later—when you are not accepted to a school that recruited you. Coaches do not always prioritize students in the same way that admissions offices do. You must know that it is the admissions offices that make final decisions on ALL applicants– not coaches. Also, I hate to say it, but coaches might not always represent a student’s chances as accurately as they should.  Keep your options open.)

7.  There is a great deal of money out there for future college athletes.  (Only about 2% of high school athletes end up with athletic scholarship money in college, and the vast majority of those athletes do not get close to getting full rides.)

 8.  *If your grades and scores are above the 75% (or 80% or 90%) percentile for a college, you are guaranteed admission. (This is the safety school myth. Give it up. Let’s not even use the term “safety school” any more– it might lead to more heart ache!  No colleges want to be considered safeties, and they will often reject or waitlist students who haven’t shown enough demonstrated interest to convince admissions that they will actually attend if they are accepted.  Even if you have demonstrated interest, you still might not get in because, well, it’s complicated.)

 9.  Valedictorians, and students with perfect scores, get in wherever they want. (All of the most highly competitive schools regularly reject valedictorians and those with perfect scores. The admissions dean at Harvard said that they could fill the freshman class 4 times over with perfect grades and perfect test scores.  The admissions dean at the University of Chicago said that they could throw their freshman class in the ocean, re-fill it with the next people on the applicant list, and NEVER KNOW THE DIFFERENCE — little harsh there! There just are no guarantees.)

10.   The more schools you apply to, the better.  (Each application is like a big term paper that must be thoughtfully crafted.  There is diminishing return on the number of applications submitted because if you apply too widely, the quality of each application will be compromised. Very few students have enough time, energy and stamina to submit great applications that are specifically tailored to each institution to a multitude of colleges.)



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