Reality Check – College Admissions Myths Exposed
Dogs sweat through their tongues. Chewing gum will stay in your stomach for seven years if you swallow it. Colleges care only about grades and test scores. Call them what you want—myths, urban legends, fiction—it doesn’t change the fact that none of these things is true.
When it comes to the college admissions process, especially, myths abound. To help you decipher fact from fiction, we’ve consulted experts at schools nationwide to uncover the truth about applying, getting accepted and affording college.
The college application process starts during senior year.
Admissions officials recommend you think about college throughout all four years of high school. This ensures you’ll take the classes colleges require.
“Sophomore year is a perfect time to really start focusing on your academic rigor and grades, and continuously strengthen those through your senior year,” says Jessie Baker, first-year admissions counselor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Baker suggests mapping out a plan for your academic coursework, setting involvement goals to participate and gain leadership experience in extracurricular activities, and starting to research colleges so you know what they’re looking for in applicants.
Colleges care only about grades and test scores.
In truth, colleges want to see well-rounded students. Sometimes the tipping point to decide whether to accept or deny a student is based on essays or other application criteria.
“We put equal weight on reviewing extracurricular activities, recommendations, essays and academic rigor in addition to GPA and test scores,” Baker says. “A student’s essay can make them stand out in the crowd or even be the deciding factor between them and another applicant.”
Youíre more likely to be denied, than admitted to your first-choice college.
In reality, “students are more likely than not to be admitted to their first-choice college,” says Chris Gage, dean of admission at Hanover College (IN). The reason some students don’t end up attending their first-choice college is likely due to receiving a better financial aid package from a different school, Gage adds.
In fact, a 2014 State of College Admission report from the National Association of College Admission Counseling found that four-year colleges and universities, on average, accept approximately 64 percent of applicants. So, unless you’re applying only to Princeton or Harvard, your chances of getting accepted are pretty good.
College is too expensive.
Did you know that most students don’t pay the tuition prices listed on college websites? Colleges use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine each student’s financial situation and how much they can afford. Colleges then put together financial aid packages that include federal grants and loans, institutional grants and scholarships to make college affordable.
To get an estimate of what you’re likely to pay at a specific college, check out its Net Price Calculator, available via www.collegecost.ed.gov/netpricecenter.aspx. Keep in mind, however, that the calculator is just a broad estimate and the specific amount of aid varies with each student.
In addition, many studies show that a college education is still a good investment—despite its cost. A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that, “investing in a college degree may be more important than ever before because those who
fail to do so are falling further and further behind.”
Colleges you havenít already heard about arenít very good.
“Televised athletics [like March Madness or the Fiesta Bowl] is how most colleges get exposure, but some of the best … colleges do not get that kind of exposure,” says Anna Burrelli, admissions counselor at William Peace University (NC).
Burrelli suggests not letting name recognition cloud your judgment. Instead, “evaluate the college based on how it fits into your future dream and vision for yourself.”
TheREíS ONLY ONE PERFECT COLLEGE FOR YOU.
Don’t worry about finding the one school that’s perfect for you or being the perfect candidate for a certain school—there could be several colleges where you would fit in well, even some schools you may not have expected when you began your college search. Simply put in your best effort in high school, and keep an open mind.
Burrelli advises students “not to worry and stress so much about being the ‘perfect’ candidate for a college or university [because] if it is meant to be, it is meant to be. The right place for you will be revealed, all in due time.”
You can change your high school class schedule or relax after youíre admitted.
Your acceptance offer to a college is often contingent upon you finishing a certain curriculum and maintaining good academic standing.
“We heavily weigh a student’s academic rigor in our decisions and if students change their schedules after they are accepted, that changes the condition under which they were admitted,” says Baker. “This also goes along with the expectation that admitted students will maintain their grades their senior year. If an A/B student all of the sudden has all C’s and D’s or failing grades, we can revoke their [offer of admission].”
Liberal arts colleges focus only on the arts.
The term “liberal arts” is actually short for “liberal arts and sciences.” Many
liberal arts colleges have both excellent arts and science programs. Burrelli says colleges shortened the term years ago with the intention of providing the message that liberal arts colleges benefit from smaller class sizes and more individualized attention for students.
“The ‘sciences’ is not said in the title any longer, but these types of institutions boast some of the strongest science programs out there because they are hands-on and afford students the opportunity to truly learn and practice the sciences they are so passionate about,” says Burrelli.
Attending a certain college will improve your chances of getting into its graduate school.
Many students believe that if they attend a college for their undergraduate degree program and want to attend law school, medical school or another professional program, they’ll have a better chance of getting accepted into the school’s graduate programs. Not true.
“The truth is that there are no guarantees,” says Burrelli. “A college cannot guarantee its undergraduate students admission into its graduate programs. Spots for graduate students are reserved for the best and brightest students within their institution and across the world.” Doing the best you can at whatever school you attend is the key to getting into the graduate school of your choice.
Remember, getting into college isn’t as challenging (and doesn’t need to be as stressful) as you think. The most important thing to give you an admissions edge is to be a well-rounded student, who gets good grades and has a sincere interest in the school. Your fate is your hands, so go out there, work hard and don’t hesitate to apply to the college(s) of your dreams.
Dana McCullough is a writer and editor based in Wisconsin.