Fact or Fiction – 8 Myths About Getting In
From here on out you’re going to get a lot of conflicting advice from well-meaning friends and family members on what colleges want and how to impress your favorite university. But how do you know who’s right? We’re taking you straight to the source!
We’ve asked some college admissions folks to separate the myths from the facts when it comes to what they look for in an applicant what prospective students REALLY look for in a school how to increase your chances of getting in and more. Here are their insights.
MYTH #1 Schools only consider your junior and senior year grades.
FACT “Not true!,” says Jessica Martin, an Admissions Counselor at Clemson University (SC). “Schools will often look at a student’s cumulative high school record when making an admission decision.” So why would colleges care about your freshman and sophomore year of high school? Some of it is about looking for trends (e.g. Did you consistently challenge yourself with higher-level courses?) and adjustment. If your transition from middle school to high school caused poor grades how will the transition from high school to college affect you? If there are significant changes in grades (up or down) between any years your essay might be the place to explain them. Speaking of essays…
MYTH #2 Essays don’t matter that much.
FACT “We encourage students to tell us something about themselves,” says Martin “especially as it pertains to their academics in a section called ‘Candidate’s Comments’ on the application.”
Luke Sweeney admissions counselor at William Peace University says even if your college doesn’t require an essay you should write one. Why?
“It gives me a chance to learn about you as a person and a student more than just your GPA and test scores,” explains Sweeney. “I love reading essays. We want to see you for who you are. Impress us. Own your mistakes and your achievements.”
The information in your application is usually good at showing what you’ve done but your essay gives you a chance to tell who you are. It’s your best opportunity to show a school why you’re special.
J. Andy Roop, Executive Director of Recruitment Services at the University of Oklahoma, agrees and points out that even the short-essay answers are important. “We have found essay responses and personal statements tell us much more regarding an applicant than stand-alone academic information,” he says. “In addition many times essay responses are used for nonacademic and talent-based scholarship programs.”
MYTH #3 Colleges are only looking for well-rounded students.
FACT This may be the biggest misconception in college admissions. While some colleges are looking for well-rounded students they also want specialists: the track star the musical prodigy the debate team rock star. Why the mix? Because schools want a well-rounded class.
In Alexandra Robbins’ book “The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids”, Swarthmore Dean of Admissions Jim Bock says that when he would get asked if he was looking for well-rounded students or a well-rounded class his answer was “Both.” As he put it: “Institutions have needs too. Students can’t control what the needs of the school are and they change over time.”
In other words don’t spend high school doing things only because you think they’ll impress college admissions officials. Don’t dabble in a bit of everything just to appear well rounded; choose a couple activities that you truly love and stick with them.
MYTH #4 It’s better to take a “regular” course and get a higher grade than to take an AP or honors course.
FACT Most college admissions officers agree: as long as you think you can get at least a B it’s better to take an AP or honors course than to ace a standard course. “The potential drawback of getting a B in an AP course––even when a student could easily earn an A in a ‘regular’ course––is far outweighed by the development the student will experience through taking the more challenging class,” says Beth Wolfe, Director of Recruitment for Marshall University. “Too many students come to college without being fully challenged during high school and then struggle when their college courses don’t come easily to them.”
MYTH #5 Everyone pays the sticker price.
FACT Actually few people pay full price for college especially for the schools on the high end. According to a recent survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers the average tuition discount rate for full-time freshmen enrolled at private colleges and universities reached a record high of 45 percent.
Students at small institutions were most likely to receive financial awards of some type and research universities were more likely to give larger awards.
Even if you think you don’t qualify for financial aid fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Last year 86.9 percent of first-time freshmen received some form of financial aid averaging 53.1 percent of the sticker price. It’s important that when you’re weighing the cost of college you’re considering the “net cost” rather than the sticker price.
MYTH #6 You shouldn’t bother admissions officers with questions about the school or your application status.
FACT You need to be proactive! “Demonstrated interest” can go a long way in tipping the odds in your favor. You can visit campus sit in on a class opt for an in-person interview and apply early action or early decision. (Just remember applying early decision means you’re promising to attend if you’re accepted even if it means you’ll have to pay full sticker price.)
It’s also a good idea to stay in touch with an admissions adviser at your preferred institutions demonstrating your interest—without harassing them. In addition the schools you applied to may have questions as they review your application packet so make sure you’re straightforward and timely in your responses.
MYTH #7 More students than ever are going to college.
FACT Actually the opposite is true. According to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education for the first time in two decades of sustained growth the number of high school graduates is on the decline. The diversity of graduating classes (and hence prospective college students) is also changing. As the pool of college applicants grows more racially and ethnically diverse institutions are looking for ways to better serve the changing demographics. One area that will need to change is financial aid as minorities have had less access to financial resources to help them pay for college.
MYTH #8 The most important factor for applicants is an institution’s ranking.
FACT Enough about what colleges want. What do YOU want? A recent survey of our readers (whose median GPA is 3.8) found that the factors that would most influence their decision when narrowing down a list of prospective colleges were: strength in intended major (65%) financial aid availability (54%) cost of attendance (54%) and visit to campus (38%). Only 16 percent rated rankings in national magazines as “most important.”
So what’s the best college for you? Maybe there isn’t one. Yes most admissions counselors will agree that there’s a college for everyone but don’t get hung up trying to find the right school. Focus instead on trying to find the school that’s a good fit for you and vice versa. After all no one benefits if you attend a college that’s a bad fit just because it sounded good on paper.
“Some [colleges] will be looking for that world traveler who fights cancer with their bare hands and is improving the world,” says Sweeney. “We want people who will fit in our school make it better for what it is and be able to call us home.”
Who’s gonna argue with that?
Wendy Burt-Thomas is the editor of My College Guide.