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Students Ask, College Counselors Answer

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This week's question from Donald J., Park City, UT asks:

In your experience, what are three of the most accepted or exaggerated myths in the college admissions process?

3 Myths debunked

Francine Block | President
SATs/ACTs are not really all that important, that is what the college rep said when they visited my school. The coach really wants me and says he can get me in, my academics are less than stellar, but that’s not going to matter. I do not need to visit schools now before I apply, I will wait and see where I get in and then check out the campus.

A myth by definition is something that is not real

Jeannie Borin | Founder & President
With summer upon us, many students are convinced they need to travel to a third world country to do their community service or attend a program at an elite college to increase their chance of acceptance. Neither of these scenarios is accurate. Students seem to think that they need to add countless activities to their activity resumes when in fact college officers prefer to see fewer activities with more depth and continuity. Families rely too heavily on publicity and rankings. If they haven’t heard of the college, it can’t be good. Put your antennas up and explore the thousands of colleges out there!

Accepted essay myths: don't believe them

Michael Goran | Director & Educational Consultant
Many students believe their college admissions essays need to be funny, or evoke sympathy. A misplaced attempt at humor can come across as a sign of immaturity. Likewise, trying to gain sympathy by talking about an illness or a death may be seen as a cheap attempt to gain acceptance. Another common myth is that essays need to be shockingly different. For example, writing a personal statement with backwards lettering will no doubt annoy admissions officers rather than entertain. Perhaps the biggest myth is that longer essays are better. Make your essays “muscular” and get rid of the “flab”!

Admissions options for fall still exist even after May 1st

Ralph Becker | Owner & Director
One exaggerated myth is if you are not admitted into a college by May 1st, your chances of attending college in the fall, or obtaining financial aid should you gain admittance, are low.  The ‘NACAC Space Availability Survey Results,’ contain 279 colleges still accepting freshmen or transfers, with most of the listed schools also offering financial aid and on-campus housing.  St John’s College (Annapolis, MD. & Santa Fe, NM), which features a Great Books core curriculum and places over 85% of its graduates into graduate school is on the list; and, the list is updated and online till July 1st. 

Community college is a great option for many high schooler graduates

Joanne Levy-Prewitt | Creator & Founder
Myth: Community college is a consolation prize for students who aren’t academically ready for a four-year college. Truth: Community colleges can help students learn important academic and organizational skills that will prepare them to succeed in upper division courses at four-year colleges. Myth: Community colleges deprive students of the rich social experiences that a four-year college can provide. Truth: Community College students can take advantage of theater, athletics, clubs or student government, in many cases with no prior experience. Myth: Community Colleges are a dead-end. Truth: The best way to ensure a successful transfer to a four-year college is to enter community college with clearly defined goals and a well-crafted transfer plan.

Debunked myths about essays and deadlines

Scott White | Director of Guidance
Better essays are ones about big ideas, which is false; the more an essay particularizes the better. The essay topic really matters; it doesn't, it’s about the writing. An essay will make or break an application; not true, they are really tie-breakers at best. You can't take November SAT's for a November 1st or 15th deadline, which is false; you can almost everywhere. You only have to post mark your materials that are mailed by the deadline: false. You need to post mark if you get it out well before the deadline too. Lastly, colleges will STILL consider applications received on time if supporting materials are in just past the deadline.

Deep seated myths of the college admissiosn process

Jill Greenbaum | Founder
The three most accepted myths I have witnessed over the years are these: 1)  Believing that a big name school-one of the Ivies, Big Ten, or local favorite-is the best school choice; and ignoring your individuality-strengths, learning and social needs, wants and challenges. 2)  Choosing a teacher to write a recommendation letter because you think the teacher likes you. The teacher needs to have witnessed your growth as an individual over time.  They have to truly know you. 3)  Thinking that being college eligible is the same as being college ready.  Being college ready involves all of you:  knowing/managing/taking care of yourself, managing your time/classes/studying/socializing, and money, school/grades... everything!

Do activities that suit you, write about everyday life, reveal disabilities

Patti Demoff | Co-Founder
Two common myths assume that colleges have predetermined ideas on how students should spend their time: that you must have a noteworthy summer activity to be considered by highly selective colleges and have something unusual or extraordinary to write about in essays. Actually, the best personal statements reflect a slice of everyday life. Some of my favorites this year have included reflections on: a bus ride, an electronics show, and an acting class. Also, students and parents often feel that disabilities shouldn’t be revealed in applications, but this information is valuable in understanding a transcript or how students have worked through challenges.

Don't believe everything you hear

Moira O'Riordan | College Counselor
Myths abound regarding college admissions, e.g.: East Coast schools only want the SAT. Midwest schools prefer the ACT. Not true. Colleges will take either and some are test optional. Look at the testing policy for each school to which you apply. But the most egregious myths concern individual schools. How about this one? THAT U doesn’t give any money. Remember, families fare differently. Or, All of the students at THAT U lay around in the grass taking LSD. Wow, and they still have all those Fulbright scholars?! And my personal favorite: THAT U has the highest rate of STDs in the nation. Quick, alert the CDC!

Don’t let bad information interfere with finding a good match

Janet Elfers | Senior Class Counselor
Everyone exclaims about the extreme selectivity of colleges, so people begin to think most colleges are ultra-selective.  But by far, most colleges admit more than 50% of their applicants.  Another myth is that if colleges don’t have a well-known name, they must not be of good quality.  In fact, there are thousands of fine colleges--places that aren’t always in the news--that make a good match for thousands of students.  Incorrectly, many students have the impression that small colleges are boring.  Check out the wide variety of opportunities and you’ll be surprised how interesting they can be!

Great test scores are NOT the be all end all

Deborah Shames | Independent College Search Consultant & Transfer Admissions Advisor
Many kids and parents believe fabulous standardized test scores will make up for mediocre grades.  Great test scores without the academic achievement to support them tell the admissions people one of two things: “Johnny has the ability, but he’s lazy” or “Wow, Mom and Dad paid for a great testing tutor because this test is teachable. “  Neither one of these will help Johnny in the application process; he is better off spending that time and effort working on his grades and mastering his coursework!  In the end, the success in the coursework is what the colleges need to see to feel confident a student will succeed at their institution. 

Ignore sound bites--reality matters

Mary Ann Willis | College Counselor
3 Myths: No one gets in college. No one can afford college. College degrees don’t matter. Debunked: Almost 70% of applicants are admitted (NACAC). Affordable options are available. Education Pays (The College Board) explains the benefits of an educated populace.  Those with higher education are: less likely to be dependent on government programs, more likely to be healthy and have  healthier life styles, more likely to have insurance, less likely to be unemployed, more likely to vote and volunteer, going to make more money, on average, over a lifetime than those without a degree. Dream big. Work hard. Your future is in your hands.

Know how to pay for it before applying

Howard Verman | Senior Associate
One of the biggest myths for parents is: "Just get into the best college you can and we'll figure out how to pay for it." Unless there is a vast sum of money available to parents to pay for college, thorough knowledge of what the expected family contribution (EFC) would be for both the FAFSA and CSS formulae are essential. Having a solid pre-application financial strategy in place can be crucial in determining which colleges a student should apply to, thusly avoiding the heartbreak of students getting into their top choice schools and then parents informing them that they can't afford the total cost.

Learning diabilities, essay content, and last minute APP's

Marjorie Shaevitz | Author & Founder
MYTH: To reveal that I have a learning disability will hurt my admissions chances. REALITY:  For colleges to clearly understand your academic background and abilities, it’s critical to describe and explain your learning issues.  MYTH: The more intellectual an essay is the more impressed college admissions people will be. REALITY: Effective essays are snapshots of who you are and what you are all about. MYTH: If I wait until the last minute to complete my applications, I will be better focused, sharper and more creative. REALITY: “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” Abraham Lincoln

No need for essays, standardized tests, or stress

Craig Meister | President
While the most competitive colleges have extremely rigorous admission standards that include earning high grades, completing several essays, taking a number of challenging standardized tests, and pursuing a variety of extracurricular activities, the vast majority of America’s four-year colleges have far more modest admissions requirements. In fact, despite what you may have heard, many colleges require no admission essays, and a growing number of colleges are easing their admission requirements, as evidenced by the number of schools becoming ACT- and SAT-optional. If you want to attend a four-year college, stay calm and you will find one that will admit you.

Some college admissions myths are bigger than Bigfoot

Jeffrey Makris | Director of College Counseling
Myth1: “College is so competitive, I may not get accepted anywhere! Reality: Last year the average four –year college acceptance rate was just under 70%. In fact, most colleges accept most applicants. Myth 2: “Colleges only really care about the junior year.” Reality: Every year of high school matters…including the senior year. Myth 3: “It doesn’t matter how much I'll have to borrow to pay for college…it’s worth it.” Reality: Borrowing excessively can have terrible long term consequences, and most students can find good, affordable college options without having to take on massive debt. Be an educated consumer.

Students and parents alarmed at college admission myths

Estelle Meskin | Certified Educational Planner
Valedictorians are always victorious. Recent numbers show that although valedictorians typically have the grades and test scores to be accepted anywhere, many are turned away from highly selective colleges. In addition to test scores they also need other attributes which are attractive to admissions. There's only one perfect school for me. Although students may believe they can only be happy and successful at a particular school it has been shown time and again that finding the "good fit" school is more important. I'm a Failure if I don't get into college "X." It is impossible to predict which schools will accept you. Never consider it a personal failure. You are competing with thousands of others with similar qualifications.  

Tight, concise writing is really much more effective

Susan Reznick | Independent Educational Consultant
The longer the essay the better: I have seen students’ essays that run close to ten pages. Admissions offices do not have the time or inclination, even if the story is riveting to you, to spend that much time on one essay. The essay needs to impress the reader with all your many accomplishments: NO. Your essay should impress the reader with your personal qualities: compassion, responsibility, perseverance. Often the smaller “slice of life” stories work best. The bigger the words used the better: Again, filling your essay with “SAT” words can be a big mistake, especially if you use them incorrectly.

Too many students take a “kitchen sink” approach with their applications

Carolyn Lawrence | Founder
They believe that the more they send, the better their chances.  In reality, three words sum up an effective application:  thoughtful, focused, and clear.   Be thoughtful about what colleges need to know about you, focus on the most important information, and then clearly (and succinctly) explain yourself.  If you accomplish those three things, you probably don’t need another 500 words for your essay, extra slots on the extracurricular list, or additional letters of recommendation.  Admissions officers have very limited time to spend on each application; less really is more.

Use any form the school allows, but proofread!

Carol Morris | Regional Director of Admissions
There is a common misperception that schools give preference to certain application forms (their own, for example) over others such as the Common Application. If a school lists a form as acceptable, take their word for it! As a reader, I am quickly scanning for specific information and rarely even notice which form is being used. However, the idea that we are not paying close attention to the information itself IS a myth! Misspellings, poor grammar, unanswered questions, and accidental references to wanting to attend a different college than the one who to whom it was sent are definitely noted, especially at smaller and more selective schools.

What you’ve heard about essays may not be accurate

Nola Lynch | Owner
Students often misunderstand the purpose of long and short statements they must write for many applications. The longer personal statement (the essay) is not a textbook expository essay. It is a personal narrative meant to show who you are, as well as how well you express yourself. The shorter statements individual colleges ask for may be at least as important. These questions are meant to gauge how well you know the school as well as your level of interest. That’s why writing about College X when you are applying to College Y (yes, it does happen) can sink an application.


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