What are some common myths about the admissions process?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

Ellen erichards@ellened.com
Owner Ellen Richards Admissions Consulting

Tell-all article on college admissions... is fake?

In an article that has been called "unbelievable" and "completely unprofessional" by college admissions counselors all over the country, the Daily Beast reveals what they call the "true secrets of college admissions." "On the arbitrary nature of admissions Former admissions officer at elite, small liberal arts college in the Northeast, age 25 'One year I had a student with a near-perfect SAT score and straight A’s. I’d originally put him in the submitted pile, but then we had to reduce the list. I reread his essays and frankly, they were just a little more boring than the other kids. So I cut him. Boring was the only justification that I needed and he was out.' ... 'I got sluggish in the afternoon after lunch, so maybe I wasn’t as scrupulous about a candidate as I would have been if I were fresh. Or even if my favorite sports team was in a slump, it affected who made the cut. If the [Pittsburgh] Steelers lost a game and I read your file the next morning, chances were you weren’t getting in. Where I could have been nice, I just didn’t go out of my way — I was a lot less charitable. Those are things that you, the applicant, have no control over. Which makes it all the more funny — the frenzy that parents and students work themselves into around getting in.' ... Current admissions officer, Ivy League university 'Some 70 percent of kids who apply are qualified to come to school here, and we have space for one in ten. We can be as choosy as we like. It almost always comes down to whether or not you’re a likeable person. Let’s face it, some people are just more affable or more likeable than others. An admissions officer is really asking himself, ‘Would I like to hang out with this guy or gal for the next four years?’ So if you come off as just another Asian math genius with no personality, then it’s going to be tough for you. An admissions officer is not going to push very hard for you.' ... Joie Jager-Hyman, former admissions officer at Dartmouth College, author of Fat Envelope Frenzy: One Year, Five Promising Students, and the Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize 'People tend to like people like themselves. I could almost predict the application files my colleagues would support: this admissions officer likes the athletes; this one prefers the quiet, creative loner type; one person cared a lot about SATs; or another would be more likely to excuse things like teenage arrests than other colleagues.' ... On advantages in the admissions process Current admissions officer, Ivy League university 'Any admissions director who uses the line about needing an oboe player is lying. There’s no admissions person in the country with a clue what the student orchestra needs. More likely, Mommy and Daddy gave a $1 million donation. That oboe thing is just a PR ploy.' ... Former admissions officer, Ivy League university 'Of course there are files every year that the dean simply says aren’t debatable. It’s pretty easy to Google those kids and see Daddy is a U.S. Senator or gave the university $7 million. But it really takes paying for a building or endowing a chair to have that kind of privilege. Only about 70 percent of the other VIP kids get in, because it can be equally embarrassing if some big celebrity’s son fails out or gets arrested on campus. There have to be some standards.' ... Former admissions officer, elite, small liberal arts college in Massachusetts 'We were always looking for candidates from underrepresented groups. So if you are just a typical white girl from New Jersey and your application didn’t pass muster, it was relegated to the reject pile without a second thought. With a minority kid with the same stats, you just can’t do that. They always warrant a second or even third look.' ... Michele Hernandez, nationally known private college admissions consultant located in Vermont. Author of the book A is Admissions: The Insider's Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges and former admissions officer at Dartmouth College '40 percent of every Ivy League school is filled up with special cases: athletes, minorities, low-income, legacies or development cases. They’re tagged, and schools lower the admissions standards a lot for those kids. So you got to know how to use those tags to your advantage. If you’re a legacy and you apply early to the school, you’ve got a 50 percent better chance of getting in. Most of the time you can’t predict what will push one candidate over the edge. Right now, for instance, schools are showing a large preference for non-college backgrounds—that is, applicants whose parents didn’t go to college. You have no control over who your parents are, but right now it helps if they didn’t go to college. Or Middlebury right now is on a kick for bringing in kids from outside the Northeast. They don’t want to be seen as a prep-school depository. Some 65 percent of their student body is from other parts of the country. Some schools even discriminate against the wealthy kid from Greenwich or New York City. They have to prove they have an actual love of learning and didn’t just spend summers flying to Europe on Daddy’s jet.' .... On definite “don’ts” in the admissions process Current admissions officer, Ivy League university 'There’s an expression in admissions circles: the thicker the file, the thicker the kid. Don’t send in every newspaper clipping of your son on the high school honor role. That’s just redundant if we have his transcript. Admissions officers want this to be a hands-off process. If a parent calls them repeatedly, that’s almost always an automatic rejection. They worry that parent or student might become a nuisance to the university for the next four years. They just don’t want to be contacted all the time.' ... Joie Jager-Hyman 'After the letters came out, one father called me to complain his son hadn’t gotten in. He said he was an advisor on several TV shows and movies. So I asked him which ones, and he told me the show 90210. Well, that was my favorite show, so I asked him to give me some good gossip. Then the next day I got this huge package filled with stuff from the TV show: original scripts, autographs, etc. And I called him up and said, ‘Thanks for the cool package, but there’s still no way your kid is getting into this college.' How believable are these statements? One Dean I spoke to from University of Virginia said that the responses were "so unprofessional" and that the admissions process is nothing close to the article from the Daily Beast. Another admissions counselor from an unnamed Jesuit school said that the article was, "Outlandish and completely unbelievable." She went on to say the following, "I would not believe this article, not even one part of it. There is a series of checks and balances and the admissions process is not left up to one person's decision, it is a group effort from a team of trained professionals."

Calli Christenson
Director CLC College Prep Services

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

One common myth is that computers are the only measure for accepting applicants. While some colleges use computers to process information, more often than not, actual admissions officers are reading applications, essays, and evaluating transcripts and test scores. Students are really mistaken if they believe that "no will really even look that close at my application anyways. My GPA is really all that matters". This is certainly far from the truth! Admissions officers spend countless hours closely examining applicants and the materials they submit for admission.

Patricia Krahnke
President/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

Short Answer: The biggest myth is that the college that markets to you, actually WANTS you. Detailed Answer: There are many myths, but here are my top six. Myth #1: Admissions counselors care. A lot of admissions counselors love their jobs. But look around a college fair a half an hour before it’s over. Note how many tables are empty. Admissions counselors don’t want to be there. In fact, it’s amazing how many admissions counselors just leave their materials on the tables and take off for the entire event. Myth #2: Admissions counselors know what they are talking about. I once sat next to a fellow counselor at an Open House who told a student our college accepted the Common App. That counselor had worked at the institution for 15 years. I had been there 2 years. Even I knew we didn’t accept the Common App. Myth #3: Your application will be reviewed closely. Nonsense. That would take time. Many institutions are now moving to an algorithm on the back end of their data system that makes decisions on applications solely based on numbers. No human being ever sees any part of the application. At one institution I worked at, they were so concerned about increasing the speed of application reading, we were told to shred essays and letters of recommendations to keep the paper down to a minimum, so we wouldn’t be tempted to take the time to read them. This is an excellent question to ask the admissions office of any college you are considering: How will my application be reviewed? Unfortunately, the ones who won’t ever see it will tell you that it was carefully reviewed. And there is no way to verify any information you are given regarding this part of the process. Myth #4: The buzz words in college marketing materials are true. “Student centered.” “Academic excellence.” “Small classes.” “Diversity.” Just like any big business, their marketing and communications group has researched your generation and come up with the marketing phrases they believe will attract your interest. That’s why everything you receive in the mail looks the same. That’s why you want them to turn off their messages to your email (that have been coming in huge quantities since your PSAT scores became available to them in your Sophomore year.) Colleges are desperately competitive with one another and equally desperate to convey that there is something special about them…but somehow they all end up looking and sounding the same. Your job is to see behind the words to ascertain who they really are. (Want to visit a college that puts forth an admissions message that is completely contrary to the truth of who and where they are? Check out Tulane University, New Orleans. ) Myth #5: If you begin your degree at your community college, your life is over. Don’t be ridiculous. The fact is that approximately 40% of students entering college today require some type of remedial coursework. Even the top students coming out of high school these days are weak writers and non-critical thinkers, no matter the results of their SATs and ACTs. Many, many students simply are not prepared for the rigor of higher level academic work. So why would you put yourself and/or your parents into financial peril by shelling out big bucks for coursework that won’t even count for credit? Because you want to party on a big campus? Because you want freedom from home? Because your friends are going away to school? These are all reasonable, emotional answers, but in the long run, none of them is as valuable as sound financial and academic decisions. Unless you brag about your lack of student loan debt, no one in the job market will know that you started out at community college (by the way, there are just as many fabulous instructors at community colleges as there are terrible professors at elite colleges; want an example? Google poet Stephen Dunn, who was teaching at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize). The fact is, future employers will only know where you received your undergraduate degree. What people will recognize about the community college choice is 1) financial intelligence, which will be evident by the fact that you have less student loan debt than students who did all four (usually five) years at a major four-year institution, and 2) a determination to nail your upper level coursework and be ready for the job market and/or grad school. Sure you won’t have had the social experience of a traditional, over-programmed, anxiety producing, first-year college program. But that first-year experience often turns out to be a liability for many students that is hard to recover from. Myth #6: Net Price Calculators are accurate. Nope. This is a huge topic and one I won’t go into too deeply here. Suffice to say, colleges are under a great deal of pressure to provide families with an accurate idea of how much it is going to cost them to attend College X and College Y. At the NACAC conference in September of this year, I attended a seminar where Diane Cheng of the California non-profit organization Institute for College Access & Success spoke about the development of these net price calculators. Dr. Cheng stated that institutions appeared to be developing their calculators in a non-uniform manner in order to meet their marketing needs. That tells you everything you need to know about how much faith to place in them. Nada.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

Probably the biggest myth is that the admissions process is so competitive that an average student will never get into a good school and even the stars are unlikely to go where they want. There are also many myths concerning quotas of all kinds, the power of connections as well as the power of certain talents. While all of these things can influence decisions, their importance is usually vastly overstated, especially as they are discussed in the word of mouth exchanges that are so much a part of the college admissions world. Indeed, it is critical to realize that once prospective students separate myth from reality, recognize that there are literally thousands of colleges and universities in the United States each with their own set of admissions standards and different program and that there can be a home for every qualified, college ready applicant. Once they recognize that and start to focus on finding the school that is right for them, the process will not only be much smoother, but the likelihood of it ending in a productive and rewarding way is much greater.

Ben Schwartz

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

There are certainly many myths surrounding the admissions process. Just a sampling from my years at a highly selective school include: * Testing will make or break an application (absolutely false! Testing is just one set of data points that help officers understand an applicant's academic potential. Taken alone, testing is not too helpful, but when combined with the transcript become a more powerful tool to understand an applicant's academic potential). *I should try to get face-time with the admissions officer for my region (totally depends on the school. Meetings with admissions officers make be important at one school and at another may just make you a bit of a nuisance. Some schools organize themselves regionally so every applicants has an officer handling her/his case and other colleges read applications in a committee where no single officer is guaranteed to read specific applications). * I need to be perfectly well-rounded OR the best at one things to get admitted (absolutely false! You need to be yourself! You should convey your interests, talents, passions, and experiences and share them in a compelling manner that makes the admissions officer say "Wow! I really feel like I know this applicants and s/he's someone who will add to our school." Trying to check off different activities for the sake of becoming well-rounded or submitting yourself to gruelling experiences trying to become the best at something you don't love just isn't desirable by an admissions committee).

Janet Elfers

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

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!

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

Students and parents over-emphasize the importance of getting into one particular school. The pursuit of a "hot ticket" in admissions leads students (and parents) to make poor decisions. A student's commitment to maximizing the opportunities available in college has a far greater impact on the post-graduate career landscape than alma mater name recognition.

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

That just having the numbers will get a student admitted; students whose numbers are lower than last year's average have no chance of being accepted, an interview isn't important & neither are a resume or outrageous LOR's.

Randi Heathman
Independent Educational Consultant The Equestrian College Advisor LLC

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

The most common myth about the admission process is that admission officers are looking for reasons to DENY students. That is categorically NOT true. Yes, students are denied from colleges and universities each year, but applicants need to realize that the decision is never a personal one. Admission counselors take their jobs very seriously and spend long hours poring over files, essays, and transcripts in an effort to admit those students who are the very best fit for their school or for a particular program. After they spend that amount of time getting to know students' hopes, dreams, and histories, it's often a gutwrenching moment when they discover that they have to deny one in order to admit a different student who will be a better fit. At the end of the day, colleges and the staff in the admission office must juggle a lot of issues when they build their freshman class each year - maybe the biology department needs a lot of students to fill their classes but the music department only has a few select seats remaining in their conservatory program. Meanwhile, the football team needs defensive lineman but the women's soccer team has three goalies and can't carry any more on the roster. Admission officers must take all of this into account when they open those application files each fall and, unfortunately, admitting every qualified student just isn't practical.

Ronald Harris

What are some common myths about the admissions process?

1. It’s best to set your heart on one school and really go for it. 2. The tuition price listed in brochures is what everyone pays. 3. The admissions department adores you. 4. It’s best to crowd your application with a volume of extracurriculars. 5. It’s better to have a high GPA than to take difficult classes. 6. Essays don’t really matter much in the end because grades and test scores are so dominant in admissions decisions. 7. Recommendations from famous people can give an applicant a huge boost.