What are the most accepted or exaggerated myths about the college admissions process?

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Our counselors answered:

What are the most accepted or exaggerated myths about the college admissions process?

Craig Meister
President Tactical College Consulting

No need for essays, standardized tests, or stress...

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.

Nola Lynch
Independent Educational Consultant Northwest College Search

What you’ve heard about essays may not be accurate...

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.

Patti Demoff
Co-Founder College Circuit

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

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.

Janet Elfers
College Counselor

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

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!

Michael Goran
Director & Educational Consultant IvySelect College Counseling

Accepted essay myths: don't believe them...

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”!

Deborah Shames
Independent College Search Consultant & Transfer Admissions Advisor www.CollegeCoachDeb.com

Great test scores are NOT the be all end all...

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. 

Moira O'Riordan
College Counselor St. Ignatius High School

Don't believe everything you hear...

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!

Carolyn Lawrence
Founder AdmissionsAdvice.com

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

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.

Jeffrey Makris
Director of College Counseling High School of Economics and Finance in New York City

Some college admissions myths are bigger than Bigfoot...

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.

Carol Morris
Regional Director of Admissions Southern Methodist University

Use any form the school allows, but proofread!...

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.