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

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

Patricia Krahnke
President/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

Seven and Counting...

Short Answer: There is no short answer to this question, because the myths are countless. Detailed Answer: Here are my top seven myths. 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. Many 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. If you are there and the representative for the school you are interested is not there, call that college's admissions office and tell them. 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 from the federal government 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. Not much. Myth #7. The college that rejects you defines you as a loser. Forever. Many of the most interesting, accomplished, creative, deep and innovative thinkers in our world (indeed, in the history of the world) didn't go to college, didn't get into college, bailed on the college they got into, or failed out of the college they got into. If your college admissions process doesn't go as well as you'd hoped, roll with it. Maybe life has something a lot more meaningful and productive in store for you.

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting

College admission myth

Students think colleges are looking for well rounded people. Really what they are looking for is a well rounded class. Schools are interested in the student with a "spike", that something extra that makes them stand out. They aren't as excited about someone who knows a little about a lot, as they are about someone who has a real passion for something. Colleges want to create a class with diverse interests, so they need some who are politically active, others who are creatively oriented, some who are leaders and others who are worker bees. It is not possible to create a perfect profile, as the applicant pool is a dynamic entity. One year they may really need tuba players, so that matters; another year they may need divers for the swim team. Just present yourself honestly and the admissions folks will decide if your profile is the best fit for their insitution.

Sandy McMaster
College Admissions Consultant My College Hunt, LLC

Just how important is the college essay?

The college personal statement is one of the most stressful parts of the college admissions process for seniors and their parents. But can an awful essay kill an otherwise great applicant's chances of admission? Likewise, can a truly awe-inspiring essay lift a mediocre student's chances? An admissions director for a selective college once said that the essay is more important than admissions reps will admit, but not as important as students and parents fear. The personal statement is important because it gives the reader a chance to see a part of the applicant that the rest of the stats, test scores, facts and figures alone can't reveal. So students, take advantage of this opportunity to show who you really are!

Elizabeth PhD
Educational Consultant The Education Planner

Who gets into Harvard?

Harvard's admissions office is sorting through thousands of applications for students who applied to the College under an early action plan, Harvard has implemented Single-Choice Early Action this year and has received more than 4000 applications. Students admitted under this plan could not apply to other colleges under Early Decision or Early Action. Students' fate and future are held hostage until Harvard decides, in mid-December, who is in or out of the first round of applicants. Harvard's website clearly states that their isn't a minimum SAT score required for consideration, but data drawn from their Common Data Set, reveals the facts on last year's entering class. More than 30,000 applications were received last year for the entering class of 2011. Ninety-one percent of 2011 applicants submited SAT scores and 32% submitted ACT scores. The middle 50% of students' SAT scores for Critical Reading: 690-800; Math 700-790; Writing 710-800. The ACT range for the middle 50% was 31 - 34. Harvard doesn't consider class rank, a question asked on the Common Application, the online application shared by several hundred colleges. For students who attend highly selective public or private high schools, such as Lowell High School in San Francisco, Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, CA or Hunter College High School in Manhattan, class rank could put otherwise highly qualified students at the bottom of that list. Harvard's practice is a benefit to students who might, for example, rank in the bottom 25% of a high school class that is made up exclusively of academically talented students. Harvard isn't looking for students with just good grades and high test scores. Their admissions website goes into great detail about how they craft their entering class. Extracurricular activities, leadership, service, and work experience are all considered. They seek well-rounded students, "lopsided" students wtih achievements in research or extracurricular activites, students with unusual backgrounds, and most importantly, students who will in combination make for a dynamic learning environment. That desire for creating a dynamic learning community means that there is no way to game the system. While one student may have a flawless academic record, another student might offer the university a special talent in music or the performing arts, a history of scientific research, or speak four languages. Nonetheless, like other highly selective universities, the admission rates are low, and hundreds, if not thousands, of bright and talented students will be turned away. Last year 2,205 students were offered admission at Harvard. Most college deadlines haven't passed. Students who aren't accepted under Early Action or Early Decision plans still have time to complete applications to other universities. Students shouldn't consider these other colleges "back-up schools." They should only apply to colleges where they would be happy to go --even if it isn't considered a highly selective school. Students who have done their research wlll find many outstanding colleges that will provide a terrific undergraduate experience. Within that well-chosen list, admission to any college should be considered a success.

Geoff Broome
Assistant Director of Admissions Widener University

But it's so hard.

Applying is not all that hard. Too much pressure has been placed on the application process. Step back for a moment and let's dissect it. You fill out our name and address. You complete a resume, which you should have been working on up to this point. You complete a personal statement less than 250 words. You complete an essay most likely under 500 words. No big deal. You write essays in high school that are 5 times the amount of a 500 word essay. I tell students to work on their essay about 10 minutes at a time. Don't stress over it. Work on it, come back to it, revise it, and move on. If you have to fiddle with it too much, then the essay is not authentic. That is the biggest hang up students have about the application process.

Eric Beers, Ph.D.
College and Career Counselor Air Academy High School

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

I think one of the biggest myths out there is that "Joe Neighbor" got a full-ride scholarship to such and such a school. Whether it be for academics or athletics, it overwhelms me the number of people I hear about that receive a full-ride scholarship to college. Most likely a function of Ego or just difficulty with telling the truth, I have personally heard about students that I have worked with, and now, they are receiving a full-ride scholarship to a college. Many athletic scholarships pay for books, maybe a thousand or two off of tuition. Many academic scholarships can pay a great deal of tuition, but seldomly do scholarships just "pay for everything." So many underclassmen get misled about the exaggerated stories of students (or parents) about their scholarship offers! I have so many freshmen students or parents walk into my office and say, "I want to know how to earn a full-ride scholarship;" like there's just one magic one out there to get. In addition to the myths of the availability of full-ride scholarships, is the myth that people are just going to give me a scholarship. Scholarship applications are hard work. The students I know that earn a great deal of money (maybe piecing together close to a full-scholarship when it's all said and done) put in 100's of hours in researching, writing essays, and applying for scholarships...scholarship committees don't just "give" away scholarships.

Pamela Hampton-Garland
Owner Scholar Bound

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

1) It is easy 2) It is hard 3) It is quick 4) You need all A's 5) You have to take hard classes 6) You have to take classes that you can get an A in but not challenge yourself 7) The personal statement does not matter 8) Letters of recommendation are not that important 9) Only geniuses can get into Ivy League Colleges 10) Ivy League colleges are the best 11) Have to have a major when you apply 12) Have to make a lot of Money to pay for college 13) Getting into state schools are easier than private or vice versa

Mark Giesmann
Counselor Cherry Creek High School

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

The biggest myth I would like to dispel is that there is one perfect school for each applicant. Most of the students with whom I work are great students who will be happy and successful at a vast number of schools throughout the country. Keep an open mind and you will end up with multiple great options.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

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

Probably the biggest myth is that the college admissions process is so competitive that that an average student will never get into a good school and even the stars are unlikely to go where they want. It is critical to realize that there are literally thousands of colleges and universities in the United States with each having their own set of admissions standards and different programs. The result is that there can be a home for every qualified, college ready applicant. Once a prospective student gets past the myths, the scuttle butt, and the outside perceptions and focuses 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.

Mark Gathercole
University Advisor Independent University Advising

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

That fame and rank and selectivity equal good quality. A famous school is not necessarily a great - or even good - quality for undergraduates, and for you. And rankings are based on so many factors that have very little to do with undergraduate quality that they can't be relied on as the only indicator of quality either. And selectivity? If it isn't really hard to be admitted, it must not be very good, right? NOT! there is a school in the midwest which is ranked among the best in the country for engineering, yet which admitted over half its applicants last year. Make your own criteria, do your own research, and make your own rankings.