Seven and Counting...
Short Answer: There is no short answer to this question, because the myths are countless.
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.