Saturday, May 21, 2022

13 Common College Admissions Myths Debunked

Who ya gonna call? Mythbusters!

There’s no doubt about it; preparing for college can get pretty intense. Take one wrong step and months of hard work can go down the drain. So, how can you make sure you’ve got the right game plan?

Well, the first thing you need to do is weed out the college admissions myths that might misguide you. It’s time to learn what’s real and what’s not so you can plan accordingly!

READ MORE: How to Apply to College: 9 Steps to Application Success

Myth 1: Colleges Only Want Straight-A Students 💯

You may be wondering, is this really a myth? Aren’t colleges and universities only on the lookout for students with a 4.0 GPA?

Don’t get us wrong, getting good grades is crucial if you want to get into the college of your dreams. But it’s not the end of the world if you have a B minus or even a C on your record because admissions officers look at the bigger picture. 

high school students learning together to get high grades that can impress during college admissions
A 4.0 GPA isn’t as coveted as you think it is. A couple of Bs and Cs won’t put you out of the race. Photo: Freepik

As colleges aspire to improve diversity, attract superb athletes and artists, and recruit potential experts, every aspect of a student’s application is reviewed.

More than just straight As, it’s your essay, how you perform during interviews, and glowing character references that will be what secures your spot

READ MORE: Weighted GPA vs. Unweighted GPA: Which Do Colleges Look At?

Myth 2: Having a High SAT or ACT Score Guarantees Admission 🧐

The words “SAT” and “ACT” alone are enough to strike fear into the hearts of many high school students. Some believe acing these tests is required to get into their first-choice school. 

But honestly, how you fare in standardized tests is just one part of the equation. High scores can certainly boost your chances of acceptance, but it doesn’t mean that your spot is guaranteed. 

a young student taking a difficult exam
With many colleges going test-optional these days, it’s a good idea to focus on other sections of your application. Photo:

With most colleges in the US already going test-optional (and that might not change soon), it’s essential to spend time on the other parts of your application that will benefit you, such as keeping up your grades and polishing your personal essay.

TIP: If you decide to submit your test scores, choose between the SAT or ACT. Don’t take both tests because preparing for two assessments might be a poor use of your time.

READ MORE: SAT Dates and Deadlines: Quick Guide and Tips [2021-2022]

Myth 3: Loading up on Extracurriculars Is Always the Best Option 🏃‍♂️

Are you guilty of believing your college application has to be brimming with hobbies and achievements? If your answer is yes, you’re not alone!

Stacking your resume with extracurriculars may seem like a great idea if you want to impress colleges. After all, who would say no to a volunteer, athlete, and student leader all wrapped in one?  

But remember, it’s always quality over quantity. Colleges will put more weight on your contribution rather than how many clubs you’ve got under your belt. Simply put, just being a member won’t do the trick. 

high school students volunteering for an environmental cause to include in their college application
This college admissions myth leads you to believe that quantity is better than quality. But this is far from the truth! Photo: Freepik

Instead, you need to show colleges that you’re not shallowly dipping your toes in different things but have the drive to master ones that you’re actually passionate about. 

You should also choose groups that interest you and give you valuable skills (like project management, communication, or leadership) that you can bring to college. 

TIP: If you want to end up with a balanced selection of extracurricular activities, consider these four tiers and strive to fill out your application with the first two:

  • Tier 1: Activities that demonstrate rare and exceptional achievement or leadership.
  • Tier 2: Activities that demonstrate a high level of achievement but are more common.
  • Tier 3: Activities that demonstrate participation in pursuits outside the classroom, including minor leadership positions.
  • Tier 4: Common activities with no leadership responsibilities, such as employment or club membership.

Myth 4: Adding Family Duties to Your Application Won’t Be Worth Much 🍼

While we’re on the subject of extracurriculars, have you considered how your family responsibilities could be a part of your application? 

Many students have extensive at-home duties, like being in charge of the house or younger siblings while their parents work or even managing the family business after school or on weekends. 

Being dependable at home can prove to schools that you’re responsible and ready for the challenges in college. Photo: Racool_studio/Freepik

You might think that schools are on the lookout for more traditional experiences, but these duties could undoubtedly make your application unique. Plus, you can elaborate on how these responsibilities have shaped you during your interview. 

Myth 5: Being Creative With Your Essay Is Too Big of a Risk 👩‍🎨

Thinking outside the box with your essay can be a bold choice, but injecting creativity and substance is almost always a good game plan when filling out college applications. 

Once you’re given an essay prompt, use this opportunity to set yourself apart and let your true personality shine. Submitting an essay that’s unique allows you to stand out amongst other talented applicants.

a female student working on her college admissions essay
Creativity can make your college essay stand out in the eyes of admissions officers. The risk might be big but the payoff could be greater. Photo: Iris Wang/Unsplash

But remember, authenticity is the number one rule. Don’t write about anything that isn’t true or hasn’t happened just because you think it will grab the attention of admissions officers. 

If you’re not an extrovert or passionate about volunteering, don’t come across as if you are. Trust us; colleges know when you’re bluffing. 

TIP: If you’re told to write about any topic for your college admissions essay, be careful about choosing mental health or drug-related experiences. Don’t reveal anything too negative that can cause readers to feel wary towards you. Instead, your essay should focus on what you learned from the experience. 

READ MORE: How to Write a Killer College Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide

Myth 6: Receiving a Rejection Is Far More Likely Than Getting In ❌

You may be thinking that getting into a college is tricky since there are a lot of students fighting for the same spot as you. Hold your horses! 🐎 

a woman receiving a college acceptance letter
College admissions is not a seller’s market. While schools decide who to reject or accept, the odds are more in your favor than you realize. Photo: grustock/Freepik

In fact, you’re probably in a better position than you think. If you are applying to colleges with a low acceptance rate, it’s easy to think that rejection is almost always a certainty. 

But in reality, a Pew Research Center study found that only 17 out of 1,364 colleges and universities turn away more applicants than they accept. Regardless, you shouldn’t be afraid to apply to renowned institutions

READ MORE: How to Choose a College During a Pandemic

Myth 7: You Must Be a Well-Rounded Student if You Want to Get Accepted ⚖️

Whoever told you that colleges only want well-rounded students (or in short, the next Leonardo Da Vincis who excel in arts, sciences, architecture, and more) was wrong.

Although it doesn’t hurt to be well-versed in many areas, schools don’t expect every applicant to fit this description. 

Instead, colleges are looking for a well-rounded class. Think about it this way: admissions officers are working to complete a picture (the class) out of different puzzle pieces (the applicants). 

a freshman class with students that have different strengths
Building a freshman class is like completing a puzzle. Colleges need people with different strengths to finish the picture. Photo: Freepik

Some successful applicants will be good at sports, while others excel in academic debate and so on. This is why you should strive to be brilliant at one or two areas instead of trying to do it all. 

Myth 8: You Should Focus on Easy Classes to Boost Your GPA 😌

To avoid the risk of hurting your grade point average, you might be tempted to skip honors and AP classes altogether.

While there’s no doubt that a nearly perfect record is something you’d want to maintain, what classes grades come from is just as important to admissions officers. 

Showing that you’re able to handle a rigorous, challenging course load while maintaining decent grades is a positive sign. Why? It shows that you embrace challenges and thrive in high-pressure academic situations. 

high school students raising their hands while attending AP classes
The classes where your grades come from will matter. It’s a good idea to combine easy and advanced courses to improve your chances. Photo: pressfoto/Freepik

Like everything in life, you should aim for balance. Enrolling in many AP and honors classes is possible, but make sure to choose courses you are actually interested in and avoid overloading your schedule. 

Myth 9: A VIP Recommendation Letter Improves Your Chances 🤩

So, we’ve pretty much covered that grades and test scores only show one side of an applicant. Essays and recommendation letters are what breathe life into these numbers and allow admissions officers to build a richer picture of each applicant. 

When it comes to your recommendation letter, if you’re thinking about asking a state official or your high school principal to write one for you, we suggest that you think again! 

a math teacher writing a recommendation letter for college admissions
Recommendation letters work better when they come from a teacher who you have closely worked with during high school. Photo: Freepik

Unless you have actually worked under these people, you’ll fare better when you secure a teacher’s recommendation. Your teacher can offer insights into your strengths and weaknesses, what motivates you, and how you behave inside the classroom. 

If the person who wrote the letter doesn’t actually know you, their words are meaningless. We also recommend not just asking teachers who gave you a top grade or with whom you have a good rapport for a recommendation.

Including a letter from an educator who taught a difficult class can be a welcome addition, especially if they can talk about how you did your best despite the challenging course content.

READ MORE: How to Get a Top College Recommendation Letter: The Ultimate Guide

Myth 10: Signing up for a Campus Tour Significantly Boosts Your Application 🛫

Signing up for an in-person campus visit can be an excellent way to stand out, but it’s just one way you can demonstrate your interest in a particular college. 

A big chunk of colleges still believe that demonstrated interest is moderately or considerably significant when making admissions decisions.

Some even track how many times a student has contacted the school and add that to their deliberations. But, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to drive hundreds of miles to show your interest! 

a young student visiting a college campus as one way to show demonstrated interest
While visiting the campus brings unique benefits, there are other ways to prove that you’re interested. Photo: katemangostar/Freepik

Instead, you can call or email admissions offices with questions or even request a virtual meeting if a physical college tour isn’t an option for you.

Other approaches include reaching out to alumni, joining a virtual college fair, or interacting with the college on social media. 

Myth 11: If Interviews Are Optional, It’s Okay to Ignore Them 👋

While a campus tour isn’t really necessary, interviews are! Schools with optional in-person interviews are in the minority, but still choosing to opt out of this process might be a real hassle. 

Trust us, showing up in person is the type of extra effort needed to win these schools over. Writing off an optional interview signals you’re not that interested, and you could lose your spot to someone who did show up. 

Showing up for interviews allows you to bring a face, voice, and personality to the college application. Photo: Mangostar/Shutterstock

You should treat interviews as a way for you to bring your voice into the application and show off your winning personality.

Would you rather let numbers and a bulleted list of extracurriculars do all the talking for you — or build a rapport with colleges to convince them that you deserve a shot? 

Myth 12: Private or Ivy League Colleges Are Just Too Expensive 🏫

We won’t pretend: the sticker prices for some colleges are no joke. When we already have stellar public universities charging around $27,000 per academic year, it can be daunting to think about what top-tier Ivy League schools like Harvard and Stanford will cost. 

READ MORE: How Much Does College Cost in the US? All You Need to Know

While it’s easy to be intimidated upon checking these prices, don’t think for one second that it’ll be impossible for you to get in simply because you don’t have the money on hand!

These established institutions usually have generous alumni and a stacked endowment for financial aid. 

young woman computing college expenses for elite private colleges
We’ll let you in on a secret: financial aid could make elite private colleges cheaper than some public universities. Photo: inkakot/Freepik

If you’re an impressive applicant, there are plenty of scholarships and other financial student aid available – whether private or federal (hello, FAFSA 👋) – that can significantly reduce your college costs. 

Sometimes it might even be cheaper to attend these schools because they might meet 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated need — or the amount of financial aid needed by a student to cover the cost of college.  

READ MORE: How to Apply for Scholarships and Grants: All You Need to Know

Myth 13: Admissions Officers Don’t Have Time to Check Social Media 📱

With such fierce competition, it’s only natural that college admissions officers are looking for ways to thin the pool of potential applicants.

How is this done? Well, many take a deep dive on your social media accounts, like Instagram and TikTok, to see how you express yourself to the world.

It’s no secret that you put your best foot forward for the duration of your application. But admissions officers know that some students have bared their hearts and minds on these online platforms, so they take a peek just to get to know you better. 

a group of students checking their social media accounts in time for college admissions
Your social media shows who you are. That’s why admissions officers will always have time to check on it. Photo: pressfoto/Freepik

On the one hand, this is just another way for admissions officers to learn about you (meaning it’s another opportunity to impress!). On the other, there have been people who lost their slots because of what schools found out about them online. 

With that said, before you hit send on your college applications, you should probably revisit your online accounts and clean them up if you have to.

Whether it’s an inappropriate photo or an uninformed or insensitive comment, it’s time to hit delete (or put your account on private). 

Since we’ve debunked all these college admissions myths, making an impressive and airtight application to the school of your dreams should be straightforward (but we’re not saying that it’s gonna be easy!).

All that’s left to do is keep your grades up, refine your college essay, secure good recommendation letters, and prepare for your interview. It might seem like a lot, but once you’ve aced all these tasks, you can finish your college application journey strong. 💪

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