What Are Common College Admissions Myths?

US News and World Report

July 27, 2011

For something as complex as the college admissions process, it’s important to make sure you have all of the right information when it comes to dispelling myths. Donald J. from Park City, Utah, is helping everyone out with his question this week:

Q: In your experience, what are three of the most accepted or exaggerated myths in the college admissions process?

A: Get the facts straight before applying to college.
Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO, IvyWise

Myth #1: Your SAT/ACT score is the most important thing in your application.
Your academic transcript is most important. In fact, there is nothing more important to an admissions officer than your grades and performance in the classroom. A high SAT or ACT score may keep you in the applicant pool, but alone, it will not guarantee admission.

Myth #2
: You want to get recommendations from teachers who have given you A’s.
Not necessarily. You want to get recommendations from those teachers who know you best, perhaps someone who has taught you over several years or knows you in multiple capacities. Hopefully, you also did well in their classes!

Myth #3: You can start the application process in 12th grade.
Everything from ninth grade on counts, including summers. Students need a four-year plan to chart their academic coursework, select meaningful activities, etc.

A: You don’t need to move to Mississippi, Wyoming, or South Dakota.
James Montoya, vice president of higher education, The College Board

Myth #1: Most universities accept only a small percentage of their applicants.
The vast majority of colleges and universities accept more than half of their applicants. It may seem otherwise, largely because the media tends to focus its stories on the nation’s most selective institutions, which simply doesn’t tell the full admissions story.

Myth #2: A great interview can make up for a so-so academic record.
A student’s high school academic record and SAT or ACT scores remain the most important factors in selective college admissions. Having a great interview certainly doesn’t hurt, but don’t expect it to make up for a lackluster performance in high school.

Myth #3: Moving to Wyoming or Mississippi will increase chances of getting accepted.
Your academic accomplishments and life experiences are much more important than the state in which you live.

A: You don’t need to be a jack of all trades.
Michele Hernandez, president and founder, HernandezCollegeConsulting.com and ApplicationBootCamp.com

Myth #1: Colleges are looking for well-rounded students.
This is simply no longer the case. Colleges are looking for a well-rounded class filled with musicians, singers, classicists, debaters, etc. – but that does not mean they need every student to be a jack of all trades. They much prefer depth and level of expertise in a few key areas than someone who is spread out all over the map.

Myth #2: Colleges want to see a detailed resume.
Resumes are for jobs, not for college applications. Sending a resume instead of an activity list rubs admissions officers the wrong way because colleges are academic/scholarly institutions, not investment banks, and it smacks of hubris to even have a resume at age 16. Stick to the Common App format by using an activity list and elaborate in a separate attachment, if necessary, on a few of the activities you’ve spent a ton of time on.

Myth #3: Colleges won’t care if I’m a few days late.
Don’t count on it! Though some colleges may accept your application, we’ve seen colleges reject applications that were sent late. It’s a risk on your part and not the kind of action that shows that you are the top student they are looking for. Be mindful of deadlines and aim to get your essays done over the summer so you can submit applications on time.

A: There are no magical numbers.
Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

Myth #1: You have to have a certain standardized test score to be admitted.
Universities that practice holistic admissions consider many aspects of an applicant before making an admissions decision. Test scores are considered but are not the most important factor in the decision process and are rarely the make-or-break factor.

Myth #2: We only accept a certain number of students from each high school.
Many colleges build their classes to include students with different interests and backgrounds. However, at most schools, including flagship universities, the number of applications admitted from a school is not limited.

Myth #3: Admission committees can’t tell if the applicant wrote the essays themselves.
Admissions staff read thousands of essays each year and can tell when an applicant has received excessive assistance. Just remember to do your best work and get involved in activities you enjoy.

A: Try, apply, and never look back.
Steve Loflin, founder and CEO, National Society of Collegiate Scholars

Parents and advisers should never discourage students from applying to any school they wish to attend. The biggest myths may be “I can’t afford to go” or “I will never get in.” Affordability is only an issue if the student applies and actually gets accepted. An employer once told me he always asks students where they applied to go to college. By applying to a top-tier school, students demonstrate ambition and self-confidence, regardless of whether or not they get in.

These individuals don’t get lured into believing they’re not worthy. They try, they apply, and they move on from whatever the final answer is. And sometimes by taking a chance and believing it possible, they get to attend the school of their dreams! You never know if you don’t try–you’ll only wonder “if,” and that’s no way to live a fulfilling and worthwhile life.