With all of the stress, pressure and confusion surrounding the college admissions process, it’s no wonder that people start to develop their own theories on how it all works. You’ve likely heard a “secret” admissions rumor from a friend of a friend that has made you panic. But what is the truth?
Admissions rubrics change every year and vary from school to school. Factors that may have boosted applications in the past might not today. At IvyWise we help students and parents demystify the process. Our College Admissions Quiz will give you a better idea of what is fact and fiction.
Keep track of your answers and see how you scored at the end!
1. TRUE or FALSE: Visiting a school and applying is really all I need to do to make myself known to the admissions office.
This is FALSE. College fairs, visits, information sessions, contact with your admissions rep, interviews if applicable, and, most importantly, the school-specific supplements on the Common App are all part of demonstrated interest, and are things you should be doing to help the admissions office become more familiar with you. Demonstrated interest is the university’s gauge of how likely you are to attend if admitted, and it has become increasingly important in the college admissions process. So be sure to visit, introduce yourself to your area’s representative, and write outstanding supplements.
2. TRUE or FALSE: Most of the country’s top-tier schools are very expensive and unaffordable for the average person.
This is FALSE. Many top-tier schools are more affordable than you think. When doing your research into schools that interest you, don’t fall victim to sticker shock. Many students pay significantly less than the school’s stated tuition rate with the help of financial aid packages that can include scholarships, grants, reduced tuition, and loans. What you need to look for when determining if a school is a good financial fit is the “net price,” or the average amount of tuition that families are responsible for after financial aid. You can get this information by using the Net Price Calculator in the financial aid section of the institution’s website.
3. TRUE or FALSE: Test scores are about half as important as grades.
This is TRUE. It may seem like all you hear about when applying to college are standardized test scores, but while the SAT and ACT are important — unless you’re applying to a test-blind school — academic performance on a day-to-day basis over the course of four years shows much more about an applicant’s academic ability. Admissions officers know that how you perform over three hours on one test does not tell them everything they need to know about how you will do in college-level courses, which is why more schools are becoming test-optional. Admissions offices look for students taking challenging courses with increasing difficulty each year. If you struggled your first year of high school, that’s okay. An upward grade trend throughout high school can indicate maturity and ability to handle an increasingly difficult course load. This is important when evaluating if a student will be able to handle the workload at a particular college or university. So strive to improve your SAT and ACT scores, but remember that regular course grades are top priority.
4. TRUE or FALSE: Colleges want well-rounded students.
This is FALSE. Colleges want well-rounded student bodies. Many students try to come across as well-rounded on their college applications. They load up on activities across a variety of fields to show varied and diverse interests and skills. But sometimes varied and diverse can translate into unspecific and unfocused. Hone in on a few activities that really interest you. Focus on places where you can make a genuine impact, and that leave a mark on you as well. Show admissions officers you have something real to contribute to their campus life. They want driven specialists, not “Jacks of all trades, masters of none.”
5. TRUE or FALSE: Your essay should highlight something about you that the admissions office couldn’t learn anywhere else on your application.
This is TRUE. Personal statements should be personal. While your inclination may be to reiterate something you mention elsewhere on the application for the sake of consistency, you are missing the opportunity to help the admissions officer get to know you better. Be creative! Write about an experience that has shaped who you are as a person and student or a particular moment that has impacted your life. While the Common App prompts may seem bland, they are broad enough to allow you some creative license and to write about something that really matters to you. Remember that you don’t need to use lofty, highbrow language to impress readers. Be yourself and write in your own voice. A genuine, thoughtful essay is going to make the greatest impression on an admissions reader.
6. TRUE or FALSE: College admissions officers are looking up applicants online and on social media.
This is TRUE. A 2021 Kaplan survey revealed that 66% of admissions officers think that applicants’ social media accounts are fair game. A caution about social media is that it’s out there for the world to see, so be careful what you post because you never know who is looking. We tell our students to use the grandparent test: If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it, don’t post it. Avoid using foul language, posting photos or statuses about parties and underage drinking, and anything that might seem offensive or immature. Instead, use social media to highlight your interests and accomplishments. If your Key Club reached the fundraising goal for the year, post a status thanking those who helped! If you won a robotics competition, post photos of your creation! There are a lot of great moments you can highlight online that will cast a favorable light should someone in admissions look you up.
7. TRUE or FALSE: Extracurricular activities only matter during the school year.
This is FALSE. You may be on a break from school, but you can still stay involved and be strategic! Summer is a great time to explore new interests and sustain or expand your involvement in your current extracurricular activities. Continue community service projects, fundraising efforts for a club, or whatever extracurricular projects you started in the school year but didn’t finish before summer break. This is also a great time to get a short-term internship, research opportunity, or part-time job in a field of interest. Remember, it’s about quality, sustained involvement in an experience where you learn something new and make an impact.
Now, tally up how many you got right and let’s see how you did!
0-2 Correct: You may need to brush up a little more on your admissions knowledge. There are many great resources out there that can help you demystify the college admissions process, and it never hurts to talk to an expert! The IvyWise team of admissions counselors has over 100 collective years of admissions experience, and can answer any questions you may have about the process in our Initial Consultation.
3-5 Correct: You’re almost ready to hit ‘submit’! You have a good, general understanding of the admissions process and what colleges and universities are looking for in an applicant, but there’s more to learn. There are many components of college planning and applications, and it’s important to remain on track. Download one of our college planning checklists to make sure you’re confident and ready when it comes time to submit your applications.
5-7 Correct: You’re on your way to a great admissions season! You understand what it takes to stand out in a competitive applicant pool and how important it is to stay informed about changes in the college admissions process. While your admissions IQ is great, it never hurts to get a second opinion. IvyWise offers short- and long-term programs to fit a variety of needs. From checking an application for red flags to helping edit essays, we provide services that match your needs and academic goals.