Many parents and students think they know what matters when it comes to a college application, but sometimes their strategies are based on past experience (some things have changed!) or well-intentioned misinformation from friends, family, or extremely rare situations that aren’t the norm for most.
Students and families are feeling more anxious and pressured than ever before when it comes to college admissions. And with your child’s future career and personal happiness seeming to depend on making the right choices at the right times, it’s no wonder that all involved are eager for advice and insights. But you can’t believe everything you hear, starting with these college application myths.
MYTH #1: It’s nearly impossible to get admitted to college.
Some schools are highly selective (about 50 of 2,000 accredited schools), and admit fewer than 1/3 of applicants. But the overall average freshman acceptance rate is 66%, according to the 2019 National Association for College Admission Counselors (NACAC) report. And 80% of schools accept more than half of freshman applicants, with over half of schools admitting 2/3 of applicants.
MYTH #2: Finding the right college is like finding your soulmate, and only one school is right for you.
With over 5,300 colleges and universities across the country, it’s not a Cinderella slipper situation. The goal is to find your best-fit school, the right college at the right price. You’ll want to research many, visit several, and consider what aspects and values are most important to you and your family. Find where you can grow, learn, and graduate on time with minimal debt. That’s your happy place!
MYTH #3: Without a 3.9+ GPA, you won’t be admitted, let alone receive scholarships.
Grades definitely matter, and more so at more selective schools, but so does course rigor, and other non-academic factors. Because grading systems differ widely, most colleges now use multiple criteria, and/or a holistic approach to admissions and scholarships.
MYTH #4: Admittance is all based on the essay, so it needs to be perfect.
The most important part of the essay is making sure that it truly reflects you and your values. Be genuine—the admissions officers see hundreds of essays—they can tell which feel real. Show your personality, and don’t try to appear as someone you’re not. A “too perfect” essay may raise red flags for having had too much help.
MYTH #5: ACT & SAT test scores are all that matter.
Test scores matter, but they’re only one part of the application. GPA, extracurriculars, essays, and interviews all are important too, and many schools also weigh additional factors including family situations, learning disabilities, health issues, etc. While it’s impossible to go back and improve a GPA, test practice and preparation can help improve test scores by several points. Consider that some students do better on the SAT than ACT or vice versa, plus superscores and ACT section retakes (available September 2021) can also help boost scores.
MYTH #6: Schools are going test-optional so ACT & SAT test scores don’t matter.
Schools that are test-optional rely more heavily on grades, essays, and other criteria. If two otherwise equal candidates apply, and one has a great test score and the other supplied no score, who would be the preferred candidate? Schools that are test-optional for admission generally still require test scores for scholarship applications. And many schools will look at test scores for class placement or require minimum scores for specific programs or majors.
MYTH #7: Wait to see your test scores before you send them to prospective schools.
Waiting isn’t always the best answer. Sending scores to four schools before taking the test is included in your test registration, while sending after will cost (ACT: $13/school; SAT: first four schools free up to 9 days after test; then $12/school), and adds up quickly. But, if you don’t think you did well (sick, not prepared, etc.), you have the right to cancel ACT or SAT scores by completing a form before you leave the test center, and for SAT, by downloading and mailing a cancel request within five days of your test date.
MYTH #8: The more packed your resume is, the better your college application.
While some breadth of activities can be helpful, it’s more about quality than quantity, and the depth of your involvement. Showing growth over time, development of leadership or improvement, and being able to answer how/why a particular activity had meaning for you is much more important than a scattershot effort with no real impact.
MYTH #9: Only ask for a recommendation from a teacher who gave you an A.
Teachers know students are more than just a class grade. Choose a teacher who knows you well, with whom you have a great relationship, and who can speak well to your attributes that don’t appear on a transcript. While this could be a teacher whose class you excelled in, a teacher who saw your determination to work through a tough experience might have more valuable insights to share.
MYTH #10: Don’t apply unless you’ve had a campus tour.
While touring in person is certainly worthwhile, and highly recommended before you choose to enroll, you don’t have to visit first. Virtual tours, visits with campus representatives who come to your high school, Skype sessions with professors, webinars, alumni interviews, and even email conversations can be helpful. Demonstrated interest (multiple contacts between you and the school) is an important part of the acceptance process, so do make sure to engage to show your enthusiasm for the college.
MYTH #11: Colleges ranked highest are the best colleges.
Every published ranking uses multiple factors and sources—including data supplied by schools, students and alumni—so errors, bias, weighting, and methods all affect the results. In 2019, several schools were found to have misreported data. While rankings can be helpful, use them wisely, and do your own comparisons based on your own criteria.
MYTH #12: Know your major before you apply.
Most colleges require general education requirements for the first two years, to help you explore interests and programs, with courses that apply toward most degree options. Usually, you’re allowed to wait until late sophomore year to declare a major. If you have some fields in mind, you may find it easier to find a college to match, and you may be eligible for more scholarships through a specific department tied to a declared major. But if you don’t, make sure you choose a school with plenty of options for you to consider.
With an enormous amount of information out there about the college application process, it’s important to make sure you have the correct advice so you can confidently make these important decisions and find your best-fit college.
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