Many parents and students think they know what matters when it comes to college applications. But sometimes their strategies are based on past experience (things have changed!) or well-intentioned misinformation from friends, family, or rare situations that aren’t the norm for most.
Students and families feel more anxious and pressured than ever over college admissions. With your student’s future career and happiness seemingly dependent on making the right choices at the right times, advice and insights matter. 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.
About 60 to 80 schools are highly selective and admit fewer than 1/3 of applicants. In fact, in 2021, these colleges and universities were more selective than ever (For example, Colby and Northeastern each had a 7% acceptance rate.) But the overall average freshman acceptance rate is 78% for public colleges and 70% for private colleges, according to the 2023 National Association for College Admission Counselors (NACAC) report. And 80% of schools accept more than half of freshman applicants. Over half of schools admit 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 5,900 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. 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—so do course rigor and other non-academic factors. Because grading systems differ widely, most colleges 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.
Make sure your essay truly reflects you and your values. Be genuine. Admissions officers see hundreds of essays and 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 most schools also weigh family situations, learning disabilities, health issues, etc. While it’s impossible to go back and improve a GPA, test practice and preparation absolutely can help improve test scores. Increasing that score usually means bigger scholarships; it’s the best paying job a high school student can have.
MYTH #6: Schools are going test-optional, so ACT & SAT test scores don’t matter.
Most schools are now “test-optional” for admissions. But if you want a scholarship, they want to see a score. Submit a good one, and your chances of winning the money improve. Only take “test-optional” literally if you’re excited about paying full price. Further, the common data set showed that students who submit solid ACT or SAT scores to selective colleges have a much better chance of getting in, all else being equal.
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 them later will cost money (ACT: $13/school; SAT: first four schools free up to 9 days after test; then $12/school). 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. The depth of involvement matters most. 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. For the 2023 rankings, several schools were found to have misreported data. Rankings rarely offer much value to a family searching for a best-fit school. Access them at your own risk.
MYTH #12: Know your major before you apply.
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, make sure you have the correct advice so you can confidently make these important decisions and find your best-fit college. Contact us at OntoCollege should you have more questions.
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