Ten College Admission Myths
Note: This post is part of our League Symposium on Higher Education in the 21st Century. You can read the introductory post for the Symposium here. To see a list of all posts in the Symposium so far, click here.
by Wendie Lubic
In the recent movie Admission, Tina Fey, who plays an college admissions officer, is repeatedly asked for the the secret to getting in to Princeton. She gives a variety of answers throughout the movie, including passion, but ultimately admits that there is no secret recipe. In a year where Harvard admissions rates sank below 6%, the numbers speak for themselves. At Princeton, 26,498 students applied for the class of 2017; 1,931 were accepted for roughly 1,300 seats, a 7% acceptance rate. Even if 50% of those applicants were unqualified, there still wasn’t space for the more than 11,000 students who were considered and then denied or wait listed.
When you have a process as complex and seemingly random as the current college admissions climate, myths that people cling to inevitably spring up . Some of these myths are holdovers from when the parents applied, and some are hopeful efforts to ease anxiety.
Here are some of the most common myths that I have seen over the years in my work as an educational consultant.
- The Common Application makes it easy to apply to multiple schools who accept it. The only thing that the Common App makes easier is that applicants don’t have to fill in basic data for each application, and there is one main essay. Each school has it’s own supplement which can be quite involved to fill out, and you still have to pay for each application!
- Grades and test scores will get you in or keep you out — the quality of the application doesn’t really matter. How you fill out the application can make a big difference. Extra-curricular activities, essays, and other choices are the parts of the process that can make the difference between being a one-note student and a three-dimensional applicant.
- If your grades and test scores put you in the middle 50%, you’ll probably get in. I wish! That middle 50% is an average. In practice, students who score in the middle 50% and don’t have other things on their application that set them apart are most often rejected, or at best, waitlisted.
- If you apply to 10 schools that each have a 10% acceptance rate, you’ll definitely get in to at least 1 of them. Once again, that math doesn’t work. Even if you have top test scores and grades, each school has it’s own institutional priorities, and you CAN get rejected from all 10.
- If you are a legacy at a school, you have a pretty good chance of getting in. This falls into the “it depends” category. Did you apply early decision? Are your parents big donors? Do you have the grades and scores that make you desirable to the school? Then MAYBE, and only maybe.
- If a coach says he or she really wants you on the team, admissions will go with it regardless of the academic fit. Uh, No. Do not count on this. Too many students have had a rude awakening mid-December—or later—when they were not accepted to a school that recruited them. Coaches do not always understand the institutional priorities that are the basis of admissions decisions!
- Athletic coaches are totally honest all of the time. Wouldn’t it be nice if this were true? But coaches are working to build the best team, not to be nice people.
- If your grades and scores are above the 75% (or 80% or 90%) percentile for a college, you are guaranteed to get in. This is the safety school myth. Give it up. There is no such thing as a safety school anymore. No colleges want to be considered safeties, and will often reject or waitlist students who haven’t shown the demonstrated interest that they will actually attend if they are accepted.
- Valedictorians, and students with perfect scores get in wherever they want. All of the most highly competitive schools regularly reject valedictorians and those with perfect scores, especially if those students don’t have anything else on their resumes. If you have spent all your time studying, it is unlikely that you will actively contribute to campus life.
- The more schools you apply to, the better choice you will have. Each application you submit should be put together in a thoughtful way. If you apply too widely, the quality of each application will be compromised. Very few students have enough time, energy and focus to complete multiple high quality applications that are specifically tailored to each institution. The quality of the application and the essays ready do matter even for large public universities.
Are there any myths you have heard that I have missed? I am happy to put them through the True/False test!
(Thanks to Lori McGlone, Tractus Education, for her initial list of myths.)