Ten College Admission Myths

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46 Responses

  1. KatherineMW says:

    Are you talking about the Ivies in the US, or all American universities? I’m Canadian, and there are definitely good universities here (as in, some of the top five schools nationwide) that you can get into solely on the basis of having good grades. I think the system must be completely different in Canada. I applied to one university for my undergrad (my hometown one, since I knew it would be cheaper to live at home, and I got along with my parents, and the university’s a good one) and two for my masters’ program, and we don’t have an ivy league at all – some schools are known for having a better program than others in a specific field, but there’s no universities with insanely high prestige levels associated with their names.

    I feel like our system is healthier for young people than the US one – far less stress during your last year of high school, far less expense for university (most programs are in the $5000-$7000/yr range, which is high but not like the high-level US schools), and after you graduate your abilities matter more than the name of your school.Report

    • I applied exclusively to state schools and there were generally two things: With the exception of the flagship university (whose admissions were primarily determined by state law rather than admission boards or whatnot), there was generally an automatic entrance criteria where they didn’t bother looking at anything else, and for some a minimum requirement for consideration (basically, “Don’t bother applying if you can’t demonstrate this.”)

      Reading over this list, I get the sense it’s primarily for either private schools or highly-competitive state universities (like GT, Michigan or Berkeley, but not Auburn).Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

        In California, sufficiently good grades/scores will get you into some UC (*and even moreso into one of the state colleges), but some popular campuses (Berkeley and UCLA in particular) are harder, especially in the more popular majors, like computer engineering. The whole state uses UC Merced as a safety school. Last year it admitted 7 times the number of freshmen who actually enrolled.Report

      • Diablo in reply to Will Truman says:

        I had a big problem with this. I did six years in the military. I had great SAT scores, but it had been so long that I couldn’t use them nor would I be allowed to take them again in my state. My high school grades were not terrible, but not good enough to waiver the SAT’s straight away.

        I found the vast majority of the schools I applied to did not bother reading any part of my application. I actually had to write extra stuff as a non-traditional student, include service record documents, and I would get the default rejection letter indicating my high school grades were not high enough to waiver the SAT’s.

        I got into the school I wanted, but it was frustrating as hell to talk to admissions people who admitted they screwed up but would not fix things.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to KatherineMW says:

      How many Canadian students choose to live at home and how many go out of province or live at dorms? When I lived in Japan, my Australian friends thought the dorm system was odd. Apparently in Australia, you stay at home for university or live off campus on your own.

      I think the whole system has gotten a lot more competitive but the elite schools are especially more so.

      The US higher ed system offers a lot of different options. There are school’s for everyone but and I think we also use the campus to be a kind of mini-road to adulthood. Ideally it is a heremetically sealed universe where young adults can learn how to function independently. Though in practice it does not always work out that way.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to NewDealer says:

        Universities definitely do have dorms – several buildings worth of them, even for a midsized university – but I don’t think it’s unusual for students to live at home during university either (I and many of my friends did). If you’re leaving your hometown, dorms are probably just more convenient than trying to find a place off-campus to rent in a far-off city.

        I don’t know what the stats are.Report

      • James K in reply to NewDealer says:

        Apparently in Australia, you stay at home for university or live off campus on your own.

        That’s how it works in New Zealand too. Halls of Residence are often only open to first-year students, and most students don’t bother even then.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to James K says:

          How odd. In the US, some colleges require that you live on campus for the first year. Schools with too many students who don’t live on campus are often looked down upon. My alma mater has been desperately trying to beef up the campus residence numbers.Report

          • Maribou in reply to Will Truman says:

            At my Canadian university, there was a) a freshman residency requirement, AND b) almost no way to get a dorm room after first year unless you were an RA. At the SLAC where I work now there is a 1st, 2nd, 3rd year residency requirement , though it can be waived in exceptional circumstances such as being from here.Report

          • James K in reply to Will Truman says:

            You way seems strange to me as well. Student flats (i.e. low-cost private sector rental properties) are an ingrained part of our culture here, although I personally lived with my parents throughout my degrees.Report

          • Reformed Republican in reply to Will Truman says:

            I think they are trying to develop a sense of community among the freshmen by forcing the on-campus living. I am not sure how well it works.Report

    • Maribou in reply to KatherineMW says:

      I’ve always believed that there ARE strong prestige differences associated with a handful Canadian schools – and now that I work in an American academic settings, where I talk to professors and international students all the time, I’m even surer of it.

      U of T, McGill, UBC – these 3 schools have a level of national and, particularly, international recognition that the rest of the pack just doesn’t share for undergraduate programs. (I would say that U of Montreal has that ‘oomph’ among Canadian francophones, but not outside the country.) It doesn’t mean the other Canadian universities aren’t good schools, or better for certain programs, or etc. But the prestige difference is real. Just like the prestige difference between Harvard or Princeton vs. the University of Michigan, or UC-Boulder, is real, even for programs where the state school is actually *stronger*. The Canadian system is a lot simpler and less byzantine though. And directly subsidized by both federal and provincial governments, rather than ONLY indirectly subsidized through loans, grants (both student and research), and federal workstudy programs, which is the case in the US. Self-aware socialism keeps tuition costs lower than self-denying socialism does…

      I applied for six! whole! schools! as a high school senior and my friends thought I was spreading the net way too thin. Many of my student workers these days chose this school out of more than a dozen they applied to – and their peers who don’t have to work for a living applied to even more…

      FWIW, “after you graduate your abilities matter more than the name of your school” is usually the case in the US too. It’s just in certain narrow arenas (say, getting into an “elite” grad school; or who offers you a job out of law school – both of which matter in Canada too) that it makes a difference where you went.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Maribou says:

        All my Canadian friends say that there are still party schools or not as great schools.

        The joke I heard was “If you can hold a fork, you can go to York!”

        I heard that the University of Western Ontario is a big party school.Report

  2. Kazzy says:


    If I may go off topic a bit, I’m curious what you think of roles such as the one you fill. I am increasingly uncomfortable with many of the ways that students (or parents on behalf of students) try to set themselves apart. I hear stories of people who drop tens of thousands of dollars on “educational consulting” or “tutoring”, some of which seems to cross the line into unethical or even illegal. I realize not all people who provide such services are unseemly, but the process seems increasingly so, especially given the costs involved and the exacerbation of socio-economic issues between those who can afford them and those who can’t. I’d be curious to hear more about the specific services you offer and what you think more broadly about the growth of this industry.Report

  3. NewDealer says:

    I am curious about how long you have been and education counselor/consultant and whether you have seen these trends get more competitive/worse over the years.

    I applied to college way back in 1998. My grades were all over the map but my board scores and after school activities were excellent. This was enough to get me on the waiting list at a bunch of reach schools and off the waiting list at my top-choice.

    I do not think this would happen today but you probably know more. Do you have any less than perfect clients who get into their top choice because the school decides to take a gamble as it were. What is the waiting list scene like today?Report

  4. Wow… lots of responses, I am glad that this hit a nerve. To respond from the top:
    This goes for almost all of the privates, and for the top end state schools… the public Ivies (UVA, UM, UNC, etc) and the other competitive entry state schools. And yes, Auburn is on the list, particularly for out of state students. Every year, more and more publics are joining the Common App and their application numbers are exploding.

    I am a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and have been working in this industry for almost 6 years. We have a very strict code of ethics, and I only know of a very small number of consultants who charge “tens of thousands” for their services. And those services generally begin in 9th grader or earlier. The industry is growing, partly because of the growing anxiety about the college process and the misperceptions.

    Here is what I find in general: My B students tend to get in everywhere they want, because they are not aiming for the most highly competitive schools. I work hard to make sure their list is filled with schools that are good fits for them, and it works out well. My “high flyers” also get in to multiple schools, and end up with a good choice. The kids that have a rough time are the ones who are A- students and are aiming at the highly competitive schools. Sometimes it works, and sometimes they settle for a B+ school that has offered them a lot of money. It can be a bit of a crapshoot. But in general, a very high percentage of students are happy where they end up.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to The College Lady/Wendie Lubic says:

      Thanks, Wendie.

      I should flesh out my comment a bit to note that I live just outside Manhattan, which tends to be a different beast with all things education. And it wouldn’t shock me to learn that many parents embellish just how far they go in support of their child because, in their circles, spending tens of thousands of dollars to help your 16-year-old craft the perfect admissions essay is a badge of honor, rather than the sign of craziness most of us would view it as.

      My mother is also a teacher in the same area and knows of services where the consultant is so deeply imbedded in the work that it is generally understood that they are writing the essays. As she explains it, these tend to be big firms that hire college students or similar type folks as “tutors”; they are often unaware of their ethical obligations or not well trained enough to see them through.

      I work with preschool aged students and know of some parents who’ve availed themselves as consultants for those admissions, which strikes me as downright crazy.

      I should also note that none of this is meant to criticize you or your work. I do think that their is an important place for educational consultants to help students and parents navigate highly complex processes and make well-informed decisions. I’m speaking about the extremes where things start to get crazy, which exist in all fields.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

        You work for a private school. I don’t know how exclusive it is.
        But admission into private schools is a routine method of “enhancing” negotiations between people (and one of the reasons America is often considered pretty corrupt by first world standards).Report

    • That’s interesting about Auburn. On paper, it looks somewhere on-par or below USF.Report

  5. LeeEsq says:

    The best way to make college admissions sane again is to try to find to make it purely academic again. We probably can’t use entrance exams like they do in other countries because its simply not practical for a host of reasons. What needs to be done is to find away to decrease the importance of extra-curriculars and activities outside of school and make it more about the GPA, SAT scores, and AP exam results.

    The problem is that there are too many elite students and not enough elite institutions at the Ivy or almost as good as an Ivy level. All the elite institutions are probably wealthy enough to expand in size so more students could attend but they can’t be force to do so and its not in their interest to do so, they wouldn’t be as elite then. Qualified students do not want to settle for state universities and non-elite private ones. The other problem is that sports are always going to matter because of college football and basketball are big money earners.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I don’t see why qualified students don’t want to settle for state or “non-elite” privates.
      But maybe that’s me. I did go to school in Pittsburgh, so…Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kimmi says:

        Qualified students who didn’t quite make it into the elite schools might think going to a state or “non-elite” private is a bit of a failure. They might think they won’t get a good as an education or that it might hurt their job practice.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Might think that? We practically tell them that!Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

            This is where regional bias in entertainment (that our centers of popular entertainment, and the classes depicted, differ so greatly from that of the more pedestrian lives of the audience) plays a role. When a character having gone to UMass* is a laugh-track punchline (Spin City), or the embitteredness of a character having to settle for UMass is a plot point (Law & Order), it’s something we culturally absorb (though a lot of us will also look at it and scratch their heads).Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

            Point taken, we till them that if they don’t go to an elite school than their job prospects are hurt because they can’t get connections and the employers want and demand elite schools for the best or even the next-best jobs.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

            Yes, yes we do.
            I think kids lack the facilities AND knowledge to actually determine which schools are best at a given subject.

            That said, I’m writing from PA. Going to UPitt is no shame (except if you’re going for CS). Going to Penn State is likewise really awesome for a lot of things that aren’t AgSci.

            Coming from half a dozen states, the tuition for a place like UPitt is going to be equivalent to an elite school, or at least in the same ballpark.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

            You are in pre-K and IIRC you used to work in Manhattan.

            Did you ever work for one of those infamous pre-Ks that parents vie to get their kids into because it is seen as step one on the way to Harvard?

            How do you feel about this aspect of NYC-Metro school culture?Report

            • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:


              I never worked at one of the infamous ones, but as things got crazier, they all sort of generated ridiculous amounts of ridiculousness.

              I do know parents who’ve asked Kindergarten teachers what they can do to get their kids into Harvard. I routinely have parents who dress their kids up in fancy outfits for admissions visits. I’ve watched the documentaries that follow different families and children through the trials and tribulations of the application process.

              It disgusts me, in many ways, because so much of what masquerades as parents’ well-intentioned but perhaps misguided efforts to do what is best for their children is so often about things that have nothing to do with their children.Report

  6. I read multiple articles every year about reforming the system, getting rid of the standardized testing, the European model, the Canadian model, the UK model, etc. I wish that I saw this changing, but I don’t. I also wish that the AP “arms race” (more college level classes and earlier) would back off. I leave all this to the Higher Ed think tanks, since I am more concerned with meeting my clients’ needs.

    For the record, the quality of the education is all about the motivation of the student. You can get a fabulous education at nearly every accredited school, and you can get a less than stellar education at a “name brand” school. It all depends on the effort and enthusiasm that goes into it. And if finances are important, go to a community college first, and then transfer to the name brand for the last two years.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to The College Lady/Wendie Lubic says:

      I’d say that any accredited school near a major metropolitan area is going to give you a quality education. The school might not be “elite” but the desirability of the area makes it a really attractive choice for potential professors.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to LeeEsq says:

        even a community college?Report

        • KatherineMW in reply to Kimmi says:

          Community colleges can be very useful for taking the first one or two years of your degree and then transferring to the university – it’s a lot cheaper, and the classes are smaller and the teachers more committed. I know people who have done it who find it works very well.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        This is especially true for graduate programs. My alma mater has a reputation that some poo-poo. I am biased, but I think this reputation is undeserved as far as undergraduate goes (what you put into it is what you get out of it). However, as far as graduate programs go, the school is very highly rated in a number of areas. The main reason being is that it’s sitting in the middle of a large metropolitan area and therefore has an outstanding applicant pool (which in turn attracts professorial talent, which in turn attracts students, etc.).Report

    • You can get a fabulous education at nearly every accredited school, and you can get a less than stellar education at a “name brand” school. It all depends on the effort and enthusiasm that goes into it.

      Yes. This. A thousand times this.

      I will try to refrain from trying to make this point over and over and over throughout this symposium, and I beg your indulgence just this once. But as the product of public schools up through professional school, and one who has had peers since who graduated from Harvard on down, I firmly believe that an ambitious student who is motivated to strive can build a very successful career on a state school education.Report

    • Oooh, Wendie, you may be the perfect person to ask this:

      Another blogger and I have on a couple of occasions expressed disagreement as to whether or not going through community college helps or hurts your chances of getting into a good school. Obviously, it’s going to be dependent on a number of factors (like, how well you do in community college). In my experience, big state schools like transfers because they come with their general credits out of the way and colleges can more easily determine whether or not they will be good college students (instead of just good high school students). He argues (if I recall) that the later courses are more money-drains than the early courses (fewer lecture hall courses, etc.) and/or* that there is a stigma attached to CC that might make colleges look sideways.

      Both of us admitted that we’re going off impressions and not hard data. So, what’s the deal? (This excludes cases where a college already has a relationship with a specific 2+2 enrollment system where obviously it’s not going to hurt having gone to CC and may help – we both agreed on that.)

      * – I’m afraid I’m going off memory here. Obviously, I don’t need to list why CC may be a drawback to you because if it is, you can list more reasons than he or I could.Report

  7. In this economy where many students cannot afford 4 years at even the state level, colleges cannot afford to thumb their noses at CC grads. That said, you want to go to the most highly ranked CC, take classes from challenging profs, interact with said profs and get good recommendations and great grades. Ultimately the initial 2 years or AA degree matter less than the final 2 years, for jobs, grad school, etc.Report

    • Johanna in reply to The College Lady/Wendie Lubic says:

      I would say that it matters less how a CC is ranked if it has an articulation agreement with the school(s) you desire to attend. Back in my admission days in California, if you kept a particular GPA and took specified agreed upon transfer courses at the CC, UCs and CSUs happily took you. In addition, some private schools also have been working with CCs to help boost admissions particularly to replace their own attrition numbers.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Johanna says:

        Some years back Colorado passed a law requiring (a) the four-year state schools to accept transfer credits for particular classes taught at community colleges and (b) the community colleges to teach those classes to the same standards used by the four-year schools. So far as I can tell, it seems to be working out. The community colleges are attracting a fair number of students for math classes up through differential equations with two arguments: why pay State U tuition rates for your calculus requirement, and at XYZ community college the calc class will be small enough the person teaching it will know your name. The same argument is even more effective for people who are taking remedial (pre-calculus) math classes.Report

  8. James K says:

    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.

    It certainly doesn’t. If you apply to 10 schools, each with a 10% chance of accepting you, you have a 50% chance of getting in to at least 1 of them, and that’s assuming the odds of each schools accepting you are uncorrelated, which seems unlikely. In practice, it will be less than 50%.Report

  9. Steps To The Future, LLC/Belinda J. Wilkerson says:

    As a fellow consultant and an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (among others), I agree with Wendie about the work of many of the consultants I know. Our major concern is assisting students with finding several colleges that are a good fit for them academically, socially, and fiscally. The college admission process has become more about institutional priorities than anything else and like Wendie said, it’s become increasingly complex. Personally, I wish colleges had the resources to interview applicants but with so many students applying to multiple colleges, it’s become impossible at many institutions. My advice: focus more on “best fit” and less on prestige.Report

  10. Hi Belinda! I didn’t know you read this! I hope that your practice was good this year, and that all your students have good choices. Because that is the best that any of us could ask for…Report