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Common College Admissions Misconceptions

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Two people talking about college myths.

Common College Admissions Misconceptions

For high school students who aim to attend one of the top colleges or universities in the United States, ensuring you do all you can to master the admissions process will be vital to achieving your goals.

Sadly, most students who go through the admissions process fall victim to widespread misunderstandings and misconceptions about what it takes to succeed when applying to schools. Therefore, covering the common myths about college admissions would be a great idea.

At AdmissionSight, we work with some of the most intelligent and committed students each application cycle to help them achieve their goals of getting into many of the world’s most competitive and prestigious schools. One of our top priorities is giving our students the tools, strategies, and information they need to succeed. That’s why covering everything you need about college admissions is our primary concern!

After all, these days, the acceptance rates at many of the top schools in the country have dipped to below 5.0 percent. There is a clear trend that more students are applying to these top schools than ever, and therefore, the admissions process is only getting more competitive.

It stands to reason that these trends will continue, and acceptance rates at Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale will likely keep decreasing in the coming years. That fact is what can make working with an experienced admissions consultant even more critical today than ever.

After all, consider the fact that since we began working with high school students, 75.0 percent of them have ended up getting into either an Ivy League school or a top 10 school that is not one of the Ivies, such as MIT, Caltech, or UChicago.

Suppose you want to improve your chances of getting into such schools or know more about the common myths about college admissions. In that case, you have come to the right place!

Let’s start breaking down the top myths about college admissions together.

Myth No. 1 – Only straight-A students need to apply

Coming in at the first spot in the common myths about college admissions list has to do with grades. When it comes to trying to get into some of the best schools in the country – whether you are targeting private universities, public universities, or liberal arts colleges – you might currently hold the belief that the only natural way to get in is to earn straight A’s during high school. This might lead you to take more accessible courses in high school, hoping that your 4.0 grade point average will impress admissions officers at the schools you want to apply to.

Even worse, it may discourage you from applying to schools you would have a good chance of getting into!

Two students talking to a teacher in a library.

While there is no doubt that performing well from an academic standpoint in high school is a crucial aspect of getting into college, it is far from the only factor that admissions officers consider. Moreover, students need to know that enrolling in easy classes and avoiding advanced courses (such as IB or AP) with the hopes that an easy A will help them get into a top school is a significant mistake.

As schools across the country look to improve diversity, attract top athletes and artists, and recruit potential leaders in their field, admissions committees, now more than ever, strongly consider other components besides just grades on an application. While performing well in school is essential, one lower rate won’t ruin your college admissions chances.

Myth No. 2 – It’s all about the SAT and ACT

For years, the words SAT or ACT have been enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most intelligent high school students. After all, these standardized tests have been an essential tool for admissions officers for many years.

With that in mind, the current undergraduate admissions landscape has significantly impacted the importance of these tests. Standardized tests have been moved from a required aspect of applying to most schools in the United States to an optional component of applications.

For example, at the moment, all eight Ivy League schools have a test-optional policy, as do other top schools that are not part of the Ivy League.

So what can we glean from this information, and how should students utilize it to improve their chances of getting into the schools of their dreams? With the current optional policy, students uncomfortable with the standardized test format should not take the exam and find other ways to prove to their dream schools that they would be a great addition.

On the other hand, if you are a good test taker and believe you could earn a top SAT or ACT score, you should take one of the exams. If you score well, it can still help you gain admission to a great school.

Myth No. 3 – Students should take part in as many extracurriculars as possible

Next up on the list of common myths about college admissions is an essential tale about extracurriculars. Aside from academic achievements, one of the critical factors that admissions officers look at when evaluating student applicants is achievements and commitments outside of the classroom.

These types of pursuits are categorized underneath the blanket term of “extracurricular,” which means an activity that is pursued in addition to regular courses of study. This can include academic competitions, creative and artistic pursuits, sports, school politics, etc.

Students talking in a room for extracurriculars.

With that in mind, just because there are virtually countless activities and pursuits that students can get involved in does not mean they should get into all of them! The truth is that high school students typically need to make the tough decision to choose somewhere between three to five extracurricular pursuits to focus on in high school. This allows students to rise to leadership roles and prominence within their selected communities.

Colleges don’t care what a student’s extracurricular interests are but focus more on what students achieve within those groups.

Myth No. 4 – You shouldn’t mention family responsibilities in your application

One of the significant myths about college admissions that some students fall victim to is that they should not discuss responsibilities at home if they have them. No, we’re not talking about cleaning the dishes or taking out the trash. We’re talking about real-world responsibilities that can take time and hinder extracurricular pursuits or your studies.

This includes working at a family business, looking after younger siblings when your parents are at work, and other significant responsibilities that many high school students have.

The truth is that when schools say they are looking to boost the diversity of their student community, they are not just talking about racial, ethnic, or religious diversity. They are also talking about a variety of experiences. For many years, top schools have typically focused on accepting students who have all of the resources and don’t have any real-life responsibilities outside of their studies.

If you earned excellent grades and took care of essential family responsibilities, you will want to inform admissions officers!

Myth No. 5 – Getting creative in your essays is too great of a risk

One of the most complex parts of applying to schools for many students is the personal essays and statements they must fill out for various college applications. Most applicants have a writing segment of one form or another, and students who do not feel that writing is their strong suit can struggle in this portion.

What’s worse, some students end up relying on familiar tropes or cliches when it comes to what topics they end up choosing. That can be even worse due to one of the common myths about college admissions that says students should use these essays to go over aspects of their applications and not stray too far into the creative or unique.

These days, the more unique the essays, the better. After all, the personal essay section of a college application is one of the few parts in which students can show off who they are beyond their grades and test scores. This is the best chance they’ll have to show an admissions officer who they are, how their mind works, and why they’d be a great addition to a school’s campus community.

Don’t be afraid to spread your creative wings and fly.

Myth No. 6 – You might not get into any of the schools that you apply to

One of the biggest fears that high school students sometimes have is the illogical belief that they won’t get into any of the schools they are used to. While there is no doubt that acceptance rates at top colleges and universities are as low as ever, that should not be seen as a sign that college is an impossible dream now.

In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study, only 17 schools out of an astounding 1,364 that were analyzed reject more students than they accept. That means that nearly every school in the United States gets more students than it does leave.

Female student on her back walking in the campus.

So what does this mean for you? Ensuring you are strategic about what schools you pursue is incredibly important. While you may feel inclined to apply to only the world’s most prestigious and competitive universities, you should also consider some safety options that may not be your first choice but would offer an excellent education and experience.

After all, getting into a safe school can always be seen as a brief detour on the way to your dream school by transferring schools. Sure, this may not be the ideal scenario for you. Still, about 2.1 million undergrad students shared during the 2020-21 academic year, and you could consider that an option one day if you do not get into your dream school on your first try.

Myth No. 7 – It’s better to be a Jack of all trades than a master of one

For years, this has been one of the biggest and most common myths about college admissions, and we can’t figure out when this idea started. The belief that schools want “well-rounded” students should be generally ignored.

Of course, schools want to see students who can balance their responsibilities with their out-of-school interests, but the idea that schools wish to find equally accomplished students in all things is ludicrous! No student can be similarly accomplished or interested in all things, and identifying your passions and interests is an integral part of high school and undergraduate school.

Young woman holding her books while standing in front of a building.

Instead of looking exclusively for well-rounded students, schools aim to craft a well-rounded graduating class, which can mean identifying some students with highly specialized interests and achievements.

Some successful students excel at sports, while others excel in academic debate or Model UN. Don’t strive to be serviceable at everything; strive to be truly special at the few things you care about. That’s the best way to stand out from the crowd.

Myth No. 8 – If you’re offered an optional interview, you don’t need to accept

When it comes to some of the top schools in the country, a relatively common aspect of the application process is for applicant interviews to be offered to a certain percentage of the pool of applying students.

With that in mind, these interviews are not offered to all students and are always optional. On top of that, schools stress that if students are not provided a chance to interview, they should not take that as a sign that their application is not going well.

With that in mind, it is essential to remember that if you are one of the lucky students to be offered an interview at a school like Yale or Columbia, you should take the school up on the offer and participate! There are several reasons why. First, the interview is a valuable part of the process for admissions officers.

Even though the official take is that the interview is not considered when a student’s application is considered, there is no doubt that it can be. After all, it is just another way for admissions officers (specifically) to judge how well you would fit into the school’s community if you were accepted!

Perhaps even more importantly, if you were offered the chance to interview and rejected the opportunity, you may give off the impression that you are not as interested in attending the school as other students dying to get in. That might force the admissions officers at that school to consider other students more seriously than they think you!

Myth No. 9 – Ivy League schools are too expensive to be realistic

While this may be the final myth of the common myths about college admissions, it certainly is not the least important. The sad reality is that until just a few years ago, some of the country’s most promising and intelligent students did not apply to Ivy League schools out of the concern that they could not afford it.

While there is no doubt that Ivy League schools are amongst the most expensive schools in the world, it is also essential for students to know that there are ample financial aid opportunities that can come with zero debt!

Students writing near the stairs in front of a building.

All eight Ivy League schools, and indeed all the top private schools in the country, have solemnly committed to expanding their horizons regarding what kinds of students can access the schools. For that reason, more and more money is going towards merit-based academic scholarships now than ever before.

So, if you believe you have what it takes to get into these schools, you must submit your financial aid applications before the deadline. You may be shocked to discover how much of your education could be covered by these incredibly gracious donations.

Learn more about the admissions process with us.

These are just some myths every student should debunk before applying to undergraduate programs. If you are interested in learning more about the process and how you can improve your chances of getting into the schools at the top of your wish list, contact AdmissionSight today to set up a free consultation.

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