Common College Admissions Misconceptions and What’s Really True
For high school students who have the goal of attending one of the top colleges or universities in the United States, making sure that you do all that you can to master the admissions process is going to be key to achieving your goals. The sad truth is that most students who decide to go through the admissions process on their own end up falling victim to popular misunderstandings and misconceptions about what it takes to succeed when applying to schools. For that reason, we thought it would be a great idea to cover the common myths about college admissions.
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 most competitive and prestigious schools in the world. One of our top priorities is giving our students the tools, strategies and information that they need to succeed. That’s why covering everything you need to know about college admissions is a major concern of ours!
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 it is quite likely that acceptance rates at Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton and Yale will keep going down in the coming years. That fact is what can make working with an experienced admissions consultant even more 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.
So, if you are interested in learning more about how to improve your chances of getting into such schools, or simply want to know more about the common myths about college admissions, then you have absolutely come to the right place!
Let’s get started on 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 real way to get in is to earn straight A’s during high school. This might lead you to take easier courses in high school in the hopes that your 4.0-grade point average will impress admissions officers at schools that you want to apply to.
Even worse, it may discourage you from applying to schools that you would actually have a good chance of getting into!
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. What’s more, it is really important for students to know that enrolling in easy classes and avoiding advanced courses (such as IB or AP classes) with the hopes that an easy A is going to help you get into a top school is a major 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. So, while performing well in school should always be a top priority, you should not consider your college admissions dreams dashed if you end up earning a grade lower than an A every now and then.
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 used as an important tool for admissions officers for many years.
With that in mind, the current undergraduate admissions landscape has had a major impact on the importance of these tests. As a matter of fact, standardized tests have been moved from a required aspect of applying to the majority of 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 who do not feel comfortable with the standardized test format should simply not take the exam and find other ways to prove to their dream schools that they would be a great addition to the school.
On the other hand, if you are a good test taker and believe that you could earn a top SAT or ACT score, then you should absolutely take one of the exams. If you earn a great score, it can still absolutely help you earn 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 a really important myth about extracurriculars. Aside from achievements in the classroom, one of the key 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 quite literally means an activity that is pursued in addition to normal courses of study. This can include academic competitions, creative and artistic pursuits, sports, school politics, and everything in between.
With that in mind, just because there are virtually countless activities and pursuits that students can get involved in does not mean that 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 really focus on in high school. This gives students the chance to rise to roles of leadership and prominence within their chosen communities.
Colleges don’t really care what a student’s extracurricular interests are, but instead focus much more on what students achieve within those groups.
Myth No. 4 – You shouldn’t mention family responsibilities in your application
One of the major 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 really can take up time and get in the way of extracurricular pursuits or even your studies.
This includes working at a family business, looking after younger siblings when your parents are at work and other similar big responsibilities that a lot of 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 diversity of experiences. For too many years, top schools have typically focused on accepting students who have all of the resources at their disposal and don’t have any real-life responsibilities outside of their studies.
If you managed to earn great grades along with taking care of important family responsibilities, you will absolutely want to let admissions officers know!
Myth No. 5 – Getting creative in your personal essays is too great of a risk
One of the hardest parts of applying to schools for a lot of students is the personal essays and statements that they have to fill out for various college applications. The vast majority of applicants have a writing segment of one form or another, and students that do not feel as though the writing is their strong suit can really struggle in this portion.
What’s worse, some students end up relying on common tropes or cliches when it comes to what topics they end up choosing. That can be made even worse due to one of the common myths about college admissions that says students should use these essays to simply 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 of an application 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 really 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 really 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 fear is the illogical belief that they won’t get into any of the schools that they apply to. While there is no doubt that acceptance rates at top colleges and universities are as low as they’ve ever been at the moment, that should not be seen as a sign that college is an impossible dream now.
In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study, there are only 17 schools out of an astounding 1,364 that were analyzed that reject more students than they accept. That means that nearly every school in the United States ends up accepting more students than it does reject.
So what does this mean for you? It means that making sure that you are strategic about what schools you pursue is incredibly important. While you may feel inclined to apply to only the most prestigious and competitive universities in the world, you should also be thinking about some safety options that may not be your first choice, but would absolutely offer a wonderful education and experience nonetheless.
After all, getting into a safe school can always simply be seen as a brief detour on the way to your true dream school by way of transferring schools. Sure, this may not be the ideal scenario for you, but about 2.1 million undergrad students transferred during the 2020-21 academic year, and you could absolutely consider that as an option one day if you do not end up getting 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
This has been one of the biggest and most common myths about college admissions for years, and we can’t seem to figure out when this idea got started. Basically, the belief that schools want “well-rounded” students should be generally ignored.
Of course, schools do want to see students who can balance their school responsibilities with their out-of-school interests, but the idea that schools want to find students that are equally accomplished at all things is ludicrous! No student can be equally accomplished or interested in all things, and identifying your specific passions and interests is a really important part of high school and undergraduate school.
Instead of looking exclusively for well-rounded students, schools are looking to craft a well-rounded graduating class, and that can mean identifying some students with highly specialized interests and achievements.
Some successful students will be great at sports, while others will 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 really 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 fairly 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 they are always optional. On top of that, schools stress that if students do not get offered 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 important 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 absolutely take the school up on the offer and take part! There are a number of reasons why. First off, 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 taken into account, 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 potentially fit into the school’s community in the event that you were accepted!
Perhaps even more importantly, if you were offered the chance to interview and then rejected the opportunity, you may give off the impression that you are not actually as interested in attending the school compared to other students who are dying to get in. That might force the admissions officers at that school to consider other students more seriously than they consider you!
Myth No. 9 – Ivy League schools are too expensive to be realistic
While this may be the final myth on the list of 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 most promising and intelligent students in the country simply did not apply to Ivy League schools out of the concern that they would not be able to afford it. While there is no doubt that Ivy League schools are amongst the most expensive schools in the world, it is also really important for students to know that there are ample financial aid opportunities that can come with zero debt!
All eight Ivy League schools, and indeed all of the top private schools in the country, have made a very serious commitment to expanding their horizons in terms of what kinds of students can gain access to 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 simply have to make sure to get your financial aid applications submitted 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 of the myths that every student should debunk before they start 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 that are at the top of your wish list, contact AdmissionSight today to set up a free consultation.