With the onset of another school year, many rising high school seniors are taking deep breaths and getting their minds right in order to enter the college-process sweepstakes. For most of these prospective collegians, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They’ll get one shot at finding the “right” college. That’s why there is so much tension and stress involved in applying to college these days -- particularly since not everything you hear is true -- some "facts" you come across may end up being myths.
With the cost of college seemingly soaring out of sight -- and so much at stake -- it’s crucial to have the right information about the various components of the application process. Unfortunately, there’s almost as much wrong information out there that can lead applicants astray. Thus, I thought I would highlight some of that wrong information for this year’s applicants. Hopefully, setting the record straight about these seven “myths” can go a long way in keeping things on track.
I have excerpted the seven that follow from the 17 that appear in Campus Grotto’s College Admission Myths article. I encourage you to read all 17, which illuminate those areas that seem to constantly mislead students about college admissions from year to year.
I’ve added some supporting comments of my own to augment Campus Grotto’s wisdom. Read and learn.
1. Myth: If You Haven’t Heard of A College, It Can’t Be Good
Truth: There are hundreds of colleges out there, so you may not hear about or be familiar with many of the different universities this country has to offer. Most people only know of certain colleges because of where they live or the colleges that get the most publicity, usually from college sports or college rankings. Many great colleges do not get exposure where it counts: Academics.
Dave says: How very true. This is why applicants need to do a thorough search using a good college search tool, such as the one on College Confidential or the College Board. The small group of schools you know about may not be the best for you. With 3,823 options available, you need to broaden your considerations.
2. Myth: You Should Base Your College Decision on College Rankings
Truth: These rankings should not be used as your guide on what colleges to apply to. In reality, despite the amount of press coverage rankings receive, they don't mean very much. Only 46% of schools returned the questionnaire which counts as 25% of the total rankings of U.S. News & World Report's college rankings.
Dave says: In my view, rankings have caused many unfortunate mismatches for applicants. Just because one school is “ranked” higher than others, for whatever reasons(s), that shouldn’t necessarily mean it’s a better school for you. The quest for “prestige” is another unfortunate mindset among applicants. Prestige can be impressive at cocktail parties, but considering only “top-ranked” schools can frustrate your chances or college experience.
3. Myth: The More Extracurricular Activities, the Better
Truth: The three main things (most) colleges look at are GPA, test scores, and admission essays. A ton of extracurricular activities will not necessarily make up for poor grades or a low test score … Colleges prefer students who show passion and interest in an activity. If you are enthusiastic and show leadership qualities in a certain activity, it can certainly help.
Dave says: I hope you haven’t been a “serial joiner” during your high school years. A serial joiner is someone who goes for quantity rather than quality in extracurriculars. Also, uniqueness can play a large positive part in what you do outside of the classroom. Collecting miniature Civil War soldier figurines to augment your passion for the history of that conflict can be just as (if not more) impressive as certain kinds of volunteer work. Less can sometimes be more when it comes to unique, long-term activities.
4. Myth: Only the Top Students Receive Financial Aid
Truth: If you are admitted and show financial need, colleges will make it possible for you to pay for it with grants, scholarships, and loans regardless of how great of a student you are. The only time this myth may be true is when it comes to merit-based scholarships.
Dave says: There has been a significant move in recent years to meet the financial needs of economically disadvantaged students. In fact, if you are fortunate enough to be admitted to some of the most highly-rated (yes, “ranked”) schools (Ivy League or Top 25), and your family income is below a certain level -- $65,000, for example, at Princeton University -- you’ll enjoy an essentially free college ride. Don’t let “sticker price” scare you away from considering certain colleges.
5. Myth: Visit A College After You’ve Been Accepted
Truth: While this is a good idea, many prospective students don’t explore and visit colleges BEFORE they apply. The problem with this is they apply and get accepted to a college, only to later visit and realize it’s not a good fit for them. If you can, visit both before and after you apply and get accepted. Yes, this will cost more money travel wise, but choosing a college is a lifetime decision and one you don’t want to mess up.
Dave says: I’ve said this many times over the years: You’ve got to trod the sod! Would you buy a car without taking a test drive? Would you buy a house without touring it and having a home inspection done? College will likely cost far more than a car or home. Accordingly, you need to put your feet on the ground of those schools to which you will apply, ideally before you pay your application fees. A mismatch can cause a lot of wasted time and money. So look (visit) before you leap (apply).
6. Myth: Once You’re Accepted, You Have Nothing to Worry About
Truth: Wrong! Slack off on your school work and you’ll get poor grades, which leads to academic probation. If you don’t keep your grades up, you can be kicked out of school.
Dave says: Don’t let “senioritis” sink your college enrollment ship. Senioritis is when you take your foot off the gas pedal in your academics after you’ve enrolled at a college. This usually happens during the spring, when students think that colleges aren’t watching. If you need some excellent information about how this can happen, the consequences, and what to do about it, check out Sally Rubenstone’s massive College Confidential thread, When Do Colleges Rescind Acceptances? Keep your foot on the gas!
7. Myth: You Have to Go to College If You Want A Good Job And An Income
Truth: College is not about getting a job. Sure, it helps, but know that there are many successful people out there with no college degree at all.
Dave says: This “truth” is becoming more apparent every day. In fact, there may be a trend at work here. A new study shows that half of young Americans surveyed say that college is too expensive and no longer necessary: “... 89 percent of Gen Z, along with nearly 79 percent of young millennials, have considered an education path that looks different from a four-year degree directly out of high school.”
The need for workers with specialized technical skills is funneling an increasing number of young people into tech schools rather than into four-year college degree programs. Yes, a college degree can be an asset to get a job in many fields, but it is not necessary to enjoy happiness, success, and yes, significant financial rewards. If you’re not absolutely certain about going to college, check an alternative approach to preparing for your life’s work. You may be surprised at what you find.
Summarizing: Don’t be easily misled. There’s a lot of false information floating around the internet and even among your friends. Where you get your information about the college process is important. There are many excellent, reliable sources of true information to which you can turn. Since you’re reading this, you no doubt already know that College Confidential is among the best sources of college knowledge. Check the forums and articles. I’m willing to wager that there’s not a college process topic that isn’t covered in great depth.
Bottom line: Demythologize your college process before you start it. You can handle the truth!