Top Myths about College Admissions

I want to thank Josh Ochs from Safe Smart Social for having me on Parent University as we talked about the Top Myths in College Admissions! Please take a look at the video and check out the full content written below in bullet points with links and resources.

Top Myths about College Admissions

Undoubtedly you have heard a conversation begin with two small, but very misleading words…”I heard.” Whether you’re a parent at a dinner party or a student in the halls and online, it seems to be that everyone becomes an expert on college admissions. And while intentions may be pure, be cautious when heeding their advice. The truth is, when it comes to college admissions, there are a number of factors that determine an admission decision. A number of factors that vary per university and per student. And a number of factors we do not take into consideration when giving or receiving advice. So let’s crack a few of the top myths that are out there and the next time you hear a sentence beginning with “I heard” make sure you remember to go straight to the source…your counselor, the college admission office or the colleges’ websites.

The more extracurriculars the better. Colleges want well-rounded students

  • College admission officers are looking to build a class of students with a diverse range of talents. What matters is the ability to showcase your interests, skill sets and strengths in something that is meaningful and purposeful to YOU. Remember, it does not matter WHAT you do.  They’re looking for your impact, drive and curiosity within whatever activity you choose, whether that’s building a robot, taking pictures and keeping a photo journal or being on the swim team.
  • Think about depth, vs. breadth and being authentic and genuine in the activities you pursue.The student who filled his/her weekend with random volunteer events to check a box won’t come across as strong as the student who has participated in something they are interested in.
  • Tip: Explore clubs, sports, opportunities within your community and school during your younger years in high school and start a journal to keep track of what you like best. By the time you’re a senior you can clearly identify something that gives you more depth versus breadth.

I didn’t start a club, I’m not captain of my sport’s team, therefore I cannot show leadership skills

  • Showcasing leadership can come across in many forms. Maybe you haven’t been the captain of the team, but your role has always been to rally the team together and be the support system or the quiet backbone. That’s a form of leadership. Think about the activities that you are involved in and what impact is within that activity.
  • Tip: A good way to evaluate your activities at the end of each semester, what are you doing with your time outside of the classroom? It is meaningful? It is important to me? What is the value of this activity in the grand scheme of things.

An “A” in a regular class is better than a “B” in an AP class OR you should take easy classes to maintain a higher GPA

  • Remember, it’s not just about your GPA. Colleges are looking for the grades you earned, but the rigor of your coursework. They’re also looking at what academic opportunities you are taking advantage of in your high school curriculum. So if you’ve received top grades and you’ve never tried an Honors or AP course, colleges will wonder why.
  • The key is to add Honors and/or AP coursework when it makes sense and is appropriate for YOU.
  • Also consider not just the AP course, but the AP course in conjunction with your other academics, extracurriculars and responsibilities. Write out your entire week and see how much time you’ll have for homework, rest, etc.

The “sticker” price of college tuition is set in stone and what I will pay

  • When you buy a car you’re most likely never paying the sticker price on the window that you see. The same is true for colleges. The published price on a college’s website does not include the financial aid your family will receive. Instead, your net price is the price you will pay for a specific institution based on what you qualify for in terms of financial aid and that can be considerably lower than the published price.
  • Three easy and accessible tools families can use early to determine college costs are the Net Price Calculator, FAFSA4Caster and College Navigator. Every college is required to have a net price calculator on their website. You put in information such as your family size, GPA, income, etc. and that institution will give you a rough estimate of the financial aid package you would receive. You can utilize the FAFSA4Caster to get an estimate of your federal financial aid and the College Navigator on the National Center for Education Statistics website gives in-depth information on not only the percentage of financial aid a college gives, but the breakdown of loans, vs. scholarships and grants.
  • Remember, loans qualify as “financial aid” so dig deeper and use the tools to see that you’re getting more aid you don’t have to pay back than loans

Out-of-state and private colleges are more expensive than in-state public schools

  • Not necessarily! Remember, the sticker price of an institution is never truly set in stone. And a good portion of out-of-state colleges offer scholarships for out-of-state students. So don’t let an out-of-state price stop you from digging deeper. The Western Undergraduate Exchange is a program where students can get a hefty reduced tuition (150%) of resident tuition at participating colleges and universities in western states. So if you’re exploring in Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Washington or Arizona for example, you can find a college with a huge discount! Check their website for how to apply.
  • Also, if you’re considering an in-state public university because it is initially cheaper, but find out on average it takes students 5-6 years to graduate because of impaction you could be paying more!

My financial aid package is set in stone

  • After you get accepted, you will receive a financial aid package from your institutions. Your financial aid package could include grants/scholarships, federal work-study and loans based on the information you have provided to the college through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and other supportive/supplemental documents.
  • If you have had a change in your family situation, shift in job, or anything that is off from what you initially submitted, you can submit an appeal to have your financial aid package reviewed for potentially more savings.

My SAT/ACT score will determine my admission decision

  • Your test score is ONE of many factors in an admission decision. ONE detail in a bigger picture. The work that you put into your classes day in and day out, the grades you earn, the higher levels you’ve reached in coursework you’re strong in and what you have taken advantage of within your high school curriculum is a big part of what colleges will look for. A test score can help showcase that you are academically competitive for colleges, but it is one indicator in a bigger picture. 
  • Not a huge fan of testing? Check out test optional colleges at Fair Test.

I’m just a number to this school

  • Colleges that review students holistically look at more than the GPA and Test Score. While your GPA and test score can be an indicator of how academically competitive you are for admission to a university, it’s important to also note colleges are looking at your interests, skill sets and strengths in the things you’re involved in, how your teachers and counselors write about you in your letters of recommendations and how you articulate yourself in your college essay.

If a college isn’t in the top 20 rankings, it’s not a “good” college

  • What determines if a college is “good” is if it is a good fit for the student academically, socially and financially. A college that is able to support yet challenge a student, provide an appropriate learning environment, can provide a social setting where they can find a community to connect with and will give financial aid without walking away with a ton of debt. Colleges have different personalities just like we do, it’s not a one size fits all.
  • Start researching earlier, visit college campuses on family vacations, attend college visits at your school. Find a college you will thrive in!

Get a famous or well-known person to write your letter of recommendation

  • Think of letter of recommendations as the character piece to your application. This is a window into seeing the type of student you might be in a classroom, the type of dorm roommate you’ll be, or what you’ll bring to campus in terms of involvement, intellectually curiosity, etc. They get this by reading from the teachers, counselors and people who know you best. So if you get a head honcho to write your letter and they’ve maybe shook your hand once, they’re letter won’t be very deep. They won’t be impressed, but they will be impressed by Ms. Smith, your community service coordinator who has seen your work ethic and how you organized a new fundraiser.

What can you do now? 

  1. Start researching colleges earlier. Are you on a family vacation? Is there a college nearby? Check it out!
  2. Utilize financial aid tools to explore scholarships and find out the affordability of colleges.
  3. Keep track of your extracurriculars and accomplishments and take an inventory to see what activities are most important/impactful.

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