Six College Admissions Myths We Wish Would Die
Updated: Mar 8
As a college consultant, I estimate I spend half my day correcting students and parents on things they’ve heard about college admissions. Few industries conjure more myths and rumors than college admission, and let’s be honest, college admissions is a business. It’s also not transparent, which is why so much misinformation is circulated. My colleagues and I brainstormed a few of our most despised myths and highlighted them here. Feel free to share. Let’s put these rumors to bed once and for all!
1. A good test score will cancel out mediocre grades/rigor on the transcript.
Selective colleges universally weigh grades and the rigor of a student’s transcript more heavily than standardized test scores. Many colleges have incorporated test-optional policies in their admission process, but have you heard of a college not requiring a transcript with a student’s grades? Nope. It doesn’t exist because how a student challenges themself in rigorous classes is seen as the biggest predictor of college success. That doesn’t mean a student with a lower GPA and high test score would never be admitted to a selective college, but it’s less likely.
2. Visiting campuses isn’t worth it.
The best chance for a student to discover if a college is a good fit is to see the campus–especially when students are there. Students need to get a feel for the school size, climate, distance from home, students who attend, etc. This will be their home for four years, so take time to visit. Make a fun family vacation out of it! And as more selective colleges track a student’s demonstrated interest, visiting will show them that you’re a serious candidate.
3. A perfect test score and GPA means you will get admitted to a highly selective college.
Sure, it helps! These colleges aren’t admitting students with low grades and test scores. Still, when a selective college has tens of thousands of applicants with near-perfect scores, it often comes down to the college’s institutional priorities and whether the student fills those. Check out my past blog here, which sheds light on college enrollment priorities and how they affect college admission decisions.
4. A public university is a good bet for getting admitted.
The correct statement here is the public university in your state is a good bet. Public universities are big, so they admit many students, but they also receive a lot of applications. In 2022, The University of Texas-Austin received 66,000 applications. The University of Michigan received 84,000 applications, and UCLA received 149,000 applications. Some public universities admit very low numbers of applicants from outside their state, with admit rates that mirror the Ivies. Take these, for example, from the 2022 freshman class:
Georgia Tech admitted 35% of in-state applicants and only 13% of non-residents
UNC-Chapel Hill admitted 43.1% of in-state applicants and only 8.2% of non-residents
The University of Michigan admitted 40% of in-state applicants and only 17% of non-residents
The University of Virginia admitted 28% of in-state applicants and only 12.5% of non-residents
5. You need a gimmick/take a big risk to stand out in admissions.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard students and parents say XXX was admitted because they ran a successful business/started a nonprofit/were published in the American Medical Journal…the list of insane accomplishments continues. Admissions counselors don’t like gimmicks; they can smell a packaged application or contrived resume from a million miles away because they’ve seen it all. You do you. Do what interests you. And if you think it’s cool, tell them why in your essay and activity list, and admissions officers will think it’s interesting too.
6. Letters of recommendation aren’t important.
Students see this as a necessary part of the process but don’t realize how these letters can impact an admissions decision. A letter that says you’re smart and got an A in the class is great, but I read many compelling letters as a former admissions officer. They tended to say things like this:
I wish my daughter would grow up to be like Alex because she is kind, stands up for other kids who don’t have a voice and looks after her peers. She is a friend to all.
James is among the top 1% of all students I’ve ever taught. My classroom was made exponentially better because of James and his classroom participation.
Rachel is among the most talented and intelligent students I have ever worked with, but most importantly, when she completed her work (which she often did quickly), she spent the rest of her class time helping her peers to make sure they understood the material too.
Colleges are full of smart students; however, they are also looking for students that are also kind, engaged, and collaborative, and letters of recommendation shed light on these characteristics.
I could continue with more college myths, but I don’t want to test your patience. Instead, I encourage you to be a smart consumer, do your research, and let the data speak for itself. Everything I included in this blog is available through a Google search, so check your facts when you hear a rumor, or just contact me. I’ll set you straight.