Originally Posted: Oct 5, 2015
Last Updated: May 27, 2016
As the college application season gets underway, many students struggle with anxiety. Who hasn’t nervously sat biting their nails, staring at the Common App on their computer screen? After all, they’ve heard a lot about the college search and admission process over the years—some of it helpful, but some pure myths. Here I’ve debunked nine of the most common college admission myths.
Myth #1: You should take easy classes to maintain a high GPA
Some students avoid taking honors or AP classes because they are afraid of ruining their perfect academic record. Sure, it’s nice to have a long list of A’s parading down your transcript, but where those A’s came from matters as much as the grades themselves. Colleges love students who sign up for challenging courses because it shows that they welcome intellectual stimulation, they aren’t afraid of challenges, and they can do well under academically rigorous environments. Admission counselors look at the classes available at your high school, and if you sailed through, getting perfect grades in the least-challenging classes, they know you didn’t try your hardest. Also, keep in mind that receiving a B in honors or AP classes may not actually lower your GPA. Every high school has its own system, but typically, extra (weighted) GPA points are awarded for rigorous courses.
Myth #2: Phenomenal standardized test scores guarantee admission
Extraordinary SAT or ACT scores can certainly boost your chances of admission—but they do not guarantee anything. Each year, Harvard University literally rejects hundreds of students who earned a perfect score on the SAT. But here is a secret about SAT scores: colleges don’t really see any difference between a 2400 and a 2250. Once you score higher than a 750 on each of the three sections on the test, even the nation’s pickiest colleges do not care about how much closer you can get to the “perfect” score. Standardized test scores act less as a critical discerning factor than as a cut-off in the application process. So don’t worry about getting a “perfect” score and instead just try to do the best you can.
Myth #3: A long list of extracurricular activities is always impressive
You know that extracurricular involvement is important. If you have watched any of the YouTube videos, titled “How to Get into BlahBlah College,” you always hear the speaker talk about how he got into the prestigious BlahBlah college by getting super involved in clubs, sports, and even organizations in the community. Unfortunately, many students misunderstand this advice. The long list of extracurricular activities is impressive only as long as it’s meaningful involvement. Serious commitment in one area definitely outweighs superficial participation in several.
Myth #4: Colleges want well-rounded students
How many of you have heard of this myth from your school counselors? At every college prep presentation, counselors emphasize the importance of being well-rounded. You probably believed this one for a while, especially as you read online articles on how every student who got into the Ivy League supposedly accomplished something astonishing in diverse fields. Although it does not hurt to be a Renaissance man or woman, colleges do not expect every student to be the next Leonardo da Vinci. That would be ridiculous. Instead, colleges are looking for a well-rounded class. This is exactly why you should strive to excel in one area, the area you’re most passionate about: colleges want a class of experts, not thousands of students with many shallow talents.
Myth #5: Be modest when writing your college application
Modesty is a great quality to have during most occasions, but not on the college application. You do not want to sound conceited, of course, but at the same time, you should not downplay the significance of your achievements. Your college application is a rare occasion for you to brag about any and all of your amazing accomplishments. It is your moment to shine! Be proud, and show those colleges what a phenomenal person you are.
Myth #6: Recommendations from well-known people enhance your chances of getting accepted
A letter of recommendation from Oprah would be really cool, but it does not hold much merit if you don’t know Winfrey on a personal level. Recommendation letters are meant to provide an insight into your character through the words of people around you. If the person writing the letter does not have much to say about you and your character, their words are pretty useless, indeed. Instead of imploring to receive a letter from your state governor, who happens to be a friend of your parent’s coworker’s neighbor’s son, get sincere recommendations from your closest teachers, employers, or life mentors.
Myth #7: Optional interviews are, well, optional
College websites might say that interviews are optional—but don't write them off so quickly. Even though interviews can be nerve-wrecking, the extra effort devoted to scheduling and attending an interview demonstrates your genuine interest in the college, which admission reps really want to see. Conversing with an alumnus also helps you better understand the school, as you get to listen to stories of real experience. Think of the interview not as an interrogation but as an opportunity to share what makes you such a great fit for the school.
Myth #8: Admission officers never check your social media accounts
You might think they don’t have time to investigate each and every applicant’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and [fill in the blank] accounts, but believe it or not, some colleges have admission teams solely devoted to checking your social media pages. They do not stalk your accounts (phew), but they do check to make sure that they are absolutely clean of anything inappropriate. It might be a good idea to friend your parents on Facebook and have them follow you on Twitter (maybe get them to look over your Instagram pictures, too); if you wouldn’t want your Mom to see it, you probably wouldn’t want an admissions officer to see it either.
Myth #9: You can never get into the college of your dreams
Throw this myth out the window. Right now. You have worked diligently for the past 11 or 12 years of your life, and there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. Let no other myths hold you back. Continue striving for your dreams, and, undoubtedly, you can make them come true.