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What Misbeliefs Do Students Have About College Admission?

Students have many misconceptions about college admission. These are the most common ones our experts have come across to help you advise your own students.

Anne Macleod WeeksAnne Macleod Weeks
Upper School Director
The Agnes Irwin School
That they cannot control the outcome. They need to put their best foot forward but also realize that being rejected doesn't mean they failed. They can be perfectly qualified and still not be admitted. This is why it is so important to have a few colleges to which they know they can be admitted and will be happy to attend.

Charlotte M. Klaar, PhDCharlotte M. Klaar, PhD
Klaar College Consulting LLC
The most common misconception is that there is only one thing that is paramount in the process (the essay, or test scores, or that C in French in freshman year). This is definitely not the case! The admission process is multi-dimensional and most colleges look at the student holistically. Everything is taken into consideration; therefore, no element of the application should be left to chance.

Ann HerbenerAnn Herbener
College Counselor
Papillion-La Vista High School
The biggest misconception students have is that private colleges and universities are too expensive. It takes repetition on my part and that of the admission representatives to convince them that private colleges can sometimes be more affordable than public universities. My students and parents often think that it is a waste of time to complete the FAFSA. 

Sandra E. CliftonSandra E. Clifton
Educational Consultant for Social & Emotional Learning
Clifton Corner: An Academic Coaching Center
Sometimes students think that there is a certain template that they need to achieve to be the “right fit” for a school. Ironically, colleges are often looking for the very kid who breaks the mold, not the one who tries to fit into the fold!


Susan M. Hanflik, MEd, CEP
Independent Educational Consultant
I would say the greatest misconception students have is that if they build the perfect profile, they will be assured of gaining admission to their first-choice college. That is absolutely not the case and becomes even less likely with the most selective schools. If, for example, a university has an admission rate of 12%, 88% of the applicants will not be admitted, even though they might be highly qualified and meet the criteria for admission. Several years ago William Fitzsimmons from Harvard University said they had an additional full class of students who were just as qualified as those admitted that they were forced to deny. Colleges and universities have limited space, and their goals are to create a diverse class of students who will be successful students. Student’s goals are to gain admission, and the divergence between the two is obvious.

Stuart NachbarStuart Nachbar

  • That “brand name” schools are the best schools
  • That a school is “good” when it is hard to get into
  • That financial aid is impossible to get, especially merit-based aid
  • That admission officers look for specific answers to essays or admit students based on clever gimmicks
  • That a bad ACT or SAT score is a kiss of death
  • That publicly supported schools will always be less expensive (cost and debt) than private schools

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