Myths about college admissions

by Sue Corner,

  • Willamette University

Misconceptions about the college admissions process abound. Sue Corner, Willamette’s senior associate director of admission, debunks 10 of the most popular ones.

1) Private schools are way more expensive than public. 

Not true. 1) Plenty of financial aid and grants are available to all students, especially strong applicants. 2) In Oregon, about 63 percent of students graduate from public colleges in six years, while the same percentage graduates from private schools in four years. Time is money, so you must factor in those additional years of tuition if you are truly comparing costs. 3) Oregon private college students earn 21% more than the national median mid-career salary. 

2) Nobody gets accepted to private schools. They’re too selective. 

Nope. Private schools average an acceptance rate of over 60% of all applicants. A large number of seats exist at excellent private schools; it’s important to think beyond the small percentage that deny 80-90% of their applicants. 

3) College applications are just about the essay. Or extracurriculars. Or test scores. 

Not true. Your transcript is the centerpiece of an application to a selective institution, and course rigor is key. 

The second-best indicator of academic ability is the essay, not test scores, and many colleges and institutions have become test-optional. But remember: the more selective the institution, the more important everything else becomes. 

4) Everything I fill out on the Common Application is sent to every school I apply to using the Common App. 

Common parts of the Common App do land in every school — your biographic information, the lists of activities and classes, and your essay — but there are institution-specific pages for every college. 

Check your choices ASAP to be sure you’ve completed all institutional requirements, including additional written work, on time to meet deadlines.

5) The more schools I apply to, the better. 

Not true. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, you’re not doing your research. Narrow schools down to save unnecessary energy and stress: three reach schools, three fit schools, three safety schools. 

The application process is expensive and time-consuming. Your time is precious and so is ours. 

6) Junior year is the most important for college prep. 

It’s all important. Your GPA includes all four years, so you can’t blow off your first two years of high school and expect your GPA to not be affected. An unusual semester can be explained in the additional section of the Common App or during an interview, but it’s best to tend to your GPA by doing good, solid work from the start.

Academic strength throughout your high school career can only help you. Finish strong, too. Even if a college can’t view senior year grades because you apply early, admission officers can see courses you’re taking — and red flags like early releases, office aid courses and light rigor are noticed.

7) Demonstrating interest will hurt my chances at admission. 

False. Showing a college interest is always helpful, as long as a) it’s genuine b) doesn’t overwhelm the counselor c) it includes a visit and — if possible — an interview, especially at a super selective college. 

8) A college’s admit rate is the best indicator of its quality of education. 

The admit rate is the most easily-manipulated statistic in the world of college admissions. 

Rounding up applications from any and every student just to reject them is sadly something that happens consistently. Ever received a pre-filled out application that was super easy to submit? That college can count you as an applicant, even if you don’t complete the form, and adjust their statistics accordingly. Some college rankings, including the popular U.S. News and World Report, use admit rate as less than 1% of their calculation when determining rankings - because it really doesn’t tell you anything about quality.

Willamette does not engage in these practices. The best way to gauge an institution’s quality is by its student profile, quality and engagement of faculty, alumni outcomes and student opportunities. 

9) Campus visits aren’t necessary. I can just drop in or visit after I’m admitted. 

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to take a truly informative tour, meet with a representative or sit in on a class — especially at a highly selective school before an admission decision is made. If you’re really interested in a college, plan a visit.

10) The only point of the application process is to get into a college. 

False. The primary goal of your college search is to earn your degree while experiencing a thriving, rewarding educational journey that equips you for the next phase of your life. Applying to places where you will continuously thrive is crucial.

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