As you engage in the college search, it is important to remember that this process is the subject of much speculation both in the media (which tends to sensationalize it) and amongst the general public. Because there is so much folklore surrounding college admissions, there are a number of falsehoods that get generated and taken for truths. Some “college myths” to be aware of:
“There is only one ‘dream school’ for me”
Not so! There are close to four thousand colleges and universities in the United States (not to mention many fine institutions in Britain, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, etc.). There is no “perfect school” out there; each has advantages and disadvantages, and any number of institutions could be a great match for you. Keep an open mind as you search, and work towards putting together a list of top choices that you will apply to.
“If I (my parents, my neighbor) haven’t heard of a college, it can’t be very good”
People tend to know just a few schools – the Ivies and some athletic powerhouse schools. There are many, many excellent schools that will provide you with a top-notch education and endless opportunities for academic and personal growth. Be open to learning about the wonderful possibilities out there!
“Financial aid is a concern for me, so I will only apply to inexpensive schools”
While the cost of attending college is, indeed, expensive, you should be sure to keep your options open by looking into financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Sometimes students find that they are offered more need-based aid from a more expensive college that pledges to meet full need than from a less expensive college that does not promise to meet full need. Do your research, and keep an open mind. If you click “Paying”, and then “Financial Aid by the Numbers” on the College Board Big Future website feature of a particular college, you will find the following information (we used George Washington University as an example, here):
“I need to figure out what I am going to major in and then pick a college based on that”
The vast majority of high school students can’t predict with accuracy what their college majors and subsequent careers will be (with the exception of a few students who have “always known” that they want to be an artist, an engineer, or some other specific choice). Since most high school students have only taken courses from a limited number of disciplines, how can they know if their academic passion lies in anthropology, art history, or finance? The majority of college students change their major one or more times from their original plan; their exposure to the vast array of curricular offerings leads them in a new direction. Be aware of this as you engage in the college search!
“I plan to only visit colleges once I am accepted. Why bother taking the time/spending the
money to visit if I don’t know if I have a spot there?”
First of all, visiting a college (after doing substantial research about it and determining that it is a good match for you) can often clarify whether a school should remain on your “apply list.” In addition, many colleges use “demonstrated interest” (that is, any “interest” an applicant shows them) when making admissions decisions. There are many ways to demonstrate interest, among them: by opening the emails colleges send you (yes, they can track this!) and, if appropriate, responding to them; by attending their Admissions Officer visits to HB or the receptions and open houses they host in the local community; and by visiting college campuses and taking part in tours and information sessions (especially if the campus is relatively close by). While there are some schools who say they don’t track demonstrated interest, many are open about the fact that they actively gauge a student’s interest in – or likelihood of attending – the school and make admissions decisions that are skewed -- when all other things are equal – to those who have visited campus.
“ONLY applicants with perfect SATs and a 4.3 GPA get into school X”
While there are certainly trends in the grade point averages and test scores of admitted applicants to individual schools, one look at the Naviance Scattergrams (graphs which track, anonymously, the GPA’s and test scores of HB applicants to a particular school during the last three admission cycles, along with their admission decisions) shows that a range of students get into a variety of schools. Your goal is to identify schools that will be a good fit for you, making sure that you apply to at least two schools that you are likely to get into based on objective information, with a full complement of possible/middle schools (roughly a 50-50 chance) and reach schools (roughly less than a 30 percent chance of admission based on objective data). Refining this list comprises much of the work of the fall semester with your college counselor.