There are so many misconceptions about the college admissions process and how to get into a good college, but we only have time and space for six major ones:
#1 I’m too poor to attend a good college.
Fact: Many of the top colleges are need-blind, and many of them meet 100 percent of demonstrated need. So, it could happen that an elite private school is less expensive than your state university. Going to Middlebury was cheaper for me than going to the University of Vermont as an in-state student would have been.
Some elite schools spend a lot of effort recruiting and then supporting low-income and first-generation college students. In the current freshman class at Middlebury, 17.5 percent are first-generation college students.
#2 My family makes too much to qualify for financial aid.
Fact: There is no maximum income amount for qualifying for financial aid. Every student should fill out the FAFSA. Only 75 percent of families sending students to college fill out the FAFSA, and that’s a mistake.
FAFSA can determine eligibility for some merit-based aid and student loans. So fill it out. And it has to be filled out all four years. Families can qualify for aid with higher incomes if they’re sending students to schools with higher tuitions. They might not qualify for, say, aid from a public university, but they might qualify for aid from an elite private institution.
#3 A good college wants well-rounded applicants.
Fact: Elite colleges want well-rounded classes. They want a freshman class with diverse interests. But they want each individual student to have a deep commitment to their interests. I was a state champion debater and a talented golfer. My freshman roommate was a state championship fencer.
The Common App has room for 10 extracurricular activities. It’s a mistake to fill all of them. College admissions officers know when you are padding your resume. You won’t enjoy all those activities. Find maybe two that you’ll truly enjoy.
# 4 Grades and test scores are everything to a good college.
Fact: There are other factors. There are admissions calculators on the Internet that give you a percentage chance based on your GPA and ACTs or SATs. They give the impression that those are the key factors.
But admissions officers also look for academic rigor. They look for growth. They look increasingly for character. Essays, recommendations, and interviews bring out those things.
# 5 I should play it safe with my essay.
Fact: An effective college essay makes parents nervous. You want to stand out. Obviously in a good way. You need a hook for your essay. You need to grab your admissions officer’s attention in less than the average 4-6 minutes it takes them to read a whole application and hold it for more than that average 4-6 minutes.
Do NOT make your essay a repeat of your resume. Ziad Ahmed got into Stanford by writing “#BlackLivesMatter” a hundred times in response to one of his essay prompts. We don’t recommend that degree of boldness, but just as you have stretch schools, why not have stretch essays?
# 6 SATs and ACTs are going away.
Fact: With the pandemic closing down test centers, many colleges have become test-optional, but only temporarily. And now that test centers have been reopening, scoring highly on the tests and then reporting your scores will really give you a leg up.
By junior year, test prep is the best way to boost your chances of getting accepted to a top college. It’s extremely difficult by then to raise your GPA by much. But with a little effort, you can raise your test scores significantly.
Ignore the myths. Find a good admissions consulting professional who can guide you. Give it your best shot.