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College Admissions: 6 Biggest Lies in College Admissions

Monday, January 09, 2012


Are colleges pulling your tail? Don't get fooled.

Every year, families around the country flock to information sessions and campus tours at colleges. While the vast majority are wonderful, a few misleading themes tend to emerge. For guidance counselors and independent advisors, this can be extremely frustrating as we try to create a realistic picture of the college landscape. Here are a few of the items that I feel families need to be wary of:

“We look at the WHOLE student.”

A parent raises their hand in the information session at a very competitive college and says that Sally has low SAT scores or a less than perfect GPA, and wants to know if she will still be considered. The very diplomatic speaker says “We look at the whole student and all their accomplishments, not just GPA or SAT scores.” I have yet to see a kid with a 3.0 or 500s get into an Ivy League, Stanford, Duke or Georgetown

unless they are a recruited athlete, just played Carnegie Hall, or their uncle donated the library on campus. Yet parents come into my office every month with the unrealistic hope that their child will now be in contention at a college that is ridiculously out of range. The truth is that colleges look at the whole student if your SATs and GPA make the cut, and the bar is VERY high at top colleges. Otherwise, you must have something AMAZINGLY compelling about you to propel you into consideration. Simply loving the guitar or horseback riding, probably isn’t going to do it.

“We only take the strongest candidates during early admissions, and most students should wait to apply during regular decision.”

Look at the numbers; at most colleges the acceptance rate is significantly higher during early action or early decision. Additionally, a large number of spots have been filled after the early round and the pool of candidates applying has increased dramatically. The reality is that in most cases your best chance for acceptance is early, and if you get deferred you have the advantage of a second review. The college also knows that they are a top choice (making you “yieldable”) which is an advantage. Most students who don’t get in early are deferred. If you are outright rejected early, then it was highly unlikely that you would have gotten in during the regular decision round anyhow because you were very far below the consideration bar.

“You need to put in a deposit NOW.”

For colleges with early action or rolling admission, there has been a growing trend to try to secure students before regular decision acceptances come out. Colleges send out a letter stating that you need to put in a deposit ASAP to secure the best dorms and classes (vs. May 1 which is the typical deadline). Knowing who will matriculate from the early pool makes it easier for colleges to assess how many students to accept in the spring, and it helps them sew up top candidates. However, the aggressive nature of the letters has gotten completely out of hand. While this practice has some advantages at a very few schools where dorms can be miles away, depositing early makes very little difference at most colleges. Also, keep in mind that double depositing is not permitted according to the terms of the Common App. So, unless there is a proven reason to send money early, wait until all your acceptances are in and then make your decision and deposit.

“Students should take the most rigorous courses possible.”

This is another common theme at campus information sessions. Parents come back obsessed with their children signing up for every available honors and AP course. The reality is that very competitive colleges do want to see honors and AP courses on your transcript. However, they don’t need to see 5 every year. And unless you are getting a B+ or above in the regular class, you should not be considering a higher level. Top colleges don’t want to see a bunch of B’s in rigorous courses; they want to see mostly A’s. So, balance your course selection to maximize your GPA while challenging yourself in your strongest academic areas. Two or three honors or AP courses a year will usually suffice at competitive colleges.

Mid 50% SAT and ACT ranges.

This is a statistic published in most college guide books and online. While the numbers are real, they are misleading for the nation’s top colleges. You need to keep in mind that last year at Princeton, 37% of the entering freshmen seats went to minority students, 17% to athletes, 13% to legacy applicants and 11% to international students. Not published are the number of spots that were given to the children of faculty or staff, VIP development candidates (non-legacy, high wealth individuals) and performing/visual arts students. Those groups all tend to have lower SAT ranges, and If you don’t fall into one of those categories, then your SATs better be in the top 25% range at Princeton and elite colleges.

Average high school GPA for entering freshmen.

This is another misleading statistic that comes up in information sessions, guide books and online. Sadly, it throws families off-track in both directions. The truth is that there is no standard for how colleges calculate incoming GPA. Some colleges use a weighted GPA, some use unweighted. Some colleges use just the 5 core subjects and calculate the GPA, and others use the GPA straight from the high school transcript including electives. I have seen less competitive colleges with an 80% acceptance rate publish a higher average GPA for entering freshman than highly competitive colleges like Amherst or Vassar.

As with all your major investments and life decisions, you need to do your due diligence and be skeptical of things that sound too good to be true. Most top colleges today have a large marketing machine behind them, and it takes time and knowledge to understand what is true and what is carefully crafted for the consumer.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, individual counseling for college-bound students. http://www.collegeadvisorsonline.com

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