6 Myths About College Admissions

A college admissions expert debunks the myths and offers counsel

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The college admissions process is competitive and frenzied enough without falling prey to its most insidious myths. Believing any of these lies adds anxiety to an already stressful process, says Josh Bottomly, a college admissions expert and associate director of college counseling at the Casady School, a private prep school in Oklahoma City. And it could actually result in your child being rejected by some or all of his top choice schools.

Myth #1: Only Top Tier Schools Prepare People for Success

"The most pervasive myth in our culture is that only certain schools (aka Ivies) will prepare people for success," says Bottomly. "The underlying idea is that if a student doesn’t graduate from a Top 20 Newsweek-rated college, then they won’t have opportunities for jobs, promotions, and influence. Well, tell that to over half of our U.S. Senators. They graduated from public universities. Tell that to 43 of the top 50 CEO’s in the world. They graduated from schools other than Ivies. Tell that to Condoleezza Rice – a graduate of the University of Denver. Or Steven Spielberg. He was rejected from USC three times. He graduated from Cal State Long Beach. Or Tom Hanks. He attended Chabot Community College. Part of the genius of America is that you can make your destiny by what you do, not where you go to college."

Myth #2: A College Brochure in the Mailbox Means Something

"Too often," says Bottomly, "parents and students will fall victim to college 'attract to reject' marketing campaigns.

Through a flurry of glossy brochures and enticing paraphernalia, colleges will dupe students into believing an acceptance letter ensues. The truth is, the college only wants the application. The more applications a college receives, the more it can reject. The more it rejects, the higher its ranking goes up.

And let’s be honest: college rankings are to Newsweek what the swimsuit issue is to Sports Illustrated. Sex sells. So do rankings."

Myth #3: Applying to More Schools Increases One's Chances

"Sometimes," says Bottomly, "I will run into a parent who thinks he or she has done the math: 'If my student applies to more selective schools, it will increase his chances of getting into one of them.' My response: Imagine you’re an archer. The target stands 1000 feet away. The bull’s eye is the size of a pea. According to Bill Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard, that’s your odds at getting into a Top 20 University – about 3% without an admissions advantage. The fallacy here is to think that if you apply to all 20 schools that you will broaden the bull’s eye. Fitzsimmons' response: All a student has done is drawn a circle around the same pea-size target 20 times. My advice then: shorten the distance to the target and broaden the bull’s eye. The former means, you apply to more schools where your GPA and test scores (ACT or SAT) fall into the median range. The latter means you apply to at least six first choice schools where you are competitive. By doing this, you will significantly increase your chances of hitting your target."

  • Myth #4: Once you send in the application, you're done.
  • Myth #5: Large universities offer more opportunities than small liberal arts colleges.
  • Myth #6: Colleges are looking for well-rounded students.