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Debunking 7 Myths About College Admissions

Student Life

Mon, June 03

As the school year winds down, students, myself included, are beginning to think about their upcoming college applications in the fall. Naturally, the subject of college feels daunting: it's where you'll start your adult life and career, and applying to college is undoubtedly a key milestone in your journey. We're here to help debunk some of the most common myths in applying to college to make the process less scary for you.

#1. More is always better.

The belief in quantity over quality leads many students to include more extracurriculars than they have meaningfully participated in their application or falsify hours they've spent at an activity. It's far better to list extracurriculars because you've accomplished something meaningful within them, not because you want to "pad" your college application. According to a U.S. News & World Report survey, "72 percent of admissions officers prefer that students be consistently involved with one issue over a variety of causes." Therefore, you should only list the most important activities to you, not to hit the 10-activity limit on the Common Application.

#2. GPA/SAT/extracurriculars matter most.

Most colleges practice holistic review, meaning they evaluate your application in the context of your school and unique circumstances. Therefore, it's hard to say which component of your application matters most, as different factors will hold different weights for everyone. This can be frustrating - but it's an important part of holistic admissions.

Furthermore, each college releases a Common Data set, which contains information about which parts of a student's application they consider more important. For example, the University of Chicago ranks high school GPA as "considered" and extracurriculars as "very important," whereas Northeastern University considers high school GPA "very important" and extracurriculars as "important." Therefore, placing equal importance on every part of your application you can control is the best approach.

#3. Colleges prefer the paper SAT over the digital SAT (or the SAT over the ACT).

Most colleges do not have a preference for either standardized test. According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, "colleges don't have a preference between the SAT and ACT." Though many colleges are beginning to reinstate testing requirements, whether you take the test digitally or on paper does not matter. "The College Board's shift to a digital delivery of the SAT will not impact the way in which Harvard reviews test scores within applications," according to Harvard University, which has reinstated test requirements for the 2024-2025 application cycle. So, take whichever exam you think you'll do best on!

The paper SAT is out, the DSAT is in. Image credit: Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu from Unsplash

#4. Submitting your application earlier means a higher chance of acceptance.

In most cases, submitting your application earlier has little to no weight on your decision unless you apply for rolling admissions when a college does not have a set deadline but reviews applications in the order in which they receive them. If your college offers interviews, you may be assigned one before most applicants, but it is unlikely to substantially impact your decision. That said, if you complete your application early, there's also no harm in submitting it before the deadline. Submit your application whenever you feel ready!

#5. You should avoid a cliché topic for your essay.

We've all heard of the clichés: the sports essay, the death of a grandparent essay, the resumé essay. Except for the latter, all of them are perfectly acceptable to write about — so long as you have a unique take. If you have a unique story about any essay topic considered cliché, you should go for it! Don't discount essay ideas just because they've been "overdone." In many cases, having an unconventional take on a cliché essay can be better than inventing an idea that's never been done before and sounding unauthentic.

#6. Interviews don't matter.

While it's true that interviews don't hold as much weight as other application components, showing any "red flags" in your interview will not be ignored by your prospective college. The admissions office considers interviewers' assessments of an applicant, and a very negative impression certainly won't help your case.

Image credits: Christina from Unsplash

#7. "Optional" means "Optional."

While some colleges may have additional supplemental essays or a video portfolio that they state are "optional" for applicants to complete, they are not really optional. You should ensure to complete these application components even if they are not mandatory, as not doing them will make you a less competitive applicant at best and seem like a lack of interest on your part at worst. Similarly, if something is "recommended" but not required, you should also complete it to the best of your ability.

These are some of the most common myths surrounding college applications, especially considering the unique circumstances of the upcoming application cycle. Be diligent about the information you hear online and ensure you are getting it from credible sources, preferably a college's website. Have a restful summer and best of luck!

Jaiden Li

Writer since Apr, 2024 · 1 published articles

Jaiden (Mengan) Li is an aspiring linguist, writer, and computer scientist. Born in China and raised in Singapore, she now lives and attends school in the Greater Boston area. In her free time, she enjoys learning foreign languages, programming, reading [fanfiction], and listening to K-POP.

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