College Myths and Facts

It is amazing how many myths and simple untruths we hear, often from well-meaning parents, based on a conversation they’ve overhead at Harris Teeter or in the school parking lot. Many of these myths are related to college admissions. Mrs. Gazmarian (our College Admissions Counselor) and Mr. Greer (our Rhetoric Principal) respond to a few of these myths below:

Myth #1: Students who attend schools with a 10-point scale are at an advantage in the college admissions process.

Fact #1: Many college representatives have shared with us this year that Caldwell’s grading scale (as used in the Dialectic and Rhetoric Schools, with 70 being the lowest passing score)  actually helps our students stand out in the college admissions process. Universities know that grades are inflated throughout the nation and the use of a more lenient grading scale does not give universities greater confidence in a student’s ability. Colleges evaluate transcripts in one of two ways:

  1. The college may recalculate high school transcripts based on the college grading system of a 4-, 5-, or 7-point scale.
  2. Smaller colleges will look at students transcripts in relation to their high school profile (which includes courses offered, the grading scale, and weighting policies).

With the trend of schools inflating their GPAs and using a 10-point scale, it’s no wonder nearly every representative who visits our campus comments on how impressive it is to see our grading scale as well as our expectations for our students (including our literature list and the Senior Thesis).

Myth #2: The college admissions process begins the Senior year.

Fact #2:  High school students actually begin the college process when they enter high school, not when they begin their junior or senior year. Students use all four years of high school to become applicants who are articulate, strong, independent learners, well-matched to the colleges and universities they are considering. In the ninth-grade year, students should develop an academic plan with tangible goals as well as appropriate strategies necessary to succeed academically and socially. It’s not a good idea to try to cram every extracurricular activity and honors class into what is usually an already-crowded senior year! Schools are looking for applicants whose resume reflects balance and consistency, so students must work hard to make a strong start to their freshman year in order to avoid having to scramble to bounce back from a shaky beginning to high school. When students pace themselves and deliberately participate in a variety of activities throughout all four years, they are better able to discover their greatest passions and talents, as this process takes time. Furthermore, they should allocate the summer between their junior and senior years to select and apply to schools (when they have additional free time to produce well-written essays). Summers should also be used for shadowing opportunities and part-time jobs, as colleges are very interested in students who have these types of experiences

Myth #3: High scores on the SAT/ACT are the most important way to ensure a student’s acceptance into a selective school.

Fact #3: This myth is especially prevalent among high school students and parents. While excellent test scores can certainly highlight a student’s strengths, a student’s academic transcript is actually one of the most important components of the overall application. Colleges always compare a student’s transcript to the courses that are offered at that particular school. In other words, a college will not compare a Caldwell transcript to the list of class offerings at another school. A student’s transcript demonstrates his or her diligence, fortitude, and commitment (or lack thereof) over multiple years, as opposed to one test score on a given day. Colleges know the top classes that we offer in each subject area and they will, therefore, compare a Caldwell transcript to this list of classes. Similarly, a strong interview will not make up for poor grades and a weak transcript. While a strong interview can help a student who is a borderline admission for a school, relying on an interview to rescue a weak transcript is ill-advised.

Myth #4: The more extracurricular activities, the better the college application.

Fact #4: This commonly held belief is absolutely not true. Colleges work hard to build a well-rounded freshman class with applicants who have a demonstrated passion and commitment in specific areas. Students who have invested greatly in one or two activities, earning leadership positions and/or making significant contributions, are far more impressive to a college than students who simply have a laundry list of activities but little depth and influence.

In today’s culture the vast majority of college applicants will appear overqualified for many of the schools to which they apply and they will have participated in numerous extracurricular activities and experiences. The admissions officers, therefore, are looking for students who have held a significant leadership role in an extracurricular activity or who have played a significant role in a major project. Again, it’s much better for a student to invest deeply in a particular area, thereby becoming a person of influence.

With regard to community service, colleges are generally not impressed with short-term projects or one-time acts of service. Instead, schools tend to favor students who have invested time and energy over several years, or who have gone “above and beyond” in their commitment, showing tremendous passion and sacrifice in their areas of involvement.

Myth #5: A college sent me information, so it is likely to accept me if I apply.

Fact #5: The first time a student completes a standardized test (including the PSAT or ACT), his/her name and contact information are shared with many college admissions offices. These days, it is very common for schools to distribute a plethora of informational posters, calendars, view books, and other information related to their programs. While this information can be extremely helpful, students who receive it should remember that it is part of a general marketing process aimed at a large number of students from which a college or university can choose its ideal candidates for admission. Also, every application fee received as a result of this marketing adds to revenue.  Another “bonus” is that  turning down a fairly large percentage of applicants can actually increase a school’s rankings (by decreasing the percentage of students it accepts). While a school may be accepting the same number of students from year to year, if more students apply than in previous years, the lower percentage of acceptances makes the school appear more selective.

Myth #6: There’s one perfect school for me.

Fact #6: While a student will definitely want to apply to schools that are a good match, no single college ranks the status of “soulmate.” Yes, one’s school selection is an important decision, but there are many great schools that can be a blessing to any student. In the college admissions process, students should not be afraid to play the field. An applicant who believes there’s only one school for him or her really hasn’t taken time to explore the many options that are available. This is not to say that a student shouldn’t have a preferred school or schools, but instead to emphasize that the best college fit is one that supports a student’s long-term goals. For example, when graduate school is part of a student’s plan for the future, it’s important for that student to be in the top 20 percent of the class and earn a 3.5+ GPA as an undergrad, as well as having opportunities for internships. In addition, it’s important that a follower of Christ consider the spiritual life of a campus, as these students should consider schools and communities where they can grow in their faith and serve the Lord. Overall, the admissions process is multidimensional, so rather than focusing on a search for one school that seems perfect, having a Top 3 or Top 5 list can prevent a lot of anxiety during the application process. Remember, what you do in college is more important than where you go to college.

Myth #7: I will save time and visit schools after I get accepted.

Fact #7: Schools actually keep track of how many times a student has contacted them and whether that student has arranged for a campus visit. In addition, they often show favor to students who have taken the initiative to contact their assigned admissions counselor to ask questions and gather information. Any student who is “on the bubble” in terms of grades and test scores but has his or her heart set on attending a specific university should make every effort to visit the campus, ask questions, and show interest in and appreciation for all of the help the admissions office has to offer. Universities like to enroll students who are very excited to be part of their student body. In addition, part of a college’s prestige comes from itsyield rate, which refers to the number of accepted applicants who actually enroll. Generally speaking, colleges accept a certain number of students knowing that only a portion of that pool will actually matriculate (enroll and subsequently attend the school). The closer the number of matriculations to the number of acceptance letters sent by a school, the better the school looks and, oftentimes, the higher its rankings climb. When the admissions officers feel confident that a student will matriculate if sent an acceptance letter, that student gains a significant edge over one who seems uninterested or lacks enthusiasm.

Myth #8: My social media accounts don’t matter.

Fact #8: Actually, a student’s social media accounts matter a great deal! Admissions officers often research prospective students, especially if they are applying for prestigious scholarship awards at their school. Any and all information that is publicly available about a student (yes, this includes the Internet) is fair game for an admissions team and their evaluation procedures. Think of social media as an extension of one’s activities list or resumé. This means students need to be conscious of the nature of their current posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other social media outlets they frequent, and they even need to go back and clean up their accounts with an eye to the tone and attitude they convey, whether intentional or not. It goes without saying that any questionable pictures, objectionable comments, or generally unkind posts should be deleted, as they can cost students scholarship money or even admission into a first-choice school (not to mention that they should never have been there in the first place).

 

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