Common College Admissions Myths Debunked by Former Admissions Officers
August 8, 2022
Common College Admissions Myths Debunked by Former Admissions Officers
As you gear up for the upcoming application season you are going to be hearing a lot of rumors and college admissions myths that might stress you out. Do you need a perfect GPA? Do you need to excel at everything? How important is MONEY? To help ease your anxieties we have asked our team of esteemed Former Admissions Officers, or FAOs, from top 10 national universities, liberal arts schools, and Ivy League colleges to debunk some of the most common college admissions myths.
MYTH #1 - True or False: Legacy students have a better chance of admissions
According to our Former Admissions Officers, this one among the common college admissions myths is TRUE. Although many colleges are trying to move away from this model, it remains true at most schools.
While there is a recent trend against considering legacy applicants, legacy consideration persists in many colleges. Moreover, even if a college stated they did not consider legacy in the admission decision, this is always going to stand as a “background” consideration simply because the student’s motivation to attend/matriculate will likely be higher. This is important, particularly in regular decision and waitlist decision cases.
Legacy in college admissions is considered more strongly the closer the alum is to you, such as a parent or a sibling. Often, colleges specify what kind of relationship you must have with an alum to be considered as legacy—and different students define “legacy” differently. For example, Princeton only considers a student as legacy if their parents or step-parents attended the school.
One notable exception is MIT, which has explicitly stated that “MIT doesn't consider legacy or alumni relations in our admissions process.”
MYTH #2 - True or False: You can buy your way into college.
This is one of the most prevalent college admissions myths, especially in light of the 2019 college bribery scandal. According to our Former Admissions Officers, this is FALSE for most of us, with the exception that colleges will ask admissions officers to prioritize and very carefully review the applications of big donors. It depends on the college, but Stanford considers families capable of donating $500,000 or more as big donors. Sometimes families think if they make a gift or donation prior to their student applying it will matter—it will not. But enormous gifts to colleges, like funding entire buildings or having student centers named after you will certainly matter. However, this is not an economic reality for most families of applicants.
MYTH #3 - True or False: There are stereotypical extracurricular activities you should avoid
This particular myth is FALSE if a student is sincerely committed. Some activities like “Habitat for Humanity” or a JV sport your senior year are poked fun at because it’s an easy way for a student to “check off” a box. However, if the student has a real passion in a certain area or interest, all activities are fair game.
If you find an activity meaningful and can explain why then it is good for you to do, it matters! But don’t just do activities because everyone else is doing them.
MYTH #4 - True of False: Debate and MUN are impressive activities for college
FALSE. These are very, very common activities. Unless you're able to achieve unprecedented success, these activities won't help someone stand out very much. While they are nice complementary activities, and add some real skills to a student’s academic life, they are rarely distinguishing. This is particularly true if the student has modest participation or accomplishments in either.
MYTH #5 - True or False: A High SAT score is all you need to get into college
One of the college admissions myths people often subscribe to is that if you have a perfect SAT score you are a shoo in for colleges. This is FALSE. Students with perfect SAT and ACT scores are routinely denied from top schools. Moreover, Your grades and transcript are always going to be more important than test scores. At InGenius Prep, we also talk about something called “threshold SAT/ACT score,” meaning that once you’ve hit a certain score, getting a higher score will not significantly improve your chances of admission. For example, there aren’t any admissions offices that really care about the difference between a 1580 and a 1600 on the SAT. At that point, the rest of the student’s application is what matters.
Testing has never been the most critical factor in this process. Especially with test-optional admissions becoming more common, admissions officers are paying attention to many other factors other than testing to make their admissions decisions. You can learn more about those factors in this blog.
MYTH #6 - True or False: Colleges consider your family’s finances when deciding to admit you
This is TRUE at many colleges. The most competitive and well-endowed schools have need-blind admissions, but most colleges are in fact need-aware. Our FAOs agree that some colleges are “need blind” and make decisions without considering finances. But many are not, and ability to pay will be considered. Colleges will explicitly state on their financial aid offices whether or not they are need blind. Usually, a very quick Google search such as “is Columbia need blind” will give you your answer. You can learn more about the differences between need blind and need aware in this blog.
MYTH #7 - True or False: You need a perfect GPA to be Admitted to Top Colleges
This popular one among college admissions myths is FALSE. Students with perfect GPAs are frequently denied admission to their top choices, while those with “flawed” GPA are admitted to the same colleges. The holistic approach considers well more than the GPA.
The admissions process is not about perfection. AOs want to see that students are taking the most rigorous courses available to them (and having sustained success). While keeping up your grades should always be the priority, make sure that striving for a perfect GPA does not distract you from developing your interests and pursuing impactful activities that AOs will care a lot about.
That said, a perfect GPA doesn’t hurt. If you are looking at the top 25+ colleges, your GPA has to be top-notch.
MYTH #8 - True or False: Volunteer experience is a must
This one is one where our team actually didn’t have consensus! One of our Ivy League Former Admissions Officers said that this is FALSE. Volunteer experience is a nice addition to an extracurricular activity list, but not required. Many students have heavy time commitments in arts/music, theater, or sports and simply cannot fit in more than a few other activities which are often academic clubs. Admissions officers understand a student only has so much time outside of academic study.
However, another admissions officer, from a different Ivy League school, said that this is TRUE! Volunteering is one of the ways that you demonstrate that you care about others. There are many ways to volunteer and have a positive impact serving your community.
While of course it doesn’t hurt, we have seen students be admitted to colleges without volunteering experience. BUT, if the opportunity presents itself, or you are able to seek it out for yourself, you should definitely go for it and do it from the good of your heart rather than pursuing it for an admissions boost.
MYTH #9 - True or False: Demonstrated interest is important
This is TRUE more and more every year. Although the top dozen schools typically do not track demonstrated interest (as they assume everyone is interested in them), colleges do care about their yield, how many accepted students eventually matriculate. Technology has made it very easy for colleges to track your engagement so many do. This can be shown in many ways, including attending info sessions, signing up for emails, attending campus tours, and writing detailed “why school” essays.
MYTH #10 - True or False: You have to be well-rounded, excelling in every area
This is very common among college admissions myths. And it is very much FALSE. This is an old admission philosophy from about 20+ years ago, that even then, was not necessarily true. Colleges want specialists and people that can excel in 1-2 areas, so they can bring something to the campus/community that is different from what other students bring.
What is true is that a student should try not to have a “monolithic” profile with little diversity in academics and/or activities.
MYTH #11 - True or False: AI is becoming prevalent to help admission offices at top 20 schools to filter out applicants
This is FALSE. The human element is very important within the application process, especially at the most selective schools. However, there are schools using AI for chat functionality and/or to better serve students during the summer before they enroll. This seems to be more prevalent in less-selective schools though.
So, no, top schools aren't using AI to read applications but AI might find its way into admission offices in the future.