Five Admissions Process Myths
“If you turn in your application sooner, it shows that you are more serious about the school, right?”
Questions like this always make me scratch my head. But then again, the admissions process is a murky process and full of unknowns. Understandably, it is also a process that lends itself to lots of myths and misinformation. For the past six years, I have worked as both an admissions officer and a high school college counselor. Through these experiences, I have seen the admissions process from both sides. Here are a few of the more common myths that students and families believe to be true:
Myth #1: Turning in your application early will improve your chances of being admitted
This is a common myth, but it is just not true. The logic of this myth is that the files that admissions officers review first will be favored (students don’t want to be reviewed at the end of the reading process when admissions officers have read lots of files). The flaw in this reasoning is that you have no idea when an admissions officer will read your file. Typically, applications are read by state/country and then by high school, and NOT in the order in which they are received.
Bottom Line: You should turn your application in before the deadline and when it is ready.
Myth #2: Early Decision won’t help your admissions chances
This is something that schools will sometimes say, and it is generally false. Early Decision is a binding agreement where a student says “yes, I will absolutely attend your school if admitted.” So, the colleges know that they can “lock” up ED students early on in the admissions process. Here are the 10 schools where Early Decision will help your chances of being admitted the most.
Bottom Line: If your dream school offers Early Decision (and you feel good about financial aid after filling out the Net Price Calculator), then you should apply ED.
Myth #3: The only things that matter are my application and grades
While the application is obviously important (with SATs/grades being the most important part of your application), this is not completely true. Interviews and other forms of demonstrated interest can also impact admissions decisions at many schools. This is something to think about during the fall of your senior year. If there are schools on your list that consider demonstrated interest, you should consider a visit or off-campus/alumni interview. At the very least, you should get on the school’s mailing list and perhaps contact your regional admissions representative.
Bottom Line: Demonstrated interest matters at many schools and can absolutely help your chances of being admitted. Demonstrated “disinterest” can similarly hurt you chances of admission.
Myth #4: Extra letters of recommendation always help
When I worked in admissions, probably the thing that bugged me the most was too many letters of recommendation. If a school asks for one recommendation, then that is all they need. If they will allow you to submit more than one, another rec is fine from a teacher in a different academic discipline. However, it is very, very unusual for extra recommendations beyond two to make any significant difference in an admissions decision. Recommendations from alums or VIPs who really don’t know you are less likely to make a difference.
Bottom Line: In most cases, two teacher recommendations are going to be plenty. If you are considering an extra rec letter beyond that, ask yourself “will this show the admissions committee something really new and important?”. If the answer is “no,” then you probably don’t need the letter.
Myth #5: Acceptance rate = quality of school
This notion that selectivity equates to “better” in terms of education quality is one of the most dangerous myths. Instead of acceptance rate or average test scores, consider outcomes, price, graduation rate, and retention rate (here is some more info on the five stats that matter the most when choosing a college). These are the most meaningful metrics and by using them, students can cut through the myth that selective colleges are always the “best” ones.
Bottom Line: There are so many amazing colleges out there. Focus on finding colleges that are good “fits” and that have a strong record of supporting and graduating students.