Countdown to College: Misconceptions about the college admissions process

There are many misconceptions associated with the college admissions process.

College admissions are a little mysterious because decisions, particularly at the most selective colleges and universities, are not solely based on statistics. Students and parents will hear, and then love to pass along, stories of students who surprised everyone by getting into “uppity numero uno school” when so-and-so with stronger grades and test scores was rejected.

I explain to them, just as they heard on every campus visit, that many college admissions decisions are holistic. That means that colleges are looking at the objective characteristics (grades, courses, GPA, test scores and rank in class) as well as a student’s subjective characteristics such as extracurricular activities, community service and at many schools, essays and letters of recommendation.

So when I saw this Facebook post on the misconceptions about the college admissions process, I was intrigued. What’s interesting about these comments is that they are from high school counselors, college admissions professionals and independent educational counselors, many of whom are veterans in their field:

Post: What are the greatest misconceptions about the college admissions process?

Responses: That “full rides” are in abundance at many institutions. That getting a “full ride” is incredibly common.

That the college is always cheaper if you’re in-state, whether it’s public or private.

That their child is somehow different from every other student and the colleges will see how special he/she is and overlook little details like grades, test scores and activities.

That a high GPA and strong test scores are enough.

That “knowing someone” helps.

That there are only 50 or so colleges in the country worth going to.

That the marketing materials kids receive means that the colleges are “recruiting” them.

That a conversation with a buddy about his or her kids’ college search now qualifies them as an expert on college admissions policy and strategy.

That there is a formula they can follow that will guarantee their child admission.

That being from a certain ethnic background will get you in – or keep you out.

That because X from their school got in last year and their child has a higher SAT score, GPA or extracurricular prestige, their child will be admitted as well.

That because you have never heard of a school means it is inferior or that if a student goes to a non-name-brand school they will not be a success or get a job.

The reality: Don’t believe everything you hear. That’s an old piece of wisdom worth listening to.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;