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Common Myths about College Admission in the U.S.

When it comes to college admissions, myths take on a life of their own. Many of the myths have deep roots and, if taken to heart when applying to schools, can hinder a student’s application.
By GPA Admin

Common Myths about College Admission in the U.S.

Myth #1: The longer the list of clubs, activities, and community service, the better you look to admissions committees

Many students believe that admissions committees are looking for individuals who are involved in most if not all aspects of student life including academic and special interest clubs, sports, extracurricular activities, and volunteering. However, that isn’t the case. Admissions committees are not impressed by a student with a cluttered application and a laundry list of activities. When they review applications, they are looking for students who are dedicated and take deep interests in fewer activities rather than someone with a superficial interest in a wide range of noncorrelated extracurriculars; students who show they are passionate about that subject and who strive to take initiative and leadership roles. They want a well rounded freshman class as a whole and not just a class full of well-rounded students.

Admission committee members can see past the cluttered applications and long lists of activities. What they are looking for is the length of involvement. They can tell when a student gets involved in something simply because they want to add to their resume. In the end, sticking with activities for multiple years with which you are generally interested in appeals more to the committee above over-involvement.

Myth #2: Recommendation letters from high profile individuals improve your chances of acceptance

Parents tend to think that the more important the person who write the recommendation letter, the better the chances of their child being admitted to the school of their choice. While this is not necessarily false, letters of recommendation should come from those that know the student personally. This could be normal people like teachers, employers, or mentors and not necessarily any high profile individuals. Certainly, a recommendation letter from President Obama would help if the president knows you well; however, if it compliments you as a math genius while you are anything but, chances are even the President may not be able to help you gain admission to your dream college. What the admission officers are looking for are letters with substance rather than vague letters from high profile people that do not really say anything much about the student. They want to know about the student and whether or not those individuals in their life feel they would be a positive contribution to the school.

Likewise, submitting more than the required number of letters does not necessarily improve acceptance chances either. For instance, if both President Obama's and your Math teacher's recommendations state that you are a Math genius, that would be rather redundant. Unless you feel that the extra recommendation letters will give the admission committee a clearer and more comprehensive picture of you as a whole person, it is no point to have more recommendations that will probably dilute your application and even hurt your chance.

Myth #3: The more information you send with my application, the better you look to the committee

Sending in more information than what the application asks for could potentially be a hindrance to a good application if the extra information provided is not important or significant enough. Students and parents often think it is necessary to send in copies of academic certificates or achievement awards, sports awards, etc or extra letters of recommendation to make the student stand out. On the one hand, these certificates and letters may corroborate with other required parts in the application to allow the admission officer to have better understanding of the student. On the other hand, overdoing it may create a negative impression and/or annoy the admission officer who don’t really have the time to spend pouring over scanned awards or additional letters that are mostly irrelevant to the student's application.

Myth #4: Test scores are more important than essays

According to articles from both Forbes magazine and The Washington Post, essays do indeed matter on college applications. Many students believe that test scores make or break the application and then make the mistake of writing their essays last minute or throwing them together in very little time. They do not take the time to really think about the question, come up with a good topic, and to even edit their piece before submitting their application. However, a poorly written essay with bad grammar and many typos can really hinder an application if not rule it out all together.

This does not mean that a student shouldn’t try on their exams. The exam scores are still important. The essay, however, is a large part of the application. They are generally more important than your list of extracurricular activities.

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