Admissions Mythbusters: The College Transitions Edition – Part 1
This myth remains pervasive among nervous applicants and their families. Sadly this misconception usually ends with many applicants entering their admissions interviews dressed in a safari outfit while simultaneously riding a unicycle, playing a didgeridoo, and explaining their design plans for a Super Soaker that combats diabetes. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but the bottom line is that well-roundedness is a gravely misunderstood concept.
It is true that college admission committees seek to have well-rounded classes comprised of individuals who have a serious passion for something – but this can be and usually is just one thing. There is absolutely no need to engage in activities for the sake of padding your application. Plus, playing an oversized Australian wind instrument without proper footing is a major safety hazard.
Myth #2: Recommendation letters from influential figures will help my admissions chances.
Local members of congress must employ a secretary whose sole job responsibility is the mass production of generic college letters of recommendation for the children of their influential constituents. Parents with connections often think that such letters from government officials, celebrities, or other notable public figures will give their kids a big edge in the high-stakes battle for admissions at prestigious schools. In a majority of cases, this simply isn’t true and the insight added by these recommendations is rarely anything other than superficial.
Think about it. Let’s say that a given congresswoman actually met your child once or twice a fundraiser. What insight could they possibly provide that would not be otherwise evident in the admissions portfolio? “So and so is committed to community service.” Great, an admissions officer could glean that same information in a more genuine, thorough way from a teacher or school guidance counselor who watched your commitment to service grow over a period of years. Same goes for letters from other influential folks your parents might happen to know. What is more likely to persuade a committee to accept an applicant interest in a history major: An enthusiastic letter from Doris Kearns Goodwin saying that you have great potential as a historian or a transcript filled with AP history classes and a beautifully written essay? Common sense tells you the answer.
Myth #3a & 3b: Not getting into an elite college will prevent you from future success/Getting into an elite school will ensure your success
Research has shown that student ability (as measured by high school GPA and SAT scores) has a higher correlation with future income than the name on their college diploma. In other words, intelligent people with strong work habits are equally successful whether they complete their undergraduate work at Stanford, Seton Hall, or Salisbury University. The flip side here is that students who think an acceptance letter to an elite school is their meal ticket for life are quite mistaken. People in the real world don’t want to hear where you went to school every five minutes; they want to see evidence of your skills and work ethic. For proof, check out this excellent clip of the Nard Dog.
It is also important to remember that if you plan to go into a competitive field like, for instance, the legal profession, the graduate school you attend may end up opening more doors than your undergraduate institution. To this point, any guesses what Rutgers, Patrick Henry University, University of Montana, SUNY Albany, and the University of Oklahoma all have in common? The answer: They all saw members of their class of 2013 go on to Harvard Law School.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent education consultant. He is a co-author of the book The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).