A word to college-bound seniors

Natalie Herzig

     It is fall of senior year. The last of our carefree childhood days, right? Wrong. For many of us planning to go to college next year, this is a period of frantic stress. A time where we slip beneath the undertow of the vast ocean that is college admission– lost, disoriented and wondering how high school slipped by us so fast. We realize that, while some students were busy being presidents, scholars, athletes, musicians and published authors, we were watching Lost, courting potential significant others and sleeping. A lot. But all is not lost…Here I am busting a few myths about what colleges are truly looking for.

 Myth: Colleges want to keep you out.

     Hype tells you that colleges have their pick of students and, if you aren’t some hotshot with a résumé a mile long, you have no chance of getting in. The truth is, colleges want you just as much as you want them, and spend millions of dollars in marketing just trying to find you! The general rule is 70-70. 70 percent of colleges accept more than 70 percent of their applicants. And, just because a college doesn’t reject many applicants, doesn’t mean it is a bad college. There are thousands of colleges out there that provide solid educations while still accepting a large number of applicants.

Myth: Competitive colleges only take geniuses.

     A competitive college is one that rejects more than 35 percent of its applicants. Competitive colleges usually attract students with GPAs over 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale), SAT scores above 1100 (excluding writing) or ACT scores above 20 and a class rank in the top 25 percent. In the large scheme, many students do this well, and these are by no means impossible scores to get, so you might be a contender for a competitive college. But if you are not, every competitive college has and will lower their academic standards when they find a student who has the academic and personal characteristics they are seeking.

Myth: Colleges don’t care who you are, they only look at the numbers.

     To say that Deans of Admission see teenagers as one big raving clump of band t-shirts, skateboards, long hair and immaturity—separated only by differences in test scores, is totally false. It is true that teenagers are far more influenced by their peers than any other age group; this means college admission counselors love to see you do something unusual. Take this opportunity to try a new activity that an adult would do. For example—pick up quilting, learn a few patterns and send a picture along with your application. This will make you stand out in the crowd as quirky and interesting. Start a business! Start a club, anything! But beware; experienced resume readers will be able to spot your superficial involvement in an activity, instead of real interest. But they will love to see you stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing unusual activities.

Myth: Colleges only want people from inside their state.

     Most students attend college within a few hours of their home, so colleges in your “zone” get a lot of applications from similar people. But rest assured; if you are not within a college’s zone, the college is more likely to be interested in you. The reason is simple: a diverse campus enhances education. If all things were equal, a college in Missouri would rather take a student from Alaska than its own zone. When you break out of your zone, colleges will be intrigued. If you show that you can bring diversity to the campus, colleges will want you. The primary zones to break are geographic, ethnic, academic and socioeconomic.

Myth: Students need to be involved in as many activities as they can handle.

     These days, it seems like student pile on as many resume-building activities as possible. The more the merrier, right?  Wrong. Again, colleges will be able to detect superficial involvement. If your strength is writing and but you are a member of the mathematics club, science club, debate team and interpretive dancing club (okay, that one isn’t real, but you get the point!) then you are going to look scattered instead of a focused student. And guess what! With all your activities, you won’t have time to hone in on your writing talent. If you are on the literary criticism team, and are taking creative writing and AP English, those activities might be more beneficial and more impressive to colleges who are looking for new writing talent.  Admissions officers would rather see you excel in one club, rather than just show up at ten.

Myth: Volunteer work will show colleges that you are a stand out character.

     In the past, desperate college applicants would jazz up their applications with a little volunteer work–working in a soup kitchen or cleaning up trash in public parks. But nowadays, you’d be better off tidying up your own bedroom. Colleges are aware that many high schools enforce community service requirements, and they’re especially wary of students who volunteer their time for the sake of transcripts.

     Bruce J. Breimer, head of college guidance at the prestigious Collegiate School, said “One admissions officer told me, ‘If I read another essay about kids building houses in Costa Rica, I’m going to scream.'”

Myth: You should attend the most prestigious university you can get accepted to.

     You should go to the college that “fits” you best. If it happens to be prestigious, that’s fine. However, fit has to do with how you feel when you are on campus. A college or university that works with how you learn and how the professors teach, along with the amount of academic pressure you can handle. If the college isn’t a good match, you will be unhappy regardless of the prestige. Even in our label conscience culture, you can get a great education from a college that isn’t well known.

     Good luck! Personally, I plan on joining the circus…