The Six Most Common College Admissions Myths

Everyone has an opinion about college admissions. Your teacher tells you that your grades are most important to universities, while a coach may tell you that sports matter more. A friend says that joining multiple extracurriculars got her into college, while another argues that leadership roles are more helpful.

It can be hard to separate college admissions myths from reality because the myths are so prevalent. To help you out, we’re busting the most common admissions myths and revealing the truth instead:

College Admissions Myth #1: You have to have perfect grades or test scores to get into college.

In reality, the vast majority of admitted students didn’t have perfect grades or test scores. Many even had a few failing grades or a low GPA.

The important thing to know is that universities are looking for well-rounded classes. Your academic history is not the only thing you can contribute to a school. You can also share your extracurriculars, hobbies, passions, and talents with your classmates. Admissions committees don’t only want to admit students with perfect grades; they want students with a variety of skills and accomplishments.

College Admissions Myth #2: Perfect grades/test scores are all you need to get into a top school.

This myth goes hand-in-hand with Myth #1. Most admissions committees in the US use a “holistic admissions process.” That means that they evaluate many elements of an applicant’s file to decide whether to admit the applicant. Those elements include grades, test scores, extracurriculars, family background, essays, and interviews.

Admissions committees use holistic evaluation methods because they want to build a well-rounded class. They believe college students learn a lot from each other so they admit students with a diverse range of interests and experiences.

If you have perfect grades, you should still be proud of your accomplishment! However, be sure to emphasize the other experiences and accomplishments in your life that you can contribute to your class at a top school as well.

It is important to note that this myth mainly applies to the most competitive colleges. Most universities eagerly accept applicants with perfect grades and test scores as long as the other parts of their application don’t have glaring problems. Some even offer automatic merit scholarships for high GPAs and SAT/ACT scores.

Basically, while perfect grades and test scores don’t guarantee admission to top schools, they still give you an advantage. That advantage is higher at less selective schools.

Four students work on reading and math at a table.
Academics aren’t the only thing that admissions committees care about.

College Admissions Myth #3: Your interests aren’t important to colleges.

Whether you’re interested in musical theater, astrophysics, cooking, or sports, universities want to hear about it. Admissions committees are looking for students with different interests and passions. That way, students can gain exposure to new subjects through their friends and classmates.

However, it’s important to note that sharing your passions is most helpful when the school has a club, class, or other activity that matches them. That way, the university knows that you can continue pursuing what interests you most in college.

For example, if you’re passionate about the environment and the university has a Recycling Club, Climate Advocacy Group, and Environmental Science major, the admissions committee will know that the school can provide a lot of resources for you.

However, if you love football and you’re applying to a tiny liberal arts college without a football team, talking too much about your love for the game may lower your chances of admission.

It’s important to share your interests, but make sure that your target universities would give you opportunities to pursue at least some of them.

College Admissions Myth #4: You have to have struggled or undergone some hardship to write strong college essays.

This is one of those myths that just will not fade. It has been around since we were applying to college!

Writing a college essay about a hardship you overcame can be really powerful. For example, if you suffered a serious illness or worked through high school to support your family, that experience likely taught you many lessons that the admissions committee would want to know about. However, you should always focus on how you overcame the hardship and what it taught you instead of dwelling on how difficult the situation was. It’s important to tell an uplifting story that shows your resilience to inspire the admissions committee.

If you’re struggling to find an example of a hardship you’ve lived through, don’t write a hardship essay. Writing a hardship essay about a “first-world problem,” like getting a “B” or being the last of your friends to get a smartphone, could seriously harm your chances of getting in.

While essays about overcoming hardships are powerful, essays about experiences that have made you who you are or ideas that interest you can be equally powerful. Don’t feel that you have to write one type of essay to maximize your chances. The essay topic that presents your unique experiences the best is the right topic to choose.

“Don’t try to follow the path that got someone else into college; what worked for them may not work for you.”

College Admissions Myth #5: Quantity of extracurriculars is more important than quality.

Quality definitely wins over quantity in your extracurriculars. It is better to hold leadership roles in a few extracurriculars than to participate in several.

Since many high schools have community service and extracurricular requirements, it is common for applicants to volunteer and join clubs or sports teams. However, it is less common for students to spend years working with one specific organization or gain leadership experience in a few key clubs. This focus shows passion and dedication, two important traits schools look for.

Thus, holding leadership roles or working with a few organizations for a long time can set you apart from other applicants and show that you’re an excellent candidate.

College Admissions Myth #6: College visits don’t matter.

Actually, college visits are an incredibly important part of the admissions process, both for the admissions committee and for you.

Universities are ranked in part based on yield, the number of admitted students who attend their school. As such, admissions committees constantly look for signs that you are interested in their school. Applicants who visit a university have a higher chance of attending than applicants who don’t. As such, admissions committees slightly favor applicants who have visited.

However, visits are even more important for you. Each college has a distinct culture and climate that is tough to grasp without experiencing it firsthand. Visiting a college may make you realize that it is your dream school, or that you would never be happy there. As such, it’s better to visit before you apply or, more importantly, before you choose to attend.

If you don’t have the time to visit campus, try to attend a webinar and/or college fair in your area for every university you target. Local events and webinars are the next-best options to show colleges your interest in the school.

You should also see if you can speak to any current students or alumni at the schools you plan to apply to. Members of the school’s community can help you figure out if the school’s culture would be a good fit for you. Also, mentioning that you have spoken with current students and alumni in your application can show your interest in the specific university. You should look for alumni of your high school, extracurriculars, or other contacts who have gone to the schools you’re targeting. Additionally, the university’s admissions or affinity groups may be able to help introduce you to a current student.

The Takeaway

You’re going to hear a lot of myths, half-truths, and straight-up mistruths as you’re applying for college. If in doubt, you should look at the advice of the admissions committees from the schools you’re applying to. They will tell you what they want to see in information sessions, interviews, blog posts, and the application itself.

Don’t try to follow the path that got someone else into college. What worked for them may not work for you. If you put your best work into your applications and show your unique passions, interests, talents, and accomplishments, you will maximize your chances of getting into your dream school(s)!


What is the most outrageous admissions myth you’ve ever heard? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by Matthew Henry from Burst

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