Green Ivy has worked with students on their college applications for about two decades, so we have heard our share of myths, rumors, and misconceptions about the college admissions process. To help you keep things in perspective, we wanted to write about the five myths we hear most often, and explain why they don’t hold true.
The essays don’t really matter and/or no one reads them. Given the pace at which admissions officers have to work through applications, there is a chance that if your scores and GPA don’t meet a school’s benchmarks, your essays won’t be read. However, they are still a crucial aspect of admissions because they tell a student’s unique story in his or her own voice, which can set the student apart. For instance, a compelling essay can tip admissions in favor of a student whose numbers are borderline or make a top student stand out from other applicants with similar grades and test scores.
Speaking of college essays, you should focus only on your accomplishments and never write about failure. This one is wrong on both counts. The last thing admissions officers want is a rehash of your resume or activities list, as they already have that information. Also, writing about all the things you’ve done well doesn’t usually leave a lot of room for self-reflection or insight, which are important characteristics to showcase in application essays. In our experience, the most powerful essays are often written about a student’s vulnerabilities or how he or she coped in a challenging time and experienced personal growth.
The more activities and hours of community service on your application, the better. Admissions officers and colleges value depth over breadth when it comes to a student’s extracurricular activities. You are better off pursuing one or two activities that you love instead, and deepening your commitment to them over time. This shows maturity and responsibility, two other characteristics that colleges look for in admissions.
You are better off taking as many AP classes as you can, even if your grades suffer. This one is tricky, because it’s true that colleges like to see students challenge themselves in high school. However, selective schools aren’t crazy about seeing grades below a B, and if a student is struggling in more than one tough class, taking too many isn’t beneficial. Each student has to find the right balance in terms of class selection, but if you don’t feel you can get a B or better in a higher-level course, then it probably makes sense to take the regular class.
Admissions officers don’t look at applicants’ social media profiles. Actually, they do. Green Ivy founder Ana Homayoun has written extensively about this subject in The New York Times and The Washington Post, emphasizing that students’ online and in-real-lives (IRLs) are more intertwined than they may fully recognize. A relatively recent scandal involving Facebook and incoming freshmen at Harvard resulted in the university’s rescinding many admissions officers. Make sure the persona you are promoting on social media is the same one you want colleges to see.