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25 Common Myths About College

The college selection process is tough enough. Don't let the myths about college scare you away from a college or university that might be just right for you. Year after year students settle for a second and third choice college because they listened to the half-truths or downright false statements concerning the college selection process. We want to explode these myths so you can choose the college or university that is best for you.

MYTH 1: It's better to get good grades than take challenging courses.

Even modest success in advanced or accelerated courses indicates to a college that you seek and can handle challenging courses -- like those you will find in college. A challenging college preparatory program or some advanced placement courses will help you get into more selective colleges.

MYTH 2: The standardized tests (ACT, PSAT, SAT) are more important than your high school grades.

Your performance in high school is a better predictor of college success than the standardized tests. Colleges know that. That does not mean that most colleges won't look at your SAT or ACT scores. Some state institutions where they have far more applicants than they can fairly assess may use scores to determine if you are eligible.

MYTH 3: I need to decide on my career before I can choose a college.

College is a time to explore. Except in a few specific cases, you can choose a major in your sophomore year and still complete the degree in four years. A surprising number of students discover the field for them while taking a course they didn't expect to like. Don't let well-meaning friends pressure you into deciding on a major field or a career at this time. Take your time.

MYTH 4: You can't get into a selective college if you did poorly in ninth and tenth grade.

Colleges look for improvement in performance as a sign that you can and will do the work. In fact, a vast improvement as a junior and senior indicates to a college that you have settled down. However, do not expect to catch up for three poor years in one good semester as a senior.

MYTH 5: If I haven't heard of a college or university, it can't be very good.

You may not hear of many of the nation's finest colleges until you are well into your adult life. Athletics on television is how most colleges get to be known, but many colleges do not get that kind of exposure. Some of the nation's finest colleges don't play big-time athletics. Judge a college on its own merits. Don't let name recognition determine a good or bad college.

MYTH 6: A lot of out-of-class activities will compensate for poor grades.

Admittedly, colleges consider out-of-class activities such as athletics, student government, and music when they review an application. But colleges look at your academic performance first. Lots of out-of class activities help only if the college already believes you can do the work. "The thicker the file, the thicker the child" is an expression admissions counselors use when a prospective student submits materials on all that they have done, but they have poor high-school grades.

MYTH 7: Colleges need students so its easier to be admitted.

Selective private colleges and most state-supported colleges and universities get more qualified applicants than they could possibly accept. While some colleges are having difficulty attracting students, many of these have chosen to get smaller rather than admit unqualified students. Some colleges have lowered their standards, but this also can be a problem for you. The admissions standards might have been lowered, but what a college and its faculty expect of students might not have changed. If you are a border-line student at a college that has lowered standards, you have a good chance of getting in over your head.

MYTH 8: You should go to the most prestigious college to which you are admitted.

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, the match with how you learn and how the professors teach, and the academic pressure you can handle. If the college and you are not a good match, you will be unhappy regardless of the prestige.

MYTH 9: Big colleges are best if you haven't decided on a major field.

Many students think because there are more courses to choose from, a large college offers greater options for undecided students. However, choices alone should not be the deciding factor. If you are undecided, the best college is one that has core requirements or distribution requirements that ensure you will explore new areas and fields. Also, look for colleges with the strongest academic advising and career counseling programs regardless of their size. Good advising can help you choose an academic and career path you will enjoy rather than one you think you might like right now.

MYTH 10: The quality of the academic program in which I am interested is the most important characteristic of a college.

About two of five students change their major field of interest before they actually enroll in college and about one of two change their major field once they enroll. Look for a college that has your current field of interest, but is also strong in all its areas.

It's worth noting that the research on success in graduate school and in employment after college suggests the best way to master a major field is a combination of learning theory and active, hands-on learning by doing. The opportunity to do research on your own or work side by side with a professor on a project tends to be more valuable than simply taking more courses in the field.

MYTH 11: The best time to visit colleges is after you have been admitted.

Many students have fallen for this myth only to find that none of the colleges to which they were admitted "felt" right when they visited. If possible, visit before you apply and again after you have been admitted.  If you can visit only once, make it before you apply.

MYTH 12: College is only for four years.

This is wrong on two fronts: 1) You can't trade in your degree for another one if you didn't go to the best college for you the first time. Your college is with you for life. 2) Only about one of five students completes college in four years. In fact, only two of five students complete college in six years. If you plan to be out of college in four years, learn what each college's four year graduation rate is.

MYTH 13: Your life will be ruined if you don't get admitted to your first choice college.

Thousands of students each year do not get admitted to their first choice college and most are happy, healthy individuals today. Yes, rejection is hard on your ego, but you will not be alone. Additionally, the vast majority of students who settle for their second choice end up happy at that institution anyway. Remember, college admissions, especially at the more selective colleges has to be subjective. With thousands of applications and only a small staff, it is impossible to assess each applicant objectively. Some applications stand out. Some don't.

MYTH 14: You only have to take the minimum college prep courses to get into college.

Technically, this is true. In reality it is not. The more mathematics, science and languages you take the better your chances are that you will get into a good four year college.

MYTH 15: You will have a better chance getting into professional or graduate school if you go to a university that has these graduate programs.

Many students and parents mistakenly think that attending a university with a law school, medical school or graduate school guarantees admission into that program at graduation. Very few universities give their students special preference for graduate study and those that do reserve it for only the very best students. Many small colleges and universities have excellent records in placing students in professional schools and graduate programs. The key to admission is succeeding ina strong major program at a challenging college, not where you go. Regardless of where you attend there are no guarantees.

MYTH 16: Liberal arts colleges do not have good science programs.

The "liberal" in liberal arts means "broadening" and "freeing" -- as in freeing one's mind from narrow thinking. The term liberal arts is a shortened version of the full title: liberal arts and sciences.  Most liberal arts colleges have been emphasizing science for all students for a century or more. Since the best way to learn science is by doing science, small colleges with small classes and fewer students in laboratories often have an advantage. Proportionally, far more Ph.D.s in the sciences and physicians have earned their undergraduate degrees from small liberal arts colleges than large universities.

MYTH 17: Residence halls are simply a place to sleep.

This is true at many large institutions, but it is not at smaller colleges. At "residential colleges" the staff take advantage of the 24-hour learning experience. Many small colleges have regular activities in the residence halls ranging from those focusing on wellness and personal growth to film festivals and Superbowl parties. A residential college offers a unique time in your life to blend your academic, social, personal and recreational life. The famous college tradition, the late night "bull sessions," often deal in subject matter from academic courses, personal beliefs, and arguments over the views of famous philosophers. Residential life can add a great deal to your college experience.

MYTH 18: Large universities have greater diversity.

This is true if "diversity" simply means having greater numbers of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and international students. Unfortunately, the size and nature of a large university often means there is little interaction among those of various ethnic and racial backgrounds. At large universities, groups of students can often choose to live and learn together and separately from other students.  This is generally not true at smaller colleges. All students are interspersed throughout the residence halls. Classes are small, so you really get to hear the views and learn from all students. The student population is small so you will get to know well or in passing virtually all students. If the value of diversity is to learn to understand and appreciate other cultures and groups, then small colleges often offer greater diversity.

MYTH 19: Your college experience will be pretty much like everyone else's.

This can be true at large universities where the number of students makes "personalizing" the experience difficult. It is generally not true at smaller colleges and universities. At these institutions, students can and are encouraged to study overseas, do an internship, pursue an independent study project, conduct research with a professor, major in two fields, cluster courses on a single topic and so forth. In fact, at most smaller institutions you can even design your own major.

MYTH 20: Colleges are only concerned with my intellectual and academic development.

Many colleges and smaller universities pride themselves on their ability to "develop the whole person." Some of this personal development comes from requiring a broad-based general education that contributes to your understanding of the world and our society. Some of the personal growth takes place in residence halls where you learn things like tolerance and how to get along with different kinds of people. In some cases, personal and professional development is intentional. At these colleges, there are workshops open to students on time management, developing relationships, handling yourself at a job interview and your responsibilities as a citizen.

MYTH 21: Only the very best students receive financial aid from colleges.

If you are admitted and have financial need, colleges generally want to make it possible for you to attend. In fact, the greatest proportion of financial assistance at a private colleges tends to go to students in the middle of the class. High-ability students or students with special talents may receive "merit-based scholarships."

MYTH 22: State supported institutions offer more financial aid than private colleges.

State-supported colleges and universities offer very little of their own resources for financial assistance. As the name suggests state-supported institutions are subsidized by their respective state that allows them to charge less. However, state institutions are also more likely to offer only loans to students who do not have a high need.

MYTH 23: The federal government provides most of the financial aid.

Government funds comprise only a very small proportion of the financial aid available. In fact, the government continually reduces the amount of grant money -- money that does need to be paid back. Private colleges, especially, supply the largest portion of financial aid.

MYTH 24: Even if I get financial aid, I will have large loans to repay when I graduate.

To see that you don't have too much debt at graduation, most colleges only allow you to borrow a reasonable amount. Nationally, on average, students will usually have only $2500 -$3500 per year in loans. At most private colleges this represents less than 20 percent of the annual charges. Depending on the loan, you will usually have 10 years to repay and you don't start the repayment until after you graduate. The difference between what you can pay plus a loan, if there is one, will be made up by
grants that you will not have to repay.

MYTH 25: You can't trust the college about financial aid.

Financial aid is not a "you versus me" business. The job of a college's financial aid officer is to make it possible for all admitted students to attend their college. They also must stay within the federal guidelines. Anytime you have a question about financial aid, call the financial aid officer at the colleges you are considering. They are eager to help.

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