Don’t be fooled by these common college myths

Admission isn’t all about scores; look for best fit, not big name

Gaining admission to some of the most elite colleges is remarkably more competitive today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Unfortunately, this increased competitiveness has spurred myths that need to be dispelled.

Myth No. 1: Only the best and brightest get accepted.

Reality: Most colleges work very hard to create and implement a holistic admissions process. It’s very important to colleges to understand how you spend your time outside of the classroom. There are many variables at work simultaneously.

Your rank in class, your GPA and your SATs may say a lot about you, but your personal essay and letters of recommendation provide greater insight. Colleges want to know not only that you will be able to succeed academically, but also what you will contribute to campus life.

Many colleges promote the fact that they have rejected hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of valedictorians. While at first glance this appears ominous, what it is really saying is that colleges are looking at more than numbers. They are trying to create a balanced class that has jocks, artsy kids, geeks, activists and so on. So play up your strengths and try to figure out what sets you apart.

Myth # 2: If you haven’t heard of a college, it can’t be very good.

Reality: Don’t fall prey to “prestige panic.” Colleges and universities come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Some students think that if the college doesn’t compete in Division I sports or isn’t in the Ivy League, it’s not a “good school.” The question to ask yourself is not if the school is “good,” but is it a “good fit” for me? Does it have what I am looking for academically and socially? Is it the right size? Will I feel comfortable with the other students on campus? Is it a good distance from home? Guard against stereotypes, preconceived notions and hearsay.

The concept of “fit” has been waged convincingly by an interesting organization — Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL). In 1996, Loren Pope, former New York Times education editor, wrote a remarkable book of the same name that profiled 40 colleges that place a high priority on holistic admissions, developing student potential and placing a high value on initiative and risk-taking. A movement is afoot to encourage more colleges to adopt these student-friendly approaches and focus less on college rankings and test scores.

Some of the core beliefs include humanistic concepts that focus on making learning collaborative, not competitive; a discussion of values inside and outside the classroom; a sense of community that extends beyond graduation; and perhaps most central to its mission, the idea that students are there to learn, not just earn a degree.

Visit the Web site at and get refreshed.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;