The 10 things about admissions that confuse prospective students most

The college application process is stressful and confusing for many prospective students.

One reason is that students tend to misinterpret some of the common statements colleges make about admissions, according to Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at the New Hampshire-based Derryfield School, and Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

In a recent article for the Washington Post, Barnard and Clark identify some of the most common things students don't know about the admissions process.

1: Each college looks for a mix of students

Students may look at a 10% admit rate and believe that translates to a 1 in 10 chance of acceptance for every applicant. They may not realize that each applicant's chances of acceptance vary based on the student's profile and the institution's goals, Barnard and Clark write.

2: You don't need to attend an elite institution to be happy

Students often want to apply to schools that will impress their peer groups, according to Barnard and Clark. These students don't realize that different people thrive at different types of schools—and that the institution a student never expected to attend can turn out to be a great match.

3: There's no "magic number" of AP classes

Students often overestimate the value of advanced coursework, leading them to neglect extracurricular activities or drive themselves to burnout. They may even believe that admissions officers merely "count Advanced Placement courses," without considering the context of the applicant's high school, Barnard and Clark write.

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4: The perfect school doesn't exist

Some students expect too much from their future colleges and look for an institution that will check every box on their wishlist, the authors write. Students may need help adjusting to a more realistic expectation of college and understanding that they can customize their experience once they're on campus.  

5: Test scores still matter within holistic admissions

Students often misunderstand holistic admissions, Barnard and Clark write. They argue this can lead students to overestimate their odds of acceptance with test scores significantly lower than the college's reported average.

6: Rankings aren't everything

"Most students do not know how rankings are formulated," Barnard and Clark write. They may need help looking beyond the rankings to more pragmatic indicators of whether a school meets their needs.

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7: Special applications don't guarantee admission

Students often interpret special invitations to apply as a sign that they have better odds of being accepted, Barnard and Clark write.

8: Leadership goes beyond elected positions

Students often worry they're "doomed" if they haven't held a formal leadership position during high school. They may not understand that examples of leadership can include lower-profile activities that still demonstrate social skills and initiative.

9: More scholarships don't mean lower costs

Estimating the cost of attendance is notoriously confusing for students and families, even though colleges have made significant strides in recent years to make costs more transparent. Barnard and Clark point out that applicants might compare schools purely on the amount of scholarship money they receive and neglect to compare their final, net costs of attendance.

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10: It's okay to be well-rounded

When colleges say they're looking for students with "passion," students might misunderstand, believing that the college expects them to unify their application around a single, dominant pursuit. They may need help understanding that this language simply means that colleges are looking for well-rounded people who have engaged thoughtfully with their specific interests (Barnard/Clark, Washington Post, 11/30). 

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