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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

Five Things You Thought You Knew About The College Search

Updated: Feb 10, 2023


The University of Oregon, Photo by Casey Olsen on Unsplash

Do you remember the Discovery Channel show MythBusters? From 2003 to 2016, show hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage would scientifically test various myths, common idioms, rules of thumb, and generally any kind of belief widely held by the masses. It was a foundational show for nerd culture and a ton of fun to watch. (Spoiler alert - I am part of nerd culture.)


The show appeals to my contrarian nature, I suppose. I absolutely love it when I learn that some widely accepted fact or theory is more noise than signal, is more assumption than truth. In the world of college admissions, there are tons of these myths that simply are not true. Here are our favorites:


A college wouldn’t send a brochure to my child if they couldn’t be admitted to that college


So a college sent your student a brochure - that must mean something right? I mean, why would they waste the money to send your student something if they couldn’t get in? Answer? Tradition, mostly. We have discussed on this blog the history of college marketing and how little vetting actually goes into who gets those brochures and mailers. Here’s what it does mean: your student told the college they could send them mailings on the PSAT. That’s it.


When you visit a college, you will “just know” it’s the right one


Perhaps my favorite college search myth is this idea that when you visit the “one” college you will be overwhelmed with serendipity that right there, on the spot, you will conclude your college search exclaiming, “This is the one!” Rubbish. It is important to understand that colleges are complex communities, with positive and negative aspects, that cannot possibly be understood after such a shallow assessment. We always encourage students to dig deeper, ask the hard questions, get at the negatives, and if you can still love a place after learning those, well then you might have found your future alma mater.


To have any chance to be admitted at a selective university, you need to visit that college


Visiting a college can play a role in the admissions process through something called “demonstrated interest,” in which a college will try and assess how excited you are about them while weighing your admissions. This variable, however, is only considered by a small minority of universities with approximately 13% of colleges indicating they consider it at all, and the variable is mostly a fringe factor at best. You do not have to go broke flying your student all over the country visiting colleges to give them a better chance of admission - have them spend that time studying for that upcoming Pre-Calculus test. A student’s grade point average is significantly more important than demonstrated interest.


A highly selective university will only accept a certain number of applicants from one high school


One of our students asked me if she should apply to a particular, selective university.


“Well, how much do you like that school?” I asked.


“A lot.”


“So what’s the issue? You should apply right?” I responded.


“Well, I heard that our school’s valedictorian will be applying to that same school this year, doesn’t that lessen my chances?” she asked.


This is an extra common assumption, but the reality is that colleges, especially selective admissions colleges, are not playing by those rules. To put it plainly, highly selective colleges can (and do) take whomever they want, and not one of them will think twice about admitting any number of students from a given high school. If you believe you are a good fit for that college, you should apply, no matter who else is considering that college at your high school.


There is one perfect college for me


I love our family’s house. I love the backyard and the large bonus room in which my office sits, right next to a west-facing set of windows that bathes the room in sunlight, all the while close enough to hang out with our sons during the afternoons. That said, I know I could be just as happy in hundreds of other houses. There is not just one house where our family can grow and be happy together. The same is true for college; and anyone trying to convince you otherwise is trying to market something to you to buy. Take an abundant point of view and revel in the vastness of life-changing college communities you can consider.


Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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