The rumor mill: It’s the ever-spinning wheel of deception that gains momentum as fast as it’s fueled.  And in the field of college admissions, despite expert interjection, it is the one to which students and families still tend to cling, no matter how much more difficult and stressful it makes their lives. Yet when they are armed with the facts, stress around the college admission process starts to crumble, and sighs of relief become audible.

So, what are some of the myths, and what are the facts that dispel them?

I need to participate in lots of different activities to get into college. 

While participation (and more important responsibility and leadership) in activities is indeed essential in the college admissions process, participation in lots of different activities isn’t necessarily what students want to be shooting for.  Colleges want to see the development of a passion and long-term dedication to that passion or a couple of passions. Your time is very valuable and you need to use it wisely. Devote it to things that you love to do and don’t waste time on those activities that don’t reflect your interests.  Indeed, overcommitting results in spreading yourself too thin with no deep commitment to any one activity, and that leads to stress and lack of meaning.  Find the one or two things that you enjoy, and dive in wholeheartedly!

Playing sports will help me get into college. 

While this can be true for a select, small (very small) number of students who are stellar, standout athletes, for most it simply is not.  Families should know that athletic scholarships are extremely difficult to obtain.  Even if students are not planning on receiving a scholarship, they should consider the incredible time commitment involved with playing a college sport.  For many students who are playing a high school sport just because they think it will “look good” on their resume, time might be better spent participating in another activity or focusing on academics.  Sports are not the only extracurricular activity, and practices and games take up a huge chunk of precious high school time, and an even larger chunk of college time.

I won’t be accepted to college if I admit my failures in my applications.

Not true!  While it is understandable that students shy away from highlighting their errors when competing for a coveted spot in the incoming class, it is a fact that colleges want to see that students are risk-takers, demonstrate curiosity, and learn from their mistakes.  They truly want to see how students have grown, what their self-reflection has revealed about that growth, and how they will apply that to the future.  In fact, one entire personal statement prompt on the Common Application is devoted entirely to identifying failure and illustrating the lesson, yet inevitably my students look at me blank-faced when they come across that particular prompt.

Be bold; take chances and learn from experience.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what Duke University has to say: “We like students who make intelligent and interesting mistakes, students who understand that only in risking failure do we become stronger, better and smarter.”


Jenn-Curtis-headshot-color-150x150Jenn Curtis, MSW is the owner and co-founder of FutureWise Consulting, a college counseling, test prep, and academic tutoring business in Orange County, California. As an educational consultant, she works alongside high school students and their families to prepare them for the college admissions process. Jenn also developed and teaches a college and career readiness program for first-generation students. She is the editorial assistant for an academic journal, has edited several books, and works with graduate and doctoral students in developing effective writing skills. With a background in mental health, Jenn’s passion lies in empowering students to become self-advocates, to uncover their strengths, and to find the motivation to reach their potential.