20 College Admissions Myths & Misconceptions

By Jacky Gilchrist

“I can’t get into college if I’m not a straight-A student.” “What if I don’t have enough AP classes?” “What if I don’t have enough extracurriculars?”

Take a breath! You’ll be fine. Contrary to popular belief, there is no specific formula that all students must follow in order to get into college. You’ll forge your own unique path to college and beyond. If you’re feeling a bit nervous about your admissions chances, then learning about the truth behind these common college admissions myths can help.

Navigate through this article:

Common Myths About the College Admissions Journey

1. Only straight-A students get into good colleges.

One of the most common college admissions myths is that only straight-A students get accepted. It’s true that good grades can help you get into a good school. However, it’s also true that a straight-A student can still get rejected by a school or two. If you’re not a straight-A student—relax! You could still get into a respected school based on your other strengths. For example, a compelling admissions essay and a strong track record of extracurriculars can work wonders.

2. More extracurriculars are always better.

Speaking of extracurriculars, more are always better… right? Well, not necessarily. Yes, college admissions officers want to see that you’re doing more than the bare minimum of going to class and doing your homework. However, a “strong track record” is more about demonstrating the quality of your involvement and length of commitment. In other words, it’s better to have a couple of extracurriculars that you’ve done for years and perhaps stepped into leadership positions for than listing a dozen after-school clubs with only minimal, brief commitment.

3. It’s fine to skip optional interviews.

Some myths about college admissions involve the interview. You’ll generally have the opportunity to schedule college interviews when you visit campuses. Even though interviews are typically optional, it is indeed best to do them if at all possible. The interview gives the admissions team the opportunity to get to know you as a person, putting a face and a personality to the paperwork. You’ll have the chance to demonstrate your interest in the school and talk about why you want to go there.

Although it’s definitely best to do interviews whenever possible, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t. If you live in Texas and you want to go to school in Alaska, don’t stress out about not being able to make it to campus. (Do note that some schools may offer virtual interviews.)

4. Social media won’t affect college admissions.

It’s hard to make a college application package truly stand out from the crowd. Admissions officers sort through thousands of applications. When they have a pool of candidates who share similar GPAs and extracurriculars, the admissions reps may go on social media to see what sets them apart from one another.

Yes, indeed, social media really can affect your college admissions chances. If you’re on social media, clean up your profile if need be and tighten your privacy settings. Or, instead of making your profile strictly private, you might use it to bolster your admissions chances. Fill your profile with posts that demonstrate a wholesome and inquisitive personality (e.g. pictures of you playing sports, climbing a mountain, volunteering, competing at a science competition, etc.).

5. It’s best to take easy classes to maintain a high GPA.

This is one of the most persistent college admissions myths. Your GPA is certainly important, but admissions reps will also consider the classes you took in high school. If you’ve maintained a 4.0 GPA but only took easy classes, that could count against you. On the other hand, if your GPA slips a bit, but you took a rigorous course load, admissions reps will cut you some slack for not having an exceptional GPA. They’ll appreciate the fact that you challenged yourself.

6. It’s best to take as many AP/IB classes as possible.

Although it’s a good idea to take advanced classes, such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, you shouldn’t necessarily take as many as humanly possible. Balance is important. You’ll want to take advanced classes in your stronger areas (e.g. AP History classes if you’re good at history and writing), but you won’t want to take advanced classes that you’ll struggle in—especially if those are the types of subjects you wouldn’t major in as a college student.

7. College admissions planning should start in my senior year.

If you wait until your senior year to start planning for college admissions, then you’re already running late. It’s better to begin in your junior year or—at the very latest—during the summer before your senior year.

We recommend starting early. For more guidance, refer to this recommended college planning timeline.

8. Family responsibilities don’t matter to college admissions officers.

It’s often thought that students shouldn’t include family duties on their college resume or elsewhere in their application. But in fact, demonstrating your family responsibilities can make you stand out and offer a clue to your personality and sense of accountability.

For example, if you were responsible for watching younger siblings, caring for a parent or sick relative, or working on therapy exercises with a loved one with disabilities, then by all means, include that information on your application.

9. Taking the SAT® test is better than the ACT® test (or vice versa).

Over the years, we have heard all kinds of outrageous theories about how one test may be favored over the other. While the two tests are different, the truth is that you won’t get “brownie points” for taking the SAT® test instead of the ACT® test (or vice versa). KD’s recommendation is to plan to take both tests to see which one best aligns with your skillset.

10. Test-optional schools are the same as test-blind schools.

Some schools have minimized the importance of SAT and ACT test scores or ignore them altogether. However, test-optional schools aren’t the same as test-blind schools.

A test-blind school won’t look at scores at all, so there’s no point in submitting them. Test-optional schools don’t require scores, but they’ll still look at them. That means if you don’t submit your scores, you could be at a disadvantage compared to a student who did.

11. College essays need to be completely professional and bland.

Many of the myths about college admissions involve the essay. It’s tempting to make your admissions essay as professional-sounding as possible, but if you beat all creativity out of it, then there’s nothing left of your personality. Remember: Admissions reps are interested in getting to know you—what makes you tick, what motivates you, what you’re passionate about, and what you imagine for your future. They want to know how you triumphed over some hardship or overcame a phobia.

Above all, they want to see authenticity. By all means, get creative with your essay (if you’re a creative type of person). Let your genuine voice shine through. Speak to the essay prompt in a way that shows who you really are as a person.

12. It’s hard to write a strong college essay without an incredible life story.

It’s often thought that a college essay should center on some remarkable, life-changing experience or tragic occurrence. But not everyone has an incredible life story—particularly not before they’re out of their teens—and admissions reps understand this. Instead, choose an angle for your piece that allows you to express your self-identity. What makes you you?

13. Your college essay should cover all of your accomplishments.

Another common college admissions myth is that the essay should detail all of your major accomplishments. However, these are generally included in other parts of your application. Instead, use your essay to cover new ground.

14. Colleges only want exceptional students.

One of the most persistent college admissions myths is that colleges are only interested in admitting exceptional students with a well-rounded resume. What’s a student to do if they aren’t an all-star athlete, musical genius who also conquers science competitions and self-publishes novels in their spare time?

Not to worry! Sure, students who can do a lot of different things are impressive, but colleges are interested in more. They want students who demonstrate a genuine, sustained interest and commitment. A college class of specialists in different areas makes for a well-rounded composition.

15. There’s only one right school for you.

Pretty much everyone uses this phrase: “dream college.” It’s fine to have a top favorite college on your shortlist of possibilities, but don’t think that you can’t possibly be happy anywhere else. There isn’t just one right school for you; there are likely many. Even if you don’t get accepted into your top choice, you’ll undoubtedly find something you love about the school you do end up going to.

16. Private colleges are too expensive.

The sticker price for college these days is downright insane. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even bother to apply to an even pricier private school. You may qualify for federal financial aid and scholarships. In some cases, it can actually be less expensive to attend a private school if you’re offered an impressive financial aid package.

17. I should only apply to top colleges.

If you’re a top student, does that mean you should only apply to top colleges? Actually, these sorts of myths about college admissions can be harmful because they imply that only top colleges can offer a great education and all-around experience.

Yes, you should apply to top colleges if you stand a chance of getting into them, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to just high-rankers. Instead, consider your goals for your future, your preferences, and where you think you’ll be happiest.

18. My parents should pick my college for me.

Everyone has a unique situation, but there’s a good chance your parents will help pay your tuition. This means they should pick the school you go to—right? Well, while parents are entitled to have a say in your decision-making process (and yes, you should at least listen to and consider their opinions), at the end of the day, you are the only one who can make the final decision. It’s your college education, after all, and the next four years of your life. You’re the only one who can make that call.

19. You won’t make money if you major in liberal arts.

It’s true that there are plenty of STEM careers out there with high earning potential. But the myth that liberal arts majors can’t possibly make a decent living is exactly that—a myth. From public relations managers to lawyers to news anchors, there are plenty of well-paying jobs out there for liberal arts majors.

Explore career and salary data on CareerOneStop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration.

20. Having perfect grades is more important than being involved.

Lots of college admissions myths involve what admissions reps are looking for. They’re definitely looking for good grades, but they won’t necessarily be impressed by a straight-A student who appears to have never done anything but go to class and do homework. They want to see students who get involved in activities on a meaningful level—whether that means volunteering for the same organization for multiple years in a row or acting in the school’s theatrical productions.

What do colleges look at besides grades?

Aside from getting good grades, there are lots of ways to stand out from the crowd. You can take on some challenging courses, work on getting good test scores, and write a compelling, authentic essay. Gaining work experience, earning recognition, and getting good letters of recommendation are other things college admissions reps will consider.

How do colleges decide who to accept?

Every college establishes its own institutional priorities and admissions criteria. In general, however, admissions reps are looking at characteristics that fall into three categories to determine who to accept:

  • Academics
  • Extracurriculars
  • Personal qualities

Does it matter who writes your letter of recommendation for college?

Yes—and no. One common college admission myth is that getting a letter of recommendation from a high school principal or even a state official is one way to improve your admissions chances. But actually, it’s far better to get a letter from someone who knows you reasonably well. Don’t limit yourself to asking for letters from teachers from whom you received A’s, either. Even if you got a B in their class, a teacher might discuss how you persevered despite the challenging material.

What are common college application mistakes?

There are lots of common college application mistakes! Here are a few:

  • Choosing a bland or common essay topic
  • Including risky information in your essay (For example, avoid discussing partying, questionable life choices, or romantic relationships.)
  • Forgetting to submit a required document along with your application package
  • Waiting until the last minute to submit your application

Need help preparing for college admissions?

At KD College Prep, we’re known for our comprehensive test prep programs. But did you know we also offer complete college counseling services? Our college counseling team can guide you through various topics, including exploring majors, planning high school courses, deciding where to apply, writing and editing essays, and more. Contact us today to request a free consultation.

Jacky Gilchrist is a blog writer at KD College Prep.

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Tanisha P. – Class of 2020

My feedback can only be positive, given how much you helped me get ahead with my application process. I really appreciated how much work both of you put into helping me write the best essay possible, especially reviewing my essays twice to polish them completely. In addition, I have noticed that writing my resume has released a lot of stress off my shoulder when it comes to making sure I have all the things necessary to apply to schools.
My feedback can only be positive, given how much you helped me get ahead with my application process. I really appreciated how much work both of you put into... Read more...

Claudia A. – Class of 2020

“My favorite things about KD were the mirroring it had to actual test questions, the availability, and the relationships you built with all the teachers and advisors who made the process of learning easier. I think that after you started going to a good amount of classes and the workshops, you knew every teacher, and they were always available to answer any questions that you had...Everyone was just so welcoming and made learning more engaging for the students, especially with the workshops. All of had their own unique style of teaching which never made a class boring.”
“My favorite things about KD were the mirroring it had to actual test questions, the availability, and the relationships you built with all the teachers and advisors who made the process of... Read more...

Rishab P. – Class of 2021

“I want to thank both of you so very much for making this dream come true. When I first came to KD, I wanted to get a score of 1520 or above... So many people told me it would be impossible to reach my desired score. After months of using KD's methods my scores definitely improved but hovered around 1350—still not near the score I needed but closer. After finally working with both of you during one on ones, my scores started to see heavy improvement and while I didn't get a score of 1520 or above as a single score, I got it as a superscore... Read more...
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David P. – Class of 2022

“It takes a village to raise a child—this is so true. KD College Prep staff have been nothing but uplifting to my child and to us parents through their eager attitudes to assist, in-depth guidance and unparalleled wisdom. I am in awe at the consistent level of professionalism yet genuine concern for each and every person that walks through their doors. Thank you KD staff for being great mentors for our children!”
“It takes a village to raise a child—this is so true. KD College Prep staff have been nothing but uplifting to my child and to us parents through their eager attitudes to assist, in-depth guidance and unparalleled wisdom. I am in... Read more...

Gloria D. – Daughter, Class of 2021

“I attended KD for the last 3 years, and I was blessed with the opportunity to take the SAT® test one last time last month. I got a 1430 on the test. I wanted to take the time to say I have finished college applications, and I would love to thank all the teachers and aides at KD for giving me the score that I got on the test. Without the extra practice, I wouldn't have been able to get through to the score I got. These past 3 years went by so fast, and it is so fun to look back at where I started and how much I have come out with flying colors. Thank you so much!”
“I attended KD for the last 3 years, and I was blessed with the opportunity to take the SAT® test one last time last month. I got a 1430 on the test. I wanted to take the time to say I... Read more...

Kareena A. – Class of 2021

“I just wanted to say thank you to KD for all the help and support you’ve given over the past couple years! I was able to get the scores I wanted for the PSAT, SAT®, and ACT® tests. The resources were very helpful, and the individualized assistance I received from teachers were what really supported my learning. Special thanks to Ms. Barwick and Mr. Hoffman!”
“I just wanted to say thank you to KD for all the help and support you’ve given over the past couple years! I was able to get the scores I wanted for the PSAT, SAT®, and ACT® tests. The resources were... Read more...

Advika R. – Class of 2022

“I shifted toward taking practice tests and going to workshops because I felt those were the best ways to apply the concepts (I was) learning in class. I started applying the tips and tricks that the teachers were showing me in class. In conjunction, those two things helped me raise my score a lot because I was not a math kid before KD or high school. The repetition and being able to practice in a non-stressful environment and simulating that testing experience is something that was very beneficial for me... “The college counseling team was super patient and honest about the work I was submitting. I know for a lot of kids, it’s hard to articulate who you are through 250-300 words. It was definitely... Read more...
“I shifted toward taking practice tests and going to workshops because I felt those were the best ways to apply the concepts (I was) learning in class. I started applying the tips and tricks that the teachers were showing me in... Read more...

Blaine W. – Class of 2021

“Both of my sons have been guided by KD College Prep counselor Steve Peifer on their journey to finding the right college for them, and we could not have had a better experience and outcome. My oldest son is now a rising junior at the University of Miami, and my youngest son is an incoming freshman at Vanderbilt University. Steve’s help in navigating the complicated college landscape and finding the BEST FIT for my two sons is what has made this resource invaluable. “What made the biggest difference for my two sons was the depth and breadth of knowledge Steve has of the many universities and colleges in the U.S. First, by getting to know my kids on a one-on-one basis, he was able to... Read more...
“Both of my sons have been guided by KD College Prep counselor Steve Peifer on their journey to finding the right college for them, and we could not have had a better experience and outcome. My oldest son is now a... Read more...

Julio M. – Parent

“My daughter loved the program—the program materials and the teachers both online and in person. She participated in a year of online and a year of in person. It was incredible enrichment and helped her keep her skills sharp over the summer. She liked being challenged academically, and she loved taking classes with high school students who were focused on their college goals. These students were also excellent role models! The lessons were especially important during the pandemic when it wasn’t a typical middle school experience.”
“My daughter loved the program—the program materials and the teachers both online and in person. She participated in a year of online and a year of in person. It was incredible enrichment and helped her keep her skills sharp over the... Read more...

Beth L. – Advanced Start™ Parent

test prep testimonial vyom
“I wanted to say thank you to all of the teachers and directors at KD for helping me get a great score on the SAT® test. I started with a 1250 on the first KD test I took, and I got a 1530 on the December 5th SAT test. KD played a huge role in this, and I just wanted to say thanks to everyone there for helping me achieve this.”
“I wanted to say thank you to all of the teachers and directors at KD for helping me get a great score on the SAT® test. I started with a 1250 on the first KD test I took, and I got... Read more...

Vyom S. – Class of 2022

"Our twin 16-year-old boys used KD College Prep to study/practice for the PSAT test, and we believe the classes and coaching were invaluable. Very professional and concise. Worth every penny!"
"Our twin 16-year-old boys used KD College Prep to study/practice for the PSAT test, and we believe the classes and coaching were invaluable. Very professional and concise. Worth every penny!"

Jerry – Sons, Class of 2022

mithra testimonial
“I'm writing to thank the KD team for all the help and guidance over the last couple of years! All the resources provided were very useful to me and helped me achieve the scores I was aiming for on the PSAT, SAT®, and ACT® tests (1520, 1580, and 34). I really appreciate everyone's willingness to be flexible and accommodate my requests!”
“I'm writing to thank the KD team for all the help and guidance over the last couple of years! All the resources provided were very useful to me and helped me achieve the scores I was aiming for on the PSAT,... Read more...

Mithra A. – Class of 2022

"The resources that KD offers have greatly prepared me for the college admissions process. Without KD, I would not have been this prepared and confident... I am a rising senior, and I ended up receiving a 1570 on my SAT® test (third time) and a 35 on my ACT® test (first time). I remember the first ever practice test I took for the SAT test was a 1230 (about 1.5 yrs ago) and the first ever practice test I took for the ACT test was a 31 or 32 (about 6 months ago)."
"The resources that KD offers have greatly prepared me for the college admissions process. Without KD, I would not have been this prepared and confident... I am a rising senior, and I ended up receiving a 1570 on my SAT® test... Read more...

Elise P. – Class of 2022

“I want to thank KD College Prep for helping both of my kids over the last years reach successful outcomes on their SAT® and ACT® scores, which helped them get into great colleges. I found the college prep class for parents very informative and helpful during the process as well.  My son (Jacob) graduated in 2018 and got a 32 on the ACT test. got accepted into Texas A&M but chose Baylor for Health Sciences.  My daughter (Morgan) graduated in 2020 and got a 1450 on the SAT test and a 32 on the ACT test. got into an Ivy League school (Cornell) for Engineering.  Both my kids say that they apply the test taking skills they learned at KD Prep to... Read more...
“I want to thank KD College Prep for helping both of my kids over the last years reach successful outcomes on their SAT® and ACT® scores, which helped them get into great colleges. I found the college prep class for parents... Read more...

Jon D. – Parent

“Coming into this whole process, I had absolutely no idea what anything was, and your help was invaluable—your encouraging words, strategic advice, and wholesome stories and jokes really got me through a stressful time! I'm still on the waitlist at Harvard and other schools, but I've really started to immerse into the Emory culture, especially their debate team. Not having to pay for college and still attend a private institution is really a dream come true, and it wouldn't be possible if it were not for you.”
“Coming into this whole process, I had absolutely no idea what anything was, and your help was invaluable—your encouraging words, strategic advice, and wholesome stories and jokes really got me through a stressful time! I'm still on the waitlist at Harvard... Read more...

Shreyas R. – Class of 2020

“The most beneficial guidance I received during my College Counseling experience was being taught that it's completely ok to not know what I want to do with the rest of my life at 17/18 years old. Steve told me that a good school will help me find my path. Also, Steve's knowledge about what colleges were wanting to see in potential admissions candidates was a huge help... “There was not one specific beneficial moment or turning point in my time working with Steve, there were many. He encouraged me during the entire application process and brought to my attention many colleges I wouldn't have considered or heard about without his help.”
“The most beneficial guidance I received during my College Counseling experience was being taught that it's completely ok to not know what I want to do with the rest of my life at 17/18 years old. Steve told me that a... Read more...

Jake W. – Class of 2020

"I'm very happy my daughter chose KD as her learning partner to achieve her goals. All the experiences with KD and the Directors there are fabulous. My daughter has improved significantly."
"I'm very happy my daughter chose KD as her learning partner to achieve her goals. All the experiences with KD and the Directors there are fabulous. My daughter has improved significantly."

Zarni, Daughter – Class of 2021

"I took KD classes the summer before my junior year, and I was finished with my SAT® test by December...The test prep classes also helped me earn the award of National Merit® Finalist."
"I took KD classes the summer before my junior year, and I was finished with my SAT® test by December...The test prep classes also helped me earn the award of National Merit® Finalist."

Claire I. – Class of 2020

"It's been super helpful, and I've noticed my scores go up both on my SAT®/ACT® scores as well as test scores in school... Overall, I believe this to be the best college prep that money can buy."
"It's been super helpful, and I've noticed my scores go up both on my SAT®/ACT® scores as well as test scores in school... Overall, I believe this to be the best college prep that money can buy."

Gopi C. – Class of 2021

"KD helped me come up with a game plan for the colleges I wanted to attend, as well as any backups, and how to manage my time during this stressful period. They helped to ease the stress and made sure that I would be successful in whichever college I picked, and I am eternally grateful for all their help and hard work!"
"KD helped me come up with a game plan for the colleges I wanted to attend, as well as any backups, and how to manage my time during this stressful period. They helped to ease the stress and made... Read more...

Omar S. – Class of 2020

"My initial goals when I first started working with the KD Counseling crew was to compile a list of colleges that I would be somewhat interested in attending and fit my career goals. I think that this step I was by far the most concerned about. I didn’t know how exactly I should go about choosing which places to apply to and if I were to be accepted, if they would fit me. The team did a wonderful job considering my likes and dislikes and helped me compile a list of colleges that suited my tastes and would further my academic career. "After this integral first step, my focus turned towards time management and writing quality essays that would stand out to colleges. I got... Read more...
"My initial goals when I first started working with the KD Counseling crew was to compile a list of colleges that I would be somewhat interested in attending and fit my career goals. I think that this step I was by... Read more...

Nina H. – Class of 2020

"I was thankful for all the help I received from KD in preparing for my SAT® and ACT® exams. The workshops they offered, as well as the practice exams, gave me the tools I needed to do my very best."
"I was thankful for all the help I received from KD in preparing for my SAT® and ACT® exams. The workshops they offered, as well as the practice exams, gave me the tools I needed to do my very best."

Morgan D. – Class of 2020

"KDCP is a must for students wanting to stay a step ahead of the game for getting into college. My son has gained huge insight from the ACT®/SAT® practice workshops, practice tests, and essay class."
"KDCP is a must for students wanting to stay a step ahead of the game for getting into college. My son has gained huge insight from the ACT®/SAT® practice workshops, practice tests, and essay class."

Tiffany – Son, Class of 2021

"KD helped to increase the efficiencies of how I took the national exams. I was also able to implement these efficiencies in my daily school studies within the IB program at PESH. I would (and have) recommend KD to those students wanting an edge on their national test scores!"
"KD helped to increase the efficiencies of how I took the national exams. I was also able to implement these efficiencies in my daily school studies within the IB program at PESH. I would (and have) recommend KD to those students... Read more...

Daniel J. – Class of 2020

"Not only have I been able to significantly improve my test scores, I have learned a tremendous amount of information about the college application process due to complimentary events that KD offers."
"Not only have I been able to significantly improve my test scores, I have learned a tremendous amount of information about the college application process due to complimentary events that KD offers."

Sam H. – Class of 2020

"I came to KD the summer before my senior year with only my determination and big goals! KD provided me with the resources necessary to improve my test score to increase my chances at my dream school, Notre Dame, with the help from amazing teachers and staff. I am so grateful for KD!"
"I came to KD the summer before my senior year with only my determination and big goals! KD provided me with the resources necessary to improve my test score to increase my chances at my dream school, Notre Dame, with the... Read more...

Matt K. – Class of 2020

"I started classes at KD the summer before 9th grade. I...made a perfect score on the PSAT (earning the National Merit® scholarship) and, after taking the SAT® test only once (a relief!), scored a 1590/1600."
"I started classes at KD the summer before 9th grade. I...made a perfect score on the PSAT (earning the National Merit® scholarship) and, after taking the SAT® test only once (a relief!), scored a 1590/1600."

Thomas D. – Class of 2019

"In just one year, I was able to raise my score by 300 points and get into my dream school."
"In just one year, I was able to raise my score by 300 points and get into my dream school."

Piper F. – Class of 2020

"Having our recent GHS graduate attend KD was life changing. It provided our son with choices and opportunities that he might not have had otherwise."
"Having our recent GHS graduate attend KD was life changing. It provided our son with choices and opportunities that he might not have had otherwise."

Kathy – Son attends Mizzou

test prep testimonial grace
“I came to KD College Prep after already using another tutoring service which we were not seeing results with. Due to time constraints, the traditional classes were not going to be feasible for my daughter. They took the time to figure out a personal plan that would work for her and were always available for our questions and helping her reach her goals. Every employee from the managers to the students working at their locations are top notch.”
“I came to KD College Prep after already using another tutoring service which we were not seeing results with. Due to time constraints, the traditional classes were not going to be feasible for my daughter. They took the time to figure... Read more...

Tracy – Daughter, Class of 2020

"The KD College Prep course not only provided test practice but also motivated her to work hard for her college applications. It gave her the confidence to dream big!"

"The KD College Prep course not only provided test practice but also motivated her to work hard for her college applications. It gave her the confidence to dream big!"

Prema – Daughter attends Rice