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An Expert Debunks College App Myths You Probably Thought Were True

College application season is in full swing, and high school seniors have a lot to juggle. Applying to college is hard enough without all the conflicting advice there seems to be about the application process. Whether it be the result of parent pressure or advice you heard from a friend, sometimes myths about college applications start to feel like the truth.  

On top of applications, are you really expected to get good grades and do a thousand extracurriculars to beef up your resume? Do colleges really look at your social media? Also, how inspirational do you need to make the dreaded admissions essay? It’s time to examine this widely shared information and see what’s true or false. Hopefully, it will make your college application process a little less stressful. 

College admissions consultants or guidance counselors can help clear the air, since they stay up-to-date on the latest in college admissions. Her Campus reached out to Catherine Gaston, an independent college admissions consultant at G2 College, for transparency on four common ideas about the college application process. Some of these ideas might hold less truth than you think. 

Does applying early decision actually give you a greater chance of getting in?

Early decision applications involve applying to a school by an earlier deadline than the regular one, like Nov. 1 or Nov. 15. It also means that if the college accepts you, you must commit to that college around December and forgo your other applications. Not all colleges have early decision options, and private colleges are more likely to. 

Statistics from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) confirm higher rates of admission for early decision applicants. A 2018 to 2019 Admission Trends Survey reveals that 61% of early decision students were accepted, compared to 49% of non-early decision applicants. 

The reason early decision rates tend to be higher is because colleges know early decision applications are really interested in their college. Gaston says admission rates are higher because “students are not only well-qualified, but are committing to attending if they are admitted, which helps the college’s yield numbers.” 

However, not all colleges value early decision the same. If you’re banking on an early decision application increasing your odds, look at the stats of the college you’re applying to.

Do you really need to fill your resume with work, volunteering, and extracurriculars?

Gaston says a lot of colleges do ask applicants what they do outside of class, and activities will be considered. “However,” she continues, “not all colleges are selective, and there are many colleges that would admit a student without any or very few activities if they have strong enough coursework and grades.” 

While many colleges take extracurriculars into account, your grades are the most important in admissions. 74.1% of colleges surveyed by the NACAC in 2023 say that high school grades hold “considerable importance” in the admissions process. College prep courses taken in high school, and the grades you get in them, hold a similar amount of weight. 

However, colleges are more divided when it comes to outside of school activities. Only 6.5% say these activities are considerably important, while 44.3% say they have “moderate importance.” Additionally, 40% of colleges say work experience has limited importance in the admissions process. 

Colleges want to see you as a well-rounded individual, so will look at what you do outside the classroom. But as statistics show, and Gaston confirms, you don’t need to run yourself ragged with extra activities. Grades are very important.  

Do colleges really look at your social media, and do you have to make your accounts private? 

Gaston says, “Most colleges and employees of colleges do not look at a student’s social media. They have more important things to do with their time.” However, this doesn’t mean you can post anything you want on public accounts without repercussions. 

A 2021 Kaplan Test Prep survey found 27% of colleges routinely looked at socials. Even if they’re not looking, 66% of admissions officers do think it’s acceptable to check an applicant’s social media as part of the admissions process. 

This practice really depends on the school. There are stories of applicants getting Harvard offers rescinded after posting inappropriate content online, but the University of Richmond in Virginia admitted they don’t look at applicants’ social media. 

The Washington Post reported in February 2023 that Ally Drake, a TikTok creator talking about mental health and loneliness, got declined by a college water skiing program because they felt Drake was “too negative.” Despite the fact that most colleges won’t analyze every detail of your Instagram, it’s probably best to stay on the safe side and make your account private. Keep your content appropriate, because you never know how your digital footprint could affect you down the line.

Gaston agrees. “I still always tell my students to make sure they aren’t posting anything they aren’t proud of or that they wouldn’t want a college or future employer to see,” she says. 

Do you need to have an inspirational life story to write about in a college admissions essay? 

Gaston says no. “You just need to be reflective and able to write about something you want colleges to know about you,” she says. “The essay is an opportunity for you to share more about who you are outside of your classes, grades, and extracurriculars.” 

Moral of the story: Don’t put too much pressure on yourself when it comes to the essay. Colleges tend to appreciate authenticity and staying true to your own voice. Tell a story that shows your growth as a person, or what you learned through a challenge.

Lia Freeman is a Her Campus National Writer for the Career and Life sections. She writes weekly articles along with covering more timely content. She recently graduated from the University of Sheffield in England, where she majored in philosophy, religious studies and ethics. Lia was the opinion editor for her university newspaper and the Deputy Head of News at her university's radio station. She also interned with a humanitarian journalist team called The India Story Agency, where she did social media, background research, and writing for work appearing in the British Medical Journal. Lia has freelanced in news and lifestyle for The Tab, Empoword Journalism, and Liberty Belle Magazine. She also occasionally publishes her own stories on Medium! Lia loves road-tripping and camping with her friends, and pretending she could be a Wimbledon star on the tennis court. Oftentimes you'll find her lost in a book or lost online. She is passionate about covering social issues and education, and hearing women's voices in the media.