8 College Admissions Myth Busters  

  1.  The harder a school is to get into or the higher the school is ranked means it’s a better school.
       College admissions professionals from both sides of the desk will speak to “best fit” schools for students.  This involves students and families   assessing their needs and wants, along with several other factors affecting the “best” school matches for the student.  (Yes, there can be several.)   Ultimately, schools at which the students will be happy and successful are the best schools for them.  This varies greatly from student to student; it is   a very personal and individualized decision.

 2. Standardized test scores (ACT or SAT) are the most important factor in admissions.

     Actually, the number 1 most important piece of information for ALL schools is the student’s high school transcript.  Test scores can be second, third,   fourth or not important at all.  Many schools are now “test-optional”.  Colleges look at transcripts “within context”.  This means: in relation to other students at the same school in the same graduating class.  Also important is whether the student challenged themselves and is successful within their capabilities and the curriculum offered. Grade trends and the need for balance are recognized.

 3.  Being “deferred” means I probably won’t get in.

     Not necessarily.  Many schools routinely defer their applicants.  What they are looking for most are strong 1st-semester senior year grades, along with demonstrated interest and any new awards or accomplishments since the application was sent.

 4.  I should go Early Decision somewhere.

     If, after visiting several schools, a student falls “in love” with an institution and would forsake all others to get it, they should apply Early Decision.   ED can be beneficial for admission at some schools; however, it comes with a price.  Students who apply Early Decision agree to commit to the institution right away if accepted and withdraw their other applications, thereby giving up their right to compare decisions and financial aid/scholarship packages until May 1st  of their senior year.

 5.  Schools prefer the weighted GPA on my transcript.

     For some schools this is true.  However, it is common for schools to re-calculate a student’s GPA with their own point scale, based solely on grades in the 5 academic areas: English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and World Language.

 6.  If a school gives me a scholarship or invites me to their honors program and asks me to commit before May 1st, I must respond by the deadline.

     Absolutely not.  Most schools belong to the National Association for College Admission Counseling and therefore must abide by their rules and regulations, which state that unless a student applies Early Decision, they unequivocally have until May 1st to respond to all offers of first-year admission and scholarship, including special programs.
     As an Admissions Practices Committee Chair, it is my responsibility and that of my committee to respond to potential violations of this practice.   Should you encounter a question in this regard, please email me at

 7.  I should be involved in certain activities/service projects to look “well-rounded”.

     Above all, schools want students to represent themselves in a genuine manner.  This includes activities and all parts of the application.  A student should follow their passions for activities while cultivating individual commitment and leadership as they mature throughout high school.  Colleges can see through students who are “packaged”; this will hurt rather than hinder a student’s admission chances.

 8.  Colleges don’t really read student essays or recommendations.

     Yes, they really do.  Again, they are looking for the student’s genuine voice in their essay(s) to get deeper insight into who the student really is.  It’s called a “personal” statement for that reason.  From teachers, admissions officials hope to gain knowledge as to what drives the student, their intellectual curiosity, and/or how the student approaches challenges as seen first-hand by the teacher. 

  How to Make the Most of the College Visit

  Are all those college pictures starting to look alike?  There is nothing that can replace a formal visit to a college or university.  Here are some tips to get     the most out of your visit:

  ·      Schedule the visit through the admissions office, even if you know someone on campus.  (This is usually done on-line.)  Current st
udents can lend               perspective and information, butcannot represent the breadth of the institution.  In addition, it’s very important that schools have your                                     information and know you were on campus.

  ·      One of the best times for juniors for initial visiting is spring.  High school and college spring breaks do not often coincide, so it’s a great time to see the campus “in action”.

  ·      Check the campus’ “High School Visit” events; they often occur on secondary school days off, when colleges are still in session.

  ·      Call the admissions office if you would like more information or wish to speak with someone from a particular major.

  ·      Parents and students should take the formal tour together; however, parents:  please refrain from asking more than one or two questions.  Students should be asking the             questions.

  ·      Keep an open mind.  Visit diverse types to colleges to keep options open while deciding what works best for you both academically and personally.

  ·      Visit the student union, cafeteria or coffee shop.  Speak to students there; they love to talk about their schools and will give you “the real deal”.

There are many pertinent questions to ask admissions officers and students.  You also don’t have to travel far from the Chicago area to get a good sense   of different types of schools, whether you apply to them or not.


  • 8 College Admissions Myth Busters
  • What is a "Holistic" Review of my Application
  • How to Make the Most of the College Visit
  • If You Do This, You Will Be Denied!
  • When You Can't Visit, Try This!
  • When Transferring to a New College

  Crain's Chicago Business, October 7, 2019

  Includes a quote from Sandra Gilbert


  • How I Know You Wrote Your College Kid's Essay
  • A New Wrinkle in the College Admissions Process
    • (Includes a Quote from our Sandra Gilbert)
Ravinia College Consulting

 If You Do This, You Will be Denied!

 On our recent college tour of 11 colleges, admissions officials once again affirmed that above all, they are looking for honest, sincere students who write their own essays and emails and compete their own applications.  This is not to say that adults can’t provide proofreading and editing assistance.   But, beware of anyone actually writing for the student, be it a parent, professional or well-meaning friend. 

 This was driven home by every college admissions officer we met with and once again confirmed what we are continually told as we network with colleges and conferences across the country and abroad. 

 Ravinia College Consultants and other professionals who adhere to professional ethics know how to help students develop their writing to bring out the best in themselves throughout their application.  We know what colleges are looking for and what reflects a 17-18 year old student’s voice.  Colleges know when the writing is not the students’ work.  What’s more, they are checking to make sure the students’ writing style on their written application matches that of their writing on writing samples.   Colleges, who suspect over-involvement by an adult, will call the high school counselor, place the application at the bottom of the pile, and/or recycle it in the “circular file”.

 Proceed with caution.  Colleges are looking for certain qualities to try and match the student to their institution.  However, above all, they are looking for the students’ genuine, heartfelt voice.


  When You Can't Visit, Try This!

  When you can’t visit colleges that are on your list, there are several things you can do.
   ·   Search college websites for maps, virtual tours, pictures, and videos.
  ·    You can learn a lot about a college through their website.  Find out what courses are required for all students, and what courses are required in the               major(s) you are interested in.  Learn about their clubs, activities, and athletic opportunities.  Link to the city or town closest to the campus to find                out more about evening social activities and shopping.        
  ·    Check out Facebook and other social media sites to connect with students who are currently on campus.  
  ·    Look colleges up at,,, or
  ·    Contact your admissions representative and let them know you are not able to visit their college, but that you are interested in applying.  Colleges               sometimes assume you are not that interested if you haven’t visited.  Demonstrated interest is often an important part of your application.
 Once you have been accepted to your colleges, you should make every effort to visit your top few choices.  It is true that students can be very happy on a   campus they have never visited.  But don’t take that risk unless you have to.

 When Transferring to a New College

 There are many reasons why a student may consider transferring to a new college.  Ravinia College Consultants have been working with an increasing   number of students who are making a change for reasons such as finding a better fit, changing to a major not offered, or poor initial college   performance.  We listen carefully to help the student understand what didn’t work with the first school, how to best match the student’s current   academic and social needs to find colleges that best fit them today and where most importantly, they can successfully earn their degree.

 Transfer students typically bring a deeper understanding of college demands, along with a clear vision of themselves as a student, than first-time   college students.  Colleges and universities appreciate this; many value the maturity and leadership skills that transfer students can add to their   campuses.  However, transfer admission does work a little differently than it does for students who matriculate directly from high school. For   example, admission criteria, transfer credit, deadlines, and housing varies with each institution.

  1.     Many colleges require high school transcripts and standardized test scores if you’ve earned 30 or fewer semester hours of college credit, though                 college grades are still most important.
  2.     Merit money can be unavailable or diminished for transfer students.
  3.     Colleges have limits on the number of transfers they take.
  4.     Transfer student application dates are very different, compared to the deadlines for high school students.  Be sure to check the school’s website or             call their admission office.
  5.     The number of credits that transfer to the new institution will be analyzed by each school and can vary; most schools only give credit for grades of             C or better.  Schools have a cap on the overall number of credits they will accept from another institution.
  6.     The receiving college may or may not include grades from the previous institution on the newly generated transcript.  In other words, they may                 recalculate a new GPA, even when accepting course credit.  Each college sets their own policy.
  7.     Housing may or may not be available.

  It’s critical that students looking to transfer explain in an essay why they are transferring and why “college X” is the best fit for them. 

​​ What is a 'Holistic' Review of my Application?

 Many schools use a holistic approach to admissions, meaning they use multiple factors to make decisions.  Academic record, extracurricular interests,   intellectual achievements and personal background are all considered.  Colleges want to see if you have challenged yourself by taking a rigorous   academic program, in comparison to what is offered at your high school.  They evaluate this by asking your counselor to supply information, which   includes your school’s profile.  Admissions officers will also want to know something about your family’s circumstances, your access to resources, and   your involvement in activities outside the classroom.  They are looking to gain an understanding of your personality, to best determine how you will fit   into their campus and add to its community. 

 The purpose of your essay or personal statement is to better understand what motivates you.   Your recommendations are also carefully read to gain an   understanding of your intellectual curiosity and promise, how you interact within the classroom, and how you will potentially make an impact on   their campus.   

 Colleges ask for information on their application for a reason; take care with everything you write.  When you answer an essay question, make sure   you answer the question specifically; be wary of copy and paste answers used on other applications.  Your application may end up in “committee”,   meaning that a group of people will discuss your candidacy. Be authentic and bring out your best.  And, don’t forget that “demonstrated interest” is   another part of the application for schools that use holistic admissions.  That means: visit, meet with your representative, and stop by their table at   college fairs.  They keep track!

 New York Times        10/3/2018

 How I Know You Wrote Your Kid's College Essay

 The paradox of the overzealous editing of the college essay by many helicopter parents is that they don't know what a college essay is really about.

 By JM Farkas


 It was right there in the last sentence of the first paragraph of Mikey's college essay. I was supposed to believe this typical high school senior, who had   inhabited this planet for a slight 17 years, chose to use the word "henceforth." Mikey was a good kid. He worked hard in school. He loved basketball   and girls and math.

 He had a certain way with words, but "henceforth" wasn't one of his words.

 When I circled it, Mikey met my raised eyebrows with his signature closed-mouth smile: "O.K., so maybe my mom wrote that part."

No kidding, Mikey.

 The paradox of the overzealous editing of the college essay by many helicopter parents is that they don't know what a college essay is really about.   Unlike the other parts of the application, where high grade point averages and SAT scores reign supreme, the essay is less about being impressive than it is about being authentic.

 It can take some convincing for many kids and parents to believe that when it comes to writing essays, in particular, college admissions officers care about who students are. The essays should reveal their personalities, passions, dreams, weird talents, favorite foods, sickest playlists,   inexplicable loves, and undeniable quirks.

 Do you like to eat the marshmallows before the milk in your Lucky Charms? A tiny but specific detail like this will probably be more vivid than an entirely forced and forgettable essay on community service. 

 The college essay is about the true things students want the colleges to know about them that can't be seen via grades and standardized tests. Are you kind? Resilient? Curious? Creative? Are you any fun? And contrary to popular belief, it's not about unattainable standards or curing cancer. In fact, a   good test of a college essay is: Can the writer convince the reader that she would make a good roommate?

 So the good news is: The college essay is the purest part of the application.

 The bad news: Parents, when you mess with your kids' pure voices, you're actually co-writing terrible college essays. And far more egregious and dangerous: You're teaching your children that when the stakes are high enough, it's O.K. to be unethical and possibly a plagiarist. 

 So aside from ridiculously lofty vocabulary or an overly mature perspective, how do I know when a parent or another adult is likely to have written a   kid's essay?

 The secret is practically invisible.

 When I learned how to type in high school, the definitive rule was to leave two spaces after a period. 

 Today, kids are taught to use one.

 As a former high school teacher; I have worked with hundreds of students on their college essays. Later as a private college essay consultant, I   worked with students and parents at some top private schools before I became an admissions counselor for a small liberal arts college.

 Over the years, I've noticed this pattern. Often the first draft of an essay has sentences with one space after the periods, but the next draft changes to two. Or an essay might start off with single spaces after periods, but by the end, suddenly the sentences have two spaces after periods: sometimes one,  sometimes two.

 So to well-intended adults: in those extra spaces, you are leaving incriminating fingerprints on your student's show of authenticity. And in trying to make the essay polished enough to prove to an admissions officer that your student is ready for the responsibilities of college, you are showing that you are not so sure.

 Henceforth, back off.