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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 01/28/2010

7 College admissions myths

By Valerie Strauss

Here are seven issues about college admissions that Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions and enrollment at Tufts University, calls "myths." You can find this and other thoughts from Coffin at his blog, here. Stay tuned because he will start guest blogging on The Sheet, as will other college admissions directors.

I’d like to hear what you think of these, in comments or at theanswersheet@washpost.com. We will come back to each one of these issues separately in this space in the coming weeks, in some cases offering different opinions!!

By Lee Coffin
Myth #1: “Optional” really means “Required.”
Truth: “Optional” sections of an application (like our “infamous Supplement,” as one girl referred to it last month) are not covert opportunities to trip you up. I kid you not. If an essay or standardized test or interview is labeled “optional,” there is truth to that blessed adjective. The college has given you a choice. Use it or dispose of it as you see fit. Don’t over-analyze it. It’s not a trick question, and you won’t be “penalized” if you skip it. That’s why it’s “optional.” (It really is a lovely word.)

Myth #2: “Too many people are applying from my high school and we will knock each other out because the college has a quota from my school.”
Truth: While there are usually limits to the number of acceptances a college can extend, especially in the most selective pools, we do not pre-determine a quota for each high school and stick to it. If the pool from a school is deep and compelling then multiple candidates will be invited into the class. If it’s not, then the number of acceptances will be low. These are case by case decisions, not a herd approach. Similarly, there are no quotas for international students, or people of color, or kids from New Jersey.

Myth #3: “Colleges check Facebook pages.”
Truth: No, we don’t. Seriously, we don’t look and we don’t want to look. If this type of inspection would be useful to our decision-making, we would ask you to send us a link to your Facebook page so we could evaluate it; maybe it would be “optional.” But there are enough things for us to study and, frankly, there are some things we should not see. Facebook is one of them. (Having said that let me add that Facebook is a public space and, well, sometimes a reflective pause before you post is prudent.)

Myth #4: “The college said it will use my highest test scores but they asked for all my scores so those will secretly be used against me.”
Truth: Everybody wins when we use your highest scores. Our computer picks the best individual score on the critical reading, math and writing sections of the SAT, or the respective subjects on the ACT, and those become the scores we see when we read your file. End of story.

Myth #5: “A coach called me so that means I am a recruited athlete.”
Truth: The coach called you. That means you are someone he or she wants to get to know and you might become a “recruited athlete.” Proceed carefully and don’t get your hopes up too quickly. A phone call, e-mail or letter of interest from a coach does not mean you are “being recruited.”

Myth #6: “I have to fill in all the lines on the extracurricular section of the Common Application.”
Truth: Fill in as many lines as necessary to illustrate your involvement outside the classroom. “More” is not “better” if your participation is light. If you attended a single meeting of the Quidditch Club in 10th grade, you don’t really need to tell us about it (unless you figured out a way to fly on a broom). Highlight the good stuff; show us where your passion lies. But don’t feel the need to add random things to the list or embellish a minor club just to fill the space.

Myth #7: “I need financial aid so I can’t (or shouldn’t) apply ED.”
Truth: If a financial aid applicant applies early, he/she does surrender the chance to compare packages in the spring, and that is an important element to consider. However, at least at Tufts, applying ED does not compromise your eligibility for need-based aid or the amount of the award we will offer you. In other words, the financial aid award from Tufts will be the same no matter when you apply. In the (highly) unlikely event that our award does not meet your definition of “need,” you can ask for a reconsideration of the award and we will release you from the binding enrollment agreement if we can not agree on a package.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 28, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Comments

I appreciate Dean Coffin's remarks; however, there seems to be some confusion among his staff as to the meaning of "optional." At a very useful information session that my son and I attended this summer, one of his assistant deans told the group that "when you see the word 'optional' that means you'd better write the essays if you're serious about coming to Tufts" in response to a question about the notorious Tufts "optional" essays. In fact, a large part of the reason my son did not apply ultimately to Tufts is that he was so burned out by the time he got to its application that he couldn't face writing their essays, which are impossible to use repurposed essays from other schools.

Posted by: NoMad3 | January 28, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

As a student at a prominent magnet school, I find it hard to believe that there is no quota on the number of students admitted at several schools. Our counselors are constantly reminding us that our true competition is not the rest of the United States, but in fact our peers. For instance, in order to get accepted to Princeton, we have to be in the top thirteen of all of our school's applicants.

Posted by: ariasharma | January 28, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

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