Links to Success 4: Book Review of 75 Myths About College Admissions

One of the reasons we are building UnMaze Me is to reduce the workload of busy, overtired families by finding them quality information about a variety of high school topics. Just this week, I made a trip to the library and ordered over 15 different books and videos all about the college process. I know information is out there in a variety of ways, but who really has the time and energy to read through all those books just to gleam a few pieces of knowledge? Well… I do, if it will help you!

For the next few weeks, I am going to post book and video reviews in hopes to give you a well-rounded view of the resources available to you.

For this week, I am reviewing the book The 75 Biggest Myths about College Admissions: Stand out from the Pack, Avoid Mistakes, and Get into the College of your Dreams, Dr. Jerry Israel’s book about the myths related to college admissions. For this post, I chose 10 of the top myths he sought to debunk. I generalized each section into one myth, instead of his normal 6-7, to give a wider view of what he discusses in the book.

Myth 1 - Success in life depends on from where you graduate college.

Fact - Success in life depends not on which college you attend, but whether you graduate!

The importance here is that you find a college that fits you and you graduate successfully. Being unhappy, running up large amounts of debts, and leaving without a degree are the worst things you can do. So be sure to find a college that fits your needs and gives you the academic experience you are looking for.

Myth 2 - ACT/ SAT is the most important thing to admissions.

Fact- Standardized test scores are hotly debated, especially with the recent issues and redesigned SAT from College Board.

Some top schools are seeking to move away from these tests altogether. They are good at showing if a student is “college prepared” but colleges are basing their admission decisions on other things such as academic curriculum, extra-curricular activities, and unique student attributes. As a student, you should still try hard on these tests and even study for them (there are strategies to answer the questions they ask). For more from Unmaze Me about this myth, see our post Are Grades Really That Important? to see how a recent study ranked many admissions factors.

Myth 3 - Admissions is all about the individual student.

Fact - I wish it was, but realize that without entire classes of students a college wouldn’t exist. From the moment you write down colleges you are interested in on your ACT/ SAT forms, colleges and other college organizations will buy your information.

They are looking at things like your demographics, such as gender, parental income, race, proposed major. Why is this useful? If there is a male heavy program, like engineering and business, they may seek to recruit more females, and vice versa with female dominant degrees like education, nursing, or social welfare. Based on these lists, colleges start building their student lists earlier, even before you apply.

Myth 4 - College visits are completely indicative of what you will get if you go there.

Fact - Remember above when I said colleges need students - well, college visits are a marketing tool to get students to apply and attend.

Being big and fancy does not mean it has a high quality program or be the school culture you want. College tour guides are paid marketing sales people and are hand-selected to show a certain persona to prospective students. College visits are great (see the UnMaze Me post College Visits 101 and use my College Visit ScoreCard to take with you), but realize that what you see is only a part of it. Take opportunities to stay on campus, talk with other students, and experience college life there.

Myth 5 - Retention rate is not a big deal.

Fact - Knowing a school’s retention rate is the biggest question you should ask on a college visit.

What is a retention rate? It’s the rate that students return to the college after the first year. Why is it a big deal? If students are leaving in mass exodus, it shows something is wrong with the college. Maybe they are picking the wrong type of students; maybe they have poor academic programs; maybe they are lacking academic support to help the students transition. Colleges keep close tabs on this, it is actually one of the factors for their college rankings. Knowing their response is important - why is it so high, why so low, what are you doing to improve it? I often tell students to dig further, ask about the college’s retention rate, but also the program/ major about which you are thinking. Engineering and Biology (pre-med) have some of the lowest rates around, but have some of the highest placement rates (who goes on to graduate school or receives a job).

Myth 6 - I should only apply to a couple of universities, and the earlier I decide the better.

Fact- Every student should have a large range of schools they should apply to; big/ small, private/ public.

Students are often drawn to a certain university because of its brand-name. These universities have no problem filling their seats for next year, so they often don’t have to work as hard to get you. Often times, the smaller, less known schools will offer more scholarship money and more incentives for you to come. They may even entice you to decide early and accept their financial aid package sight unseen. If any school is offering you a seat, wait and see all the offers you get and compare. The best advice is to cast your net wide, typically 8-10 colleges, of different varieties and see what you get. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Myth 7 - Financial aid is all about the individual student.

Fact - Financial aid is a very perplexing beast and is even more difficult to try and explain the rationale behind.

Tuition is the number one resource for revenue for most colleges (except a few that have very large endowments); so while you may think colleges are trying to hold costs down, they are still charging far more than they need to. Colleges often load their financial aid decisions to produce the kind of freshman class they want with specific student demographics: high-achieving, musicians, and quarterbacks. While one would think academics would be what shapes the students who are accepted, it is the financial bottom line that really is. Colleges often package your financial aid as one group, but if the numbers are not working for you, do not hesitate to contact the financial aid department. I have had families ask for more, especially to match another offer, and schools typically do so.

Myth 8 - I have to do what the college offers in terms of room and board and work study.

Fact - Just like selling you a new car, they will often sell you upgrades that you may or may not need.

There are a few schools that require you to live on campus for your first year or maybe all four. More often than not, you have a choice based on what you want to do. While there are some benefits of living on campus (socially, ease of access, etc.), it isn’t necessary. Go thoroughly through what their packages are and pick what is best for you and your wallet. Making a budget and sticking to it will put you at a huge advantage later in life.

Myth 9 - Once accepted, all I have to do is make the decision by May 1.

Fact - After a college makes a decision, no matter what time of year it is, May 1 is the time that the deposit becomes nonrefundable and you “commit” to the college.

If the date is fast approaching, be sure that the college answers all the remaining questions you have, whether it is about financial aid, scholarships, housing, or programs. Be sure to have a clear picture of all of the colleges you were accepted into to make your final choice. You may even want to visit again just to be sure that you feel the same thing when you first went. Also, orientation is a mandatory process. So much goes on here that any student will be at a huge disadvantage if they don’t go.

Myth 10 - Transitioning to college is an easy process and one I shouldn’t worry about.

Fact - There is a lot that goes into going to college.

You have worked hard to get here by maintaining good grades and being prepared. This is not a time to start slacking. A lot of colleges offer roommate matching to your academic type. Take advantage of this and find someone who has the same attitudes toward college (partying, studying, academic rigor, etc.).  Be sure to get involved in the campus life as not only will help you with a career, but it will make you feel more connected to your campus community. Take advantage of college professors’ office hours, study in the library, take up a cause, and just get involved and live the life of a well-rounded college student!


Overall, I enjoyed Dr. Israel’s advice about the college process. His writing is clear and friendly. He discusses relevant topics to students and their families today. I would suggest this book if college admission seems like a very daunting task and you have a lot of questions about it or to help with a more generalize school search such as state universities or private schools. I would not recommend it to someone who is looking for highly selective schools, or who has been through the process already multiple times.



Israel, J. (2008). The 75 biggest myths about college admissions: Stand out from the pack, avoid mistakes, and get into the college of your dreams. Naperville, IL, Sourcebooks, Inc.