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Few things in life are as stressful and as exhilarating as applying to a college. College applicants are putting it all on the line when they submit those transcripts and write those application essays, and it almost seems unfair to put anyone -- let alone an 18-year-old high school senior -- through that draining process.
Unfortunately, the application process is haunted by a lot of longstanding college myths that make the process seem worse than it needs to be. It's stressful, but it may not be as bad as you think if you disregard some of these college myths.
Myth 1: Your SAT and ACT scores are more important than your grades
There's no question that standardized test scores are important, but colleges also look at what classes you took in high school and how you performed in those classes. If you took college preparatory classes or Advanced Placement courses and did well, colleges may overlook a lower SAT score.
Myth 2: One or two bad years in high school will ruin your chances of getting into a good school
Colleges are looking for improvement, so if you did better in your junior and senior years of high school they are more likely to overlook a poor start. They also look at extracurricular activities, such as music, athletics and student government, when selecting students. In particular, they will look at the math, science and language classes you took. They'll also consider civic experiences, jobs and your enthusiasm during an interview. Submit some strong letters of recommendation.
Myth 3: You have to have a career in mind before you enter college
This is one of the long-standing myths about college. While some colleges don't make it easy to switch majors, most will allow you to change your field if you want. Even if you switch your concentration in your sophomore year, you may still be able to graduate within four years. If not, you won't be alone: Only one in five students graduates in four years, and only two in five do it in six years.
Myth 4: If you have to borrow money to go to school, you'll be faced with crushing debt for the first 10 years of your professional life
College is expensive, but one of the most persistent myths about college is that you will have to bury yourself in a mountain of debt to graduate. Low-interest loans are available and there are tax write-offs for college tuition. One thing to keep in mind is how much more you will earn with a college degree than without one -- your income after graduation may make those student loans not so daunting. Other ways to save money are by getting a work-study job and paid internships that will pay off when you enter the workforce.
Myth 5: If I get stuck with my No. 2 choice for college, I won't get as good a starting salary as someone coming out of a better school
OK, so you didn't get into Harvard. Most students don't. But what future employers are going to be looking for are college graduates who have combined learning theory with hands-on, real-world experience. So make sure your second choice provides that. Look for colleges that "feel" right to you, engage in opportunities to work side-by-side with professors, and take a leadership role on campus.
Time, "Five Biggest Myths About College Admissions," Andrew J. Rotherham, May 5, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2069625,00.html
CollegeTrends, "25 Common Myths About College," PICS, http://pics.collegetrends.org/myths.cfm
VSAC, "Myths That Keep Adults From Going To College," Plan for College, 2012, http://services.vsac.org/wps/wcm/connect/vsac/vsac/plan+for+college/adult+learners/thinking+about+going+back+to+school/vsac+-+plan+-+adult+learners+-+thinking+about+going+back+to+school+myths+that+keep+adults
Jim Sloan is a freelance writer in Reno, Nev.
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