College Admission
The Lies We Tell Ourselves, Part 1. Students.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves, Part 1. Students.

I run, but I’m not a REAL runner. But I am a competitor. So when someone passes me or is faster than me, I always tell myself that they’re just in the first quarter mile. Conversely, when I pass someone, I convince myself that they’re fresh and barely getting started, while I’m nearing the end of my jog. It’s ridiculous. But we all do this on some level, don’t we? “I’m not gaining weight, this scale is always five pounds too high.” “Going out with friends instead of studying for tomorrow’s final will be fine. I’m really at my best after 2 a.m. anyway.” “This shirt is expensive, but I need to look good and land this  job.” On some level, we know these thoughts aren’t true but they help us justify our actions, they make us feel better, and they provide us a little bit of hope that we love to cling to.

These little lies also happen in college admission, and we’re all guilty- students, college admissions counselors, and parents. Let’s start with students.



Lie 1- Applying to multiple schools with extremely low admit rates increases my chances of getting into one of them. Statistically incorrect. If every school you apply to takes one out of every five students (or less), you are entering a complete crap shoot, as we examined in Holistic Admission, The Struggle is Real. Each year I hear from a student or about a student who applied only to Ivy League Schools, and was not admitted to any of them. Or worse, from the student who applied only to one ultra-selective school, only to learn in March they’ve been denied and are left scrambling for options. Maybe you’re too young to have seen the cinematographic masterpiece Dumb and Dumber in which Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carey) asks Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly—also briefly, and I mean briefly, Carey’s wife) the chances of them ending up together. He suggests one in a hundred to which she replies, “I’d say more like one in a million.” Christmas pauses, considers, and then replies exuberantly, “So…you’re telling me there’s a chance… YEAH!” Like I said before… it’s the hope we love to cling to.

If you’ve been tuning out counselors, teachers, or parents who advise you to apply to a “foundation” or “safety” school, it’s time to snap out of it and get one or two more applications in NOW. If you’ve been looking at data in Naviance or from prior years matriculation lists from your high school and see no one with your profile has been admitted to a particular college over the last few years, then I implore you to submit at least one application to a place you could see attending (not only one that will admit you, but likely offer you a scholarship too).

Lie 2- I have to go to X institution if I’m going to have a really successful career. Look at the Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 list of companies and their CEOs. Most come from schools not categorized as highly selective. While this is a purely monetary measure, it demonstrates that you do not have to attend an elite college in order to be highly successful. Similarly, ask any parent or teacher that attended a prestigious school about their experience and their experience now 20-30 years after graduating from college. They’ll inevitably rattle of plenty of examples of classmates who have not “succeeded,”, and an equal or greater number who are not happy, content, or thriving. The college you attend does not dictate your life trajectory. Getting into a school earns you nothing but the right to pay tuition. It’s the work you do once there, the contacts you make, the worldview you gain, and the opportunities you grasp and capitalize on that will have the primary bearing on your future success—however you define that.

Lie 3- The school I get into and attend represents my success and standing. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and this is a very noble trait. In its best form, it leads to people serving in the armed forces or sacrificing their own stat sheet for a team win. But when it comes to college admission, unfortunately, this often goes the other way. Take Eric. Yesterday he was admitted to Stanford. Congratulations, Eric! Only 5% of applicants will be this year. Today Eric proudly threw open the schoolhouse doors with his chest out, his hair flipping, and his chin unnaturally high. The other mere denizens of the school (including his teachers and administrators) were simply thankful to be in his esteemed presence. Eric perused the cafeteria at lunch as he considered whom he should grace with his presence….. Eric had been admitted to Stanford. But he’d also become a complete jerk. Don’t be like Eric.

Tomorrow we’ll hear the lies college admission officers tell.