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Debunking Five Myths Around the College Search

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When it comes to conducting a college search, there is more than enough anxiety to go around. One way to lessen the stress as you search for your best-fit school is to be well-informed from the very beginning. Here are five common myths about the college search and application process. Note the reality. It’s much less stressful than the myth.

Myth #1: I must pick a major before I apply to college.

Reality: While some students may have a pretty good idea about what they want to study, many do not. At age 17, who really knows what they want to do with the rest of their life? And why should anyone expect you to know for sure?

Take a deep breath, exhale, and know this: you are not required to pick a major if you’re applying to a liberal arts college, for example, like Meredith. The opportunity to explore majors and think about career or graduate school pathways is one of the advantages of applying to and attending a liberal arts college. We’ll encourage your exploration. And who knows, maybe you’ll discover a passion for multiple disciplines and decide to double major.

Myth #2: Student loans are bad. Many students graduate with huge debt, as much as $100,000.

Reality: You may have heard that many students graduate from college owing $100,000 in student loans. According to The College Board, Trends in Financial Aid 2018, the truth is this – the average loan debt of first-degree earners from private colleges and universities is $20,000 – less than the cost of an affordable new automobile.  It’s also worth understanding that 40% of the total debt is held by 9% of borrowers who owe over $80,000.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings of bachelor's degree holders were almost 40% higher than earnings for high school graduates. Further, according to The Hamilton Project, college graduates earn approximately $1.2 million over their lifetime, almost twice the amount of high school graduates.

Low interest student loans are not inherently bad. For many students, they can make the difference between going to college or not going. It’s important to be an informed borrower. Don’t borrow more than you need. And take time to understand the variety of repayment plans.

Call your financial aid counselor. Be informed. Your education is an investment in yourself with rewards that will last a lifetime.

Myth #3: Your test score is everything and will make or break your chances of getting in.

Reality: ACT and SAT scores are only one indicator of college readiness. Many schools will weigh your curriculum, grades, and writing ability heavier and as stronger indicators of potential for success in college. Many are even permanently or temporarily going the test-optional route. If you are applying to a college or university that requires an ACT or SAT, consider these recommendations: take either test your junior year. Review your score, identify the areas for which additional preparation could help, and then invest in no cost or low cost test preparation materials. Take the test again during the fall semester of your senior year.  There is very little evidence that taking the SAT or ACT more than three times will produce significant increases in your score. So make a plan and prepare. Be proud of your work and recognize that colleges who value you, will value you because they know you are more than a test score.

Myth #4: Only students and families who have high financial need should submit the FAFSA.

Reality: I’ve heard this myth for almost 20 years (that’s how long I’ve worked in college admissions). Year over year families tell me they’re not going to submit the FAFSA because they are not going to qualify for anything. Know these two truths: 1. There is no automatic income level cut-off for financial aid. Many variables are considered. Additionally, many institutions may wish to consider students for institutional need-based aid. If the FAFSA is not submitted, you’ll miss being considered. 2. Life can turn on a dime. Submitting the FAFSA creates funding options. If you don’t submit the FAFSA, you won’t have options you may end up needing.

Myth #5: The more activities I have, the stronger my application for admission.

Reality: Colleges are looking for depth of character. A resume filled with a laundry list of clubs and organizations is less impactful than two or three areas in which you have contributed in ethical, meaningful ways to the lives of others in your family and in your community.

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