College Planning Myths: Part One - Admissions

Melissa Cox CFP® CFLSA

College Planning Myths: Part One - Admissions

As your family begins planning your child’s college journey you will receive a great deal of advice from others. As a College Funding and Student Loan Advisor, I have heard just about everything under the sun. Unfortunately, there are a number of myths and misconceptions regarding getting into and paying for college that you might run into that will do more harm than good. As any parent knows, advice is often plentiful, but that does not make it helpful or correct.

Let’s begin with my favorite College Admission Myth.

Myth - My "Star" Student will automatically get into any college they want

Melissa Cox CFP addresses the myth that smart students will get into any college they want.

The first myth is that because your child is a star student and athlete in high school, they will easily get into the college of their choice. As such, they apply only to schools in their top tier and do not consider applying to what is referred to as “safe” schools.

Suddenly, the rejection letters are invading your mailbox and it becomes a crisis as your child has no idea where they are going to school in the fall. You are all stunned and then spend weeks scrambling to apply for local schools with a goal of having your child transfer after the first year.

This happens more than you might imagine.

There is a misconception that the best schools are waiting to admit your child; but nothing could be further from the truth. Top tier schools are flooded with applications from students with near perfect grades who packed their schedules with extracurricular activities, boasting solid letters of recommendations.

Reality - Most Ivy League applications are rejected

Melissa Cox CFP explains the reality that most Ivy League Applications are rejected

You may be shocked to realize that in terms of the Ivy League, overall acceptance rates are generally around or below 10% acceptance. Truthfully, many are closer to a 5% - 6% acceptance rate.

State universities have higher acceptance rates; however, they also receive a larger amount of applicants. While a 40% acceptance rate seems reasonable at first glance, if you look at the number of applications they receive, as well as the ratio of in-state versus out of state acceptance rates, it is a bit more complicated.

Starting the college planning process before your student's junior year can help set expectations.

Melissa Cox CFP encourages clients to start college planning early to set expectations.

I am sorry to be so blunt, but it is the truth. And if you do not plan ahead, you might find your family thrust into a stressful crisis that you may not be able to fix due to application deadlines.

So how do you plan for admission in a strategic way to avoid a potential problem, even though you cannot predict what will happen? By carefully researching and planning the application process; by starting earlier, you will be far better prepared for what lies ahead.

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Did you know that admissions departments have a formula that they apply to every applicant?

Melissa Cox CFP describes the formula used by admission departments for applicants.ti

This actually is not a myth! Grades, activities, high school rank, volunteer work, special circumstances, all play a role in how your child scores in the admissions calculations. It is all the more reason to keep your student involved in their Senior year of high school, and not fall into the "Senioritis" trap.

As you look into colleges, you have to think about the following questions:

- What is the acceptance rate?

- Is early decision a good idea?

- Does the school weight high school rank?

- If applying to a state school, what is the ratio of acceptance for in-state versus out of state students?

- Are there any “special considerations” in applying, such as entering as a first-generation college student or a non-traditional student?

- I attended this university, does this factor into my child’s application?

- Can we meet with an admissions counselor to discuss our child prior to applying?

All of these are reasonable questions and, to be honest, you should be asking them. By doing your research ahead of time, you can save yourself time and effort, and you can make a better informed decision.

We have already discussed acceptance rates; let’s go over what a few of these other questions mean and why they are important.  

What is early decision in applying to a college?

Melissa Cox CFP defines early decision acceptance

It is like a contract in that your child applies for early acceptance and in doing so; they are agreeing that if they are accepted they will attend that school in the fall. If your child is set on a particular college and is absolutely sure that this is their choice and you have planned on the financial costs, this may be a good option.

Early decision is not a guarantee of admission and competitive schools are flooded with these applicants. However, if you are accepted on an early decision basis, you are locked in to attending that school.

However, it may be a good way to find out early as to whether or not they are accepted so you can make other plans if they are rejected.

Pros of Early Decision:

  1. You receive your Acceptable Answer Early
  2. Applying Early Decision Means Only One Application
  3. Early Decision Often Means You're Competing Against a Smaller Applicant Pool

Cons of Early Decision:

  1. You Need Your Application Materials Much Sooner
  2. Applying Early Decision Often Means No Comparison in Financial Aid Offers
  3. Early Decision Can Also Mean You are Competing Against Very Strong Candidates.

What is early action on a college application?

Melissa Cox CFP defines early action in college planning.

Early Action is the process of applying early to a college you have thoroughly researched. Unlike Early Decision, you are not bound to the college if you are accepted. You are able to wait until National Decision Day to make your final determination.

This allows students to effectively compare any financial aid offers, and make an informed educated decision on accepting a college.

What do you mean by weighting high school rank?

Melissa Cox CFP explains the weighted high school ranking system.

As you know, some high schools are more competitive than others, it varies by district. There are colleges that will rank your child’s high school rank, based upon the quality of the school they attended. So for example, your child is ranked as 15th in their high school class, but that is a great accomplishment because their high school is extremely competitive.

Some colleges will then add points to your child’s admissions score based on this, because they recognize that your child’s rank is equal to being the valedictorian in another district. However, some schools feel that this privileges wealthier students over others and offer no weight based upon the school district.

Ask the school whether or not they weight the high school rank.

My child is looking at attending a state school as an out of state student; does this equate to a greater or lesser chance of admission?

Melissa Cox CFP compares in state vs out of state schools and acceptance rates.

Most state universities charge roughly double the tuition for out of state residents. As such, they sometimes welcome those students in a higher ratio compared to in-state students.

Other state schools see their mission as primarily educating in-state students, so their acceptance rate heavily favors these applicants. Look at their statistics for more information.

What about special considerations, such as a first-generation college student?

Melissa Cox CFP describes the benefit of being a first generation college student.

This is where you need to craft a strong personal statement that reflects why you are pursuing a college degree and what about you want the admissions counselors to be aware of. If you are a returning student or have another special circumstance and want the school to factor that into their decision, be sure to include it as part of your personal essay.

As an alumnus of a school, will that be an asset to my child’s application?

Melissa Cox CFP explains that having alum in the family can help your acceptance rate.

Yes. It is a factor in admissions decisions and most applications ask if either parents or a guardian are alumni.

Is it possible to meet with an admissions counselor to discuss our child prior to applying?

Melissa Cox CFP suggests reaching out to admissions counselors

In many cases, yes, it is possible. However, at the larger schools, this is far more difficult to arrange. Admissions offices hire current students to offer campus tours; if you intend to take such a tour, contact the admissions office prior to the date and see if you can meet with an admissions counselor.

If the school is too far for you to visit, they often offer virtual tours. Again, contact the admissions office to arrange a virtual meeting to discuss your child’s application.

While your child may be an outstanding candidate for college admissions, realize that there are no guarantees and that it is a process.

Melissa Cox CFP explains there are no guarantees in college admissions.

That is part of the reason I created Cox Collegiate Planners. My goal is to provide the best advice on the college planning process. Together we will begin the search early. We will have conversations and create a plan that helps you with selecting colleges to apply to, applying, and the financial costs.

Today is the day to prepare for your child’s future: I look forward to helping you with that process.

Give us a call and let's build a plan for your child's education.


Melissa Anne Cox CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ is also a College Funding and Student Loan Advisor, and Financial Coach in Dallas, Texas.

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