6 Spooky Truths About the College Admissions Process

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It’s very fitting that Halloween falls in the middle of college application season. In fact, I’d wager a guess that the majority of high school seniors would rather spend a weekend in a haunted house than answer dozens of supplemental questions. While there’s no denying that this process can be overwhelming, it doesn’t need to be scarier than the Halloween movies. Here are six spooky facts about the college admissions process, and the sweet-as-Reese’s-Pumpkins truths that should hopefully ease your mind.


Spooky: The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2020–2021 school year was $41,411 at private colleges, $11,171 for state residents at public colleges, and $26,809 for out-of-state students at state schools. And you’re expected to go for four years?!

Sweet: About 85% of full-time undergraduate students at four-year schools are awarded some type of financial aid. Before you run screaming after seeing the “sticker price” of a school, investigate the various scholarships and grants that are available to you. In reality, there is a lot of help available if you know where to look.



Spooky: Perfect and near-perfect test scores will catch the eye of college admissions counselors. We’ve all seen the news articles about the seniors who didn’t miss a single question on the SAT or ACT… they probably have it made!

Sweet: Admissions counselors will look at your application holistically. A well-rounded student without stellar test scores can actually beat out an applicant with top scores who has a lackluster application. According to Douglas Christiansen, Vanderbilt University’s Vice Provost for University Enrollment Affairs and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, “There are many students we’ve denied with perfect test scores because they didn’t have anything else to set them apart.”


Spooky: You absolutely need to have clubs, sports, volunteer experiences, and other extracurricular activities on your application. Everyone knows this.

Sweet: In reality, quality is more important than quantity. You don’t need to be attending a different club meeting every day of the week. Instead, join a few organizations you’re passionate about, and dive in headfirst! Run for leadership positions, volunteer at club-sponsored events, mentor new members, go above and beyond. In short, become actively and thoroughly involved in a few key things you love, instead of just racking up surface-level memberships to a dozen things.



Spooky: Your essay needs to entertain, enlighten, and explain all at once! The best essays are ones that capture the reader’s attention by the first paragraph. It is your one shot to show schools who you are as a person, outside of academics.

Sweet: You don’t need an essay topic worthy of a major motion picture. The other day, a student lamented to me, “I’ve had a pretty easy life. I don’t have any epic struggles or wild stories to write about.” Guess what? You don’t need either of those things! We’ve read phenomenal essays about things like t-shirts, strange dreams, and childhood pets. As long as your essay highlights your personality, shows personal growth, and highlights something you care about, you can write on just about anything.



Spooky: Colleges need to see that you’ve taken a rigorous course load. They want to see that you’re not scared of a challenge, and are prepared to take on the academic demands of college.

Sweet: There is a way to challenge yourself strategically without overwhelming yourself. While AP and Honors classes are important assets to a college application, it’s even more meaningful if you’re taking advanced courses in your desired field of study. In other words, AP English and AP World History aren’t exactly necessary if you’re dead set on majoring in Engineering. In fact, loading yourself up with extra-hard classes just for the sake of it may only result in lower grades. Focus on challenging yourself in the areas you are interested in pursuing!



Spooky: Sometimes, the difference between an acceptance and a rejection is a matter of luck. According to one extra-spooky Vox article written by a former dean, “It’s never really clear which candidates are more qualified. Even less clear is who deserves a spot in the class, and how anyone could comfortably determine such a thing.”

Sweet: While it is impossible to show a school exactly who you are – and how deserving you are – in one application, it’s simply not the end of the world if you’re rejected. More important than the specific school you attend is the attitude and work ethic you bring to it. Talented, hardworking, motivated students will excel wherever they go, and as cliché as it sounds, you will end up where you’re supposed to be.