5 Myths About the College Search — Busted! — Right Before School Starts

By Michaela August 14, 2020 College Application College Search Scholarships and Financial Aid

I know that it’s easy to feel completely unprepared — and the college search is changing so much right now.  However, even though you can’t visit some colleges this minute and must wear a mask everywhere you go, there are still some pervading myths about the college search. 

I thought of five myths right before breakfast. I’m going to channel the show “MythBusters” and flatten them for you. You see, I spent 12 years in college admission and I feel like I’ve seen it all.

Here are five quick myths you can bust before your next meal.

Myth #1: Scholarships aren’t as easy as eating a taco. 

Applying for scholarships can be super simple. In the amount of time it will take you to get out taco shells, heat them up, put toppings on them (dripping with salsa and sour cream — yum! Anyone else hungry?) it could take you that amount of time to film a quick video for a scholarship. 

Why am I talking about tacos? It’s the inspiration behind the Live Más scholarship. I chose that scholarship to show you how simple they can be. Here’s what you have to do to get the award:

Submit a video that addresses these questions:

  • What post-secondary education program, college or certificate/degree program are you attending?
  • What impact will following your passion have on your local community or the world?
  • How do you plan to achieve your passion through your educational goals?
  • What is your dream college, school or next step in your education?

Here’s the most fantastic part: Your submission video only needs to be between 30 seconds and two minutes in length.

Thirty seconds. Forget making tacos — that’s less time than it takes to eat a taco. You may indeed have to do a few takes to make sure it’s perfect.

The point is, scholarships don’t have to be a big deal, but they will if you agonize over them. Jump in, feet first. Take the plunge. Take that first big bite! 

Myth #2: It’s not essential to get to know the school counselor at your school.

Holy buckets, are you missing out on an opportunity if you subscribe to the myth above. School counselors are a veritable fount of knowledge. I was an admission counselor at a college for 12 years, and do you know what I did when I visited high schools? 

Sure, I talked to students. But I always took it one step further. I brought goodies for school counselors and insisted I have their ear for at least 20 minutes. Then I’d proceed to load them up with information about our college and why students should attend our little gem in the Midwest. 

I’d do a deep dive on:

  • The most popular academic programs
  • The culture of the campus
  • Recent athletic team victories (and my favorite coach of the minute!)
  • Student success stories
  • Former high school students from that school and do a “Where Are They Now?” exploration — I always had my research cut out for me before I left campus!
  • The gorgeous, gorgeous campus (“Have you been there before, Ms. School Counselor? Here’s a coupon for free treats at the bakery in town! You must make a road trip!”) 
  • And so much more.

I always tried to give them a list of the highlights and listened intently to what the counselor had to say to me, too. It was so fun!

School counselors are also the ones who can help you find scholarships. They know all the local scholarships going back to some crazy date in the past, like 1980. In all seriousness, though, it’s important to get to know school counselors for their scholarship knowledge. They know exactly which scholarships to which you should apply. That’s why you need to clue your school counselor in on all your achievements, career ambitions and schools you’re thinking of attending. How else will they know where to point you?

Here are two simple steps to make sure your school counselor or career counselor knows you exist: 

  • Meet with your counselor. Now. Before school starts or during the first few days. Tell her your hopes, goals, dreams and ambitions (right, I know, those are all pretty much the same thing).
  • Put together a resume. Now, should you expect your school counselor to hang it on her wall and glance at it six times a day? No. However, it’s a great rundown of what you can offer — and one or two things might stick out.
  • Participate in school counselor activities. Does your counselor plan to have a back-to-school Zoom night? A parent information night? Go. Participate. Remember, that school counselor is a trove of information.
  • Send her a follow-up note. Do you know how many times your school counselor gets a thank-you note? Not often enough. I don’t care if she’s the most popular person in the school and gets dozens every week — send her a thank you note after you meet or if she does something wonderful for you, like refer you to a scholarship.

Myth #3: College sticker prices are the law.

Ugh, it pains me to say that college costs aren’t straightforward. Sticker prices often scare a lot of families away. When I was a college admission counselor, I always lamented the fact that I’d never even get the opportunity to talk to so many families because they dismissed the expense with a simple click of a computer mouse. 

Please take this to heart: Almost nobody pays the sticker price.

Sometimes I just wanted to run around with a bullhorn and yell that in every community across our state.

The sticker price doesn’t take into account your:

  • FAFSA results
  • Grade point average and ACT or SAT scores (if needed) for merit-based scholarships
  • Grants and other aid opportunities
  • Housing, food, transportation, books, supplies, medical coverage and other discretionary money needs

My best advice is to go through the application process, file the FAFSA and get the financial aid awards from colleges — even if you’re scared away by the sticker price. A school with a high sticker price might cost less than you think.

Myth #4: Goal setting isn’t for me.

No, no! Goal setting is for everyone. Why not turn this idea on its head and set your goals backward? So, here’s what I mean by this. If your ultimate goal is to get into a great pre-med program, work back from there. You can go even further than that. If your goal is to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, start there. It can look like this:

  • Find the right match at a hospital with an opening for a cardiothoracic surgeon.
  • Go into a two- or three-year cardiothoracic surgery residency program or enter a six-year integrated cardiothoracic surgery residency.
  • Complete a five-year general surgery residency program.
  • Attend and graduate from a four-year medical school.
  • Complete a four-year undergraduate degree with an emphasis on science.
  • Graduate with honors from high school.
  • Apply to at least 10 highly selective colleges.
  • Apply for at least 50 pre-med scholarships.
  • Look for pre-med or surgery-oriented scholarships. 
  • Take as many AP classes as possible.
  • Determine a method for getting scholarships — through community service, a social justice program or another goal that makes you a worthier candidate for awards.

Put your ultimate goal at the top, then funnel down to the steps you have to take to get there. Put this somewhere where you can see it every day and attack one small step at a time. It helps to put your larger goals in context — and you know what? Even if you don’t end up going that route (students change their majors all the time!) — it’s still a good exercise in helping you think carefully about what you want for your life.

Myth #5: Your mom’s in charge of your college search.

News flash: Your mom’s not in charge of your college search. Sure, searching for college may be the most adult thing you’ve ever done, but it’s also your journey, not your mom’s. So forget the college application checklist (just for a second!) and read this

You want your mom’s help, sure, but it’s not her job to fill out the application. Would you believe that in a handful of cases, I could see that moms filled out the college application? I’m. So. Not. Kidding. 

Here are some other things you should do, not your mom:

  • Call admission counselors
  • Set up Zoom meetings with admission counselors
  • Set up college visits (when the colleges are open to visitors and you feel comfortable, of course)
  • Scholarship research and applications
  • Manage your schedule

Here are a few things your mom can do:

  • File the FAFSA
  • Figure out the logistics of college visits (transportation, hotel stays, etc.)
  • Talking to the financial aid office at various colleges (but you should listen to those conversations!)

Myths, Busted!

Myths beg to be busted, and unfortunately, there are a lot more than these five myths about the college search out there. To help you out, I’ve put together a back-to-school checklist just for you that busts some myths about the college search. 

Everyone needs this checklist because let’s face it, launching the college search is hard — and it’s easy not to know where to start. Get the Free back-to-school college search checklist from College Money Tips — you’ll have it in your hands in no time!

Don’t Fall for this Myths!

About the Author

Melissa Brock is a longtime college admissions professional from her 12 years at Central College, and is now a personal finance writer and editor. She also launched her website, CollegeMoneyTips.com, to help families navigate the finances that accompany higher education. Check out her website and blog for more college admissions tips.