Betraying the College Dream: What College Myths Do You Believe In?

By Sam Rosensohn

While watching football with friends the subject of college came up and a buddy who happens to be a college counselor noted that one in four college freshmen at four-year universities don’t make it back for sophomore year.

Another friend noted that her daughter who had just started college this fall at Simmons wanted to transfer, and I mentioned that a young man who applied to tutor the math portion of the SATs in my office had taken a leave of absence from Trinity after his first semester. He got a perfect score on the math portion of the test, but Trinity, he said, wasn’t a good fit.

My friend the college counselor reminded everyone of Stanford University’s six-year national study entitled Betraying the College Dream. The critical report issued last March concluded that students graduate high school with “conflicting and vague messages about what students need to know and be able to do to enter and succeed in college.”

As for helping students to transition from high school to college, the 2003 study noted that “current data systems are not equipped to address students’ needs across systems, and no one is held accountable for issues related to student transitions from high school to college.”

What follows is an excerpt from the report that some are calling The Top Ten College Myths. The misconceptions are based on interviews with teachers, guidance counselors, parents, students and college personnel.

What college myths do you still believe in?

1)    I can’t afford college.

Students and parents regularly overestimate the cost of college.

2)    I have to be a stellar athlete or student to get financial aid.

Most students receive some form of financial aid.

3)    Meeting high school graduation requirements will prepare me for college.

Adequate preparation for college usually requires a more demanding curriculum than is reflected in minimum requirements for high school graduation, sometimes even if the curriculum is termed “college prep.”

4)    Getting into college is the hardest part.

For the majority of students, the hardest part is completing college.

5)    Community colleges don’t have academic standards.

Students usually must take placement tests at community colleges in order to qualify for college-level work.

6)    It’s better to take easier classes in high school and get better grades.

One of the best predictors of college success is taking rigorous high school classes. Getting good grades in lower-level classes will not prepare students for college-level work.

7)    My senior year in high school doesn’t count.

The classes students take in their senior year will often determine the classes they are able to take in college and how well prepared they are for those classes.

8)    I don’t have to worry about my grades or the kind of classes I take until my

sophomore year.

Many colleges look at sophomore year grades, and, in order to enroll in college level courses, students need to prepare well for college. This means taking a well-thought out series of courses starting no later than ninth or tenth grade.

9)    I can’t start thinking about financial aid until I know where I’m going to college.

Students need to file a federal aid form prior to when most colleges send out their acceptance letters. This applies to students who attend community colleges too, even though they can apply and enroll in the fall of the year they wish to attend.

10) I can take whatever classes I want when I get to college.

Most colleges and universities require entering students to take placement exams in core subject areas. Those tests will determine the classes students can take.

So where’s this leave us? Since college stakeholders and K-12 stakeholders operate in different universes that don’t interface to develop K-12 standards or college admissions and placement standards, it looks like there’s only one thing to do: Learn as much as you can about what colleges want and what they provide. Then make certain that students select schools that match their needs and goals.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the New SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at