Like non-fiction horror stories? Then you’ll love college admissions news stories.

Early-rising daffodils have given way to lilacs and apple trees, which are now in full blossom. And while the sweet scent of spring is in the air, we must pause to hold our noses over the proliferation of college admissions stories that focus on the occasionally  sensational world of highly selective colleges.

Consider this one from the New York Times blog, “The Choice,” which ran last Friday (which—coincidentally?—happened to be the 13th):

…we present our third annual listing of college admissions statistics at a range of institutions — a listing based on figures supplied by those colleges and universities that responded to a survey from The Choice over the last few weeks. This year, for the first time, we have included the number of students who were placed on waiting lists, as well as a more in-depth look at acceptance rates.

If you were to believe that the approximately 70 colleges on this list were representative of the universe of American colleges (which is about 1,600 colleges) you might think that most colleges have admission rates that read like the average January low temperatures above the Arctic Circle (which, you should know, is not where you will find Appleton, Wisconsin).

  • Stanford: 6.63%
  • Yale: 6.82%
  • Harvard: 5.92%
  • Really?

Of the 70 colleges featured on the list, 87% have admission rates lower than 50%.

However, if you were to include the universe of American colleges, the preceding statement would read just as accurately by changing the word “lower” to “higher“. (For the record, Lawrence University, which admits about two-thirds of its candidates, was not asked to complete the survey.)

College admissions, with so many cases of students failing to “get into their dream college,” abounds with drama. Drama is what makes for good storytelling. But the rest of the story when it comes to college admission is really not all that dramatic: most students apply to colleges that are good matches with their talents and aspirations; and most students get into those colleges. Not much to write about there, so, at least for the sake of interesting journalism, we find ourselves confronted with more tales, often breathlessly told, of deflated aspirations.

And we wonder why students are so stressed out about getting into college… and why they spend so much energy doing so many things—quite often too many things—to try to make themselves more “interesting” to colleges, as if we are panelists on American Idol.

There are a lot of colleges out there—many of which are not household names—that are perfectly good fits for students and which offer admission to more students than they deny or wait-list. The Colleges That Change Lives, of which Lawrence University is a proud member, are a great example of such institutions.

If one of the purposes of this blog is to demystify our college admission process, another is to demythify (pardon the made-up word) college admission.

Myth demythified: It’s not as hard to get into college as you may have been led to believe.