College Mythbusters

Stuyvesant students create echo chambers of misinformation about the college process. We’ve broken down four of the most common Stuyvesant college myths.

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College is always on our minds. Stuyvesant students anxiously scroll through websites like CollegeVine and college subreddits or listen to horror stories from friends. We know you’re anxious, so the Stuyvesant Spectator has looked into four of the most commonly circulated myths––about everything from summer jobs to freshman year––to debunk (or confirm) their validity.

Colleges “hate” Stuyvesant.

One of the most common college claims at Stuyvesant involves some variation of the age-old adage “Colleges hate Stuyvesant!” Despite dozens of students being sent to the Ivies and other elite institutions every year, many are still insistent on the fact that going to Stuyvesant harms your application in some way, believing that if they went to a lower ranked school (but earned similar grades and scores), they would be more readily accepted into top schools. If anything, however, going to Stuyvesant actually helps your application.

“The simple answer [is] absolutely not,” Stuyvesant college counselor Jeff Makris said. “It’s completely false, and in fact, the opposite is true. This is seen as one of the most rigorous high schools in the United States. There’s only around two dozen schools in the country that have the same kind of clout when it comes to public schools. They respect us immensely because of students’ academic ability [and] the robust extracurricular opportunities here.”

Let’s look at the numbers. Nineteen Stuyvesant students were admitted to Harvard, 15 to Yale, and a whopping 58 to Cornell in 2020. And that’s just three Ivies—over 250 students were admitted to Binghamton and Stony Brook, top state schools. One might make the argument that there were still many qualified students who didn’t get accepted, but there’s no denying that 19 students admitted to Harvard is gargantuan. Most schools around the country, regardless of size, will struggle to even send one.

The Ivy-centric mindset at Stuyvesant often distracts from the fact that any elite college is incredibly difficult to get into. “I think the myth comes from our students who fixate on a very small group of incredibly selective schools that have very low admission rates. While these colleges respect our students and love to see our students apply, they’re still going to deny the majority of kids because they can’t fill their entire class with kids from Stuy,” Makris said. It’s not just Stuyvesant where qualified applicants just don’t make the cut—being top of your class at a lower ranked school doesn’t guarantee admission. Yes, there are many students at Stuyvesant who probably think they “deserve” to get into these top schools, but there are so many factors that contribute to who gets in and who does not.

Your freshman year grades matter. / You should start thinking about college freshman year.

While your freshman year grades are factored into your overall average, colleges are not going to hold a B in biology against you. Freshman year is a time of adjustment, and colleges understand. The transition to high school often means that students’ first semester grades won’t be their best, but that doesn’t mean one should stress. “Colleges do understand that students do better once they have a chance to adjust to high school,” Makris said. Colleges like to see growth across all four years, so starting off rough freshman year won’t hurt your chances–– it might even help them, as colleges appreciate seeing students’ upward academic trajectories.

Rather than dwelling on a sub-par class grade, try out clubs and courses that interest you. That way, you can spend the next three years pursuing fields you’re interested in and gaining leadership roles in clubs you’re passionate about.

When it comes to thinking about college in your freshman year, that’s all it should be: thinking. “It’s ok to be curious about colleges and to explore prospective majors, but we really want to avoid kids feeling like they need to know what their favorite school is by the end of ninth grade. You have a lot more time than that, and it’s premature. Let yourself adjust to high school,” Makris said.

Safety/targets schools won’t accept overqualified applicants.

As much as we would love to play mythbusters and tell you all your college worries are completely unfounded, some college myths are true—and yield protection is one of them. Some colleges care a lot about having a high percentage of students accept their offers, meaning that colleges may reject or waitlist very strong applicants who they think will choose a more elite school over them. This practice has been dubbed “Tufts Syndrome” by many, because Tufts, along with many other near-Ivy schools, is known to engage in this practice. The good news is that the practice isn’t too widespread. “[Yield protection] normally would only happen in pretty rare circumstances, with colleges that put a heavy emphasis on what’s known as demonstrated interest,” Makris said. Demonstrated interest is the degree to which a student displays genuine regard for a particular institution. “They’re looking for signs of contact between the student and the college, because that helps them predict if the student will actually enroll,” he said. “If the student has not shown any interest in a particular college they’re looking at as safe […] that could work against that particular student.”

Yield protection can sometimes result in students getting rejected from schools they’re qualified for. But look on the bright side: if a school is rejecting you for yield protection, they clearly think you have a strong application and are willing to bet on you getting into another elite school. If you fear your application will fall victim to yield protection, really drill in your love for the school through supplemental essays and demonstrate interest.

Every summer counts.

Freshmen and sophomores obsessively fill their summer schedules with internships, classes, and programs. And you should do something over the summer—it’s a great time to work on things you are passionate about. But don’t fill your time with activities that don’t matter to you for the sake of college. If you do a particularly impressive activity, you can include it as an extracurricular or write an essay about it, but colleges generally do not ask how you spent your summers. “Colleges aren’t saying, ‘We have to make sure this kid did something every summer,’” Makris said. “But more holistically, ‘What has this kid done while they’re in high school?’”

So don’t stress about the warmest season too much (you already get 10 months of the year to do that). Do something you enjoy over the summer. Work at a summer camp! Find a job! Take a cool course! Give back to your community! Travel! These could all be rewarding and enriching experiences that may also wind up being components of your college application. You will have a far more authentic college application if you do something for yourself rather than something superficial for colleges to see. “Extracurricular talents and engagement certainly [matter] for many colleges, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘Every summer I have to do some sort of formal program, or I’m going to be seen as inactive,’” Makris said.