College admissions are a gamble. Test scores, GPA, extracurriculars, family background and your parents’ ability to pay half a million dollars to bribe you in are all factors that can affect that acceptance letter reaching your mailbox. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a service that would tell you exactly what you needed to get into the school of your dreams?
Well, congrats! You’re in luck! There is! … Sort of.
College Confidential was founded in 2001 and, according to their website, promises to “bring candid community insights, expert advice, and career exploration under one roof for an all-in-one college and career planning experience.”
However, the thing College Confidential is most famous — and infamous— for is their “Chance Me” section. The feature allows college hopefuls, usually students aiming for Ivy League schools and other elite institutions like Stanford and Georgetown, to enter their stats into a forum. From here, other community members, who are often other college hopefuls who have yet to experience the admissions process, “chance” their odds of the student getting into their desired school.
It seems relatively harmless, really. No student, parent or other user who frequents College Confidential can actually predict another student’s chance at acceptance. Nobody knows if being president of the debate club or getting a 5 on the AP Art History exam will get you into Harvard.
Yet, people live for these “chance me’s,” putting so much faith in a flawed system and thus, contributing to the two largest problems plaguing the American college admissions system: comparison and overthinking.
Picture this: Dartmouth College is your dream. You’ve worked your butt off in high school, filling your resume with college-level classes, leadership positions, volunteer hours, glowing letters of recommendation, and a near-perfect GPA and SAT score. You stumble upon College Confidential and decide to throw your “chance me” in the ring. The comments start flooding in. “Need stronger extracurriculars,” one states. “Weak test scores,” says another.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe your test scores could be a little higher and maybe you could’ve been involved in more extra-curricular but who is to say? Chance me’s are toxic in that they can cause doubt where there wasn’t any before. Our hypothetical Dartmouth hopeful never felt doubt. Sure, they knew it was a reach, but all Ivy League schools are reaches.
These simple comments from anonymous critics (who likely don’t know what they are talking about) have the potential to cause stress and anxiety over something a student was never worried about. This leads to an increased presence of the other aforementioned issue: overthinking.
Most chance me users are high school sophomores and juniors, looking to polish their college acceptability before the fall of their senior year. But there’s also a surge of chance me’s from high school seniors who have already applied to their dream schools, anxious to hear what their peers and random internet users think. But at this point, the student can no longer do anything about their application. There’s no point to completing a chance me, now. The effects can be more harmful than helpful, yet the College Confidential moderators do nothing to discourage post-application chance me’s.
It doesn’t stop at chance me’s either. Another feature that has developed on College Confidential’s site is a community that shares updates on the status of decisions from specific schools. The original intention of the feature was to post when you received a decision, whether it be an acceptance or rejection.
But users started to read too deep into the decision timeline. They began ripping apart every clue and speculating whether an email from FAFSA or a glitch notifying you of activity on your application portal means you’re in or you’re not. Just like post-application chance me’s, this feature does nothing but cause stress and overthinking. The college application process is crazy, but it is a process you should trust. Your decision will come in due time.
Even worse, College Confidential seems to foster a community of one-uppers, resulting in nothing but low self-esteem. I have never posted on the site, but already know that I would immediately feel silly for being proud of my well-earned 4 on the AP U.S. History exam.
In reality, I shouldn’t feel that way. Four is a great score! It’s rare for even an extraordinary student to receive 5’s in every AP class they take. Yet, many of the posts that fill the forums are written by students “embarrassed” that they only got a 4, since someone in their chance me told them that their 4 wasn’t good enough for Yale. It seems a vicious cycle has started: users put down other users in order to feel better about themselves, and so on and so forth.
The toxicity surrounding College Confidential has not gone unnoticed over the years. The blog Medium Corporation released their “5 Reasons Why College Confidential is Slowly Killing You” to highlight how obnoxious over-qualification can make us come across. Similarly, an article on DIY College Rankings calls out the inaccuracy of the chance me system, while at the same time, praises the site for its accessibility.
Not everyone is blessed with a readily available, knowledgeable guidance counselor, so College Confidential serves as a free replacement for students who are confused about the process — especially those who are first-generation college students. College Confidential does provide a plethora of information on applications, SATs and just about anything else, as long as you’re ready to look past its flaws.
The college admissions process is stressful enough as it is, without the addition of toxic, external influences. I think it’s safe to say that students should stay away from chance me’s. Of course, try it if you’re curious, but be aware of its effects. And most importantly, understand that no matter what, you’ll end up exactly where you need to be.