SATURDAY, AUGUST 8TH, 2020
Students, parents, Internet trolls and college experts all convene on one website: College Confidential. Dubbed the “world’s largest college forum,” College Confidential boasts 300,000 visitors a month. Topics discussed on the website include, but are not limited to, college admissions, summer programs, internship opportunities, essays and financial aid.

With more and more college applicants each year and college admissions becoming increasingly tough, students and parents alike are anxious to know what it takes to get into top-tier colleges. Since its inception in 2001, College Confidential has continued to grow in popularity due to a larger influx of distressed and unsure applicants.

The infamous “What Are My Chances?” forum mostly contains threads of users asking others to evaluate their chances of getting into certain schools. In these threads, members outline their achievements inside and outside of the classroom in hopes of having other users tell them they are worthy of admission. Over 6,250 “Chance Me” threads have been created since November, a testament to the growing anxiety surrounding college admissions.

Another type of thread, which asks for the college decisions of graduated seniors, is one of College Confidential’s most popular threads, with over 1.5 million views. This thread has over 2,000 replies where previous applicants list their college decisions along with the college they will be attending. The replies go on to detail an applicant’s GPA, ACT and SAT scores, AP scores, ethnicity, location, extracurriculars, leadership roles, honors, awards and self-reflection on essays and teacher recommendations. On the site, registered members are allowed to comment on threads anonymously and participate in college-related discussion while anyone without an account can view the information.

By comparing their own statistics with the statistics of other applicants, readers are meant to be able to “chance” themselves, as well as others. The combination of all previous applicants’ attributes and outcomes are intended to help future applicants gauge their achievements relative to the achievements of others and build a more realistic list of safeties, fits and reaches.

However, there are mixed feelings surrounding this seemingly helpful resource. Urban Dictionary, a satirical website that defines slang, lists College Confidential “among the worst websites on the internet” and labels it as “a place where you can read about snotty geniuses who feel the need to brag in the ultimate attempt to make the ‘average high school student’ feel pity on the themselves.”

While sophomore Allison Wu agrees that College Confidential has the ability to put students down, she believes it is still a valuable resource students should tap into.

“Because of the amount of overachieving students posting on the website, [the site] sometimes discourages me,” Allison Wu said. “Yet I find it pretty useful because I can see what activities other students are doing and where those activities have gotten them in terms of college admissions.”

Even though the college application process does not begin until senior year, high school students of all ages use College Confidential.

Junior Samarth Venkatasubramaniam was introduced to the website by his older brother as early as freshman year, and has since used it to compare his own achievements to the achievements of others who have gotten into research programs he is applying to. Although Venkatasubramaniam recommends the website because of its plethora of information, he recognizes that some of it is too specified.

“For the purposes that I use it, College Confidential is somewhat useful,” Venkatasubramaniam said. “But the user base of College Confidential is not really representative of the population of applicants for most things, so the information is definitely skewed.”

Both senior William Meng and Venkatasubramaniam agree that the sort of demographic found on College Confidential does not reflect that of all college applicants.

“The number of people who post on those threads is statistically insignificant compared to the number of people who actually apply to [college],” Meng said. “I think those people are not randomly selected whatsoever as I think there is a certain characteristic mindset that is shared by people who post on College Confidential that is not common to college applicants in general.”

Even though College Confidential aims to demystify the college application process, its superficial text format limits the amount of reliable information. Similar to Venkatasubramaniam, junior Ericka Wu is wary of the accuracy of what people post.

“College Confidential should not always be trusted as a lot of the time it is not representative of your own circumstances.,” Wu said. “Just because people post information does not mean you should totally depend on what they are saying.”

Despite not completely trusting the information it provides, Ericka Wu believes that College Confidential remains a useful resource for students looking for college advice from both past and present college applicants.

College Confidential can give students and parents the “inside scoop” on the college admissions process that cannot be found anywhere else. When Googling hard-to-find information on topics ranging from summer programs to financial aid, College Confidential is usually a top result with multiple threads on the inquiry. The wealth of information should be taken advantage of, as specific statistics and applicant testimonies can rarely be found on a college website.

One of the most helpful topics on College Confidential titled “Ask the Dean” allows members to ask a college admissions expert their own questions about the college admissions process by creating their own thread. Despite not being an actual dean, the information provided by the college admissions experts is still applicable. This forum gives applicants and parents the opportunity to have their own specific questions answered by a professional. Even rare and specific topics such as not having enough slots to input all extracurriculars, made up credentials and middle school detentions are addressed — pointing to the topic’s ability to help applicants on exactly what they need.

However, having already gone through the college application process, Meng finds that the information found on College Confidential can mislead future applicants on what a college is actually looking for.

“The site might promote a distorted view of the college admissions process,” Meng said. “If you read a thread [on college decisions], you might think thoughts like ‘to get into this school, I need to be more like ‘X’ user who was accepted’ or ‘I need to avoid doing what ‘Y’ user did who was rejected.’”

Despite its flaws, College Confidential remains the largest source for advice on the college application process. Readers should be warned that some information is misleading and unrepresentative. Regardless, College Confidential provides helpful advice that can aid students in the stressful college application process.

About The Author

Former Senior Staff Writer

Alice Zhao is the former Managing Editor and a senior at Paly and has been part of The Campanile staff since her junior year. She believes that student journalism is be a powerful outlet to bring about real positive change. Her favorite part about being on the newspaper is being able to hear diverse perspectives in order to add dimensions to her articles and way of thinking.

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