College Confidential: Curse or Cure-All?

College Confidential: Curse or Cure-All?

College Confidential. For college students who know what it is, the name will probably elicit groans and comments about how much pressure the forum puts on people. How crazy everyone who goes on College Confidential is. And for many of them, how much time they spent on it during their college application process.

College Confidential is a website whose main component is the college discussion forum, where people can talk about subjects from standardized test preparation and how likely they are to get into a particular college to politics and poetry (in the off-topic subforums, obviously). The site also contains college reviews, a question-and-answer section called “Ask the Dean,” and SuperMatch, a college search tool.

I’ll admit straight out that from my sophomore year of high school until I got accepted to college, I was a little bit of a College Confidential junkie. “A little bit” meaning I spent at least an hour on the High School Life subforum every day, constantly refreshing the active threads to make sure I didn’t miss out on any part of the conversations.

When it came time for me to really start narrowing down my college list, though, College Confidential’s on-topic subforums were very helpful for me in getting a feel for what certain schools were like. And the threads where everyone discussed their SAT answers and pretty much collectively reconstructed the entire test from memory helped me keep my sanity as we waited for scores to come out—though reading through those threads can lead to insanity, depending on how you look at it.

So College Confidential isn’t all bad. You just need to know how to navigate it so you don’t let it drive you completely insane. Hopefully the following brief glossary/guide will help. The main takeaway is that there is a balance between avoiding the forum at all costs and letting it suck you into its craziness. Treading that line carefully can allow you to get some useful insight into the application process.

Asking Questions If you start your own thread on College Confidential, chances are that a couple of people will reply to it. But if you’re asking a question that you’re sure is pretty common, try using the search function to find old threads about it. Not only will it save you from having to wait for answers to your question, but the thread will also have been around for longer, allowing more people to reply to it over the months or years.

CCers Part of College Confidential’s fabric is the chorus of voices crying, “I only got a 2280 on my SAT! I only have a 3.9 GPA! I didn’t do biomedical research in my spare time and have never saved a puppy with a broken leg from a ditch in the Harau Valley! I am never getting into college!” While some College Confidential users like to poke fun at these “typical CCers,” others still are intimidated by them and silently retreat into a corner to panic. The best advice I can give about these people is just to ignore them. They are stressed out and probably inconsolable. All you can do for yourself is to recognize that they are being unreasonable and skip over the threads as if they don’t exist. Just keep reminding yourself that even at the most selective schools, many students do not fit into the perfect little mold. In fact, that’s why they were admitted in the first place — because that mold doesn’t really exist.

Chance Threads Tying in neatly to the previous entry, chance threads are posted in the What Are My Chances? subforum. Applicants can post all of their statistics — i.e. their college list, race/ethnicity, gender, grades, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, how good they think their essays and recommendations are, and other “hooks,” or traits that might improve their chances of getting into college — and other forum users “chance” them, or let the original poster know how likely they think they are to get into the colleges on their list. Chance threads have very little utility. If posting one will make you feel better, go for it, but the feedback you get is just the opinions of others in the same situation as you. The only people who really know how much of a chance you have at getting into a particular college are the admissions officers at that college.

College Subforums Almost every college and university in the US, as well as some outside the US, has its own individual subforum. These are good places to ask about the specifics of academics, extracurriculars, and life in general on a particular campus and to get responses back from real students, which can be especially helpful if you can’t visit that school. That said, keep in mind that less than 1 percent of the student body of a college is usually on College Confidential to answer your questions, so the answers you get to your questions might not be an accurate reflection of what your experience will be if you end up attending that college, and you probably shouldn’t stereotype all aspects of life at that college based on what you hear from College Confidential users. That said, it’s better than nothing!

Essay Help The College Essays subforum is replete with people volunteering to read your essays, sometimes in exchange for you reading theirs too, sometimes not. It can be useful to have someone you don’t know read your essays, given that the admissions officers whom the essays are ultimately aimed at don’t know you either. Be mindful, however, that some people might be out to “get inspiration” for their own essays from yours. This thread about how to safely use the subforum for essay advice gives details on how to avoid getting ripped off. Even if the person reading your essay doesn’t want to steal it, though, you have no idea how qualified they are to be making judgments on your essays. I sent my Common Application essay to someone towards the end of my revision process and they ripped it to shreds, leaving rude comments like “don’t give me any of that crap” all over my Word document. I didn’t agree with any of the comments they made anyway, so I ignored them, sent off my application, and got into my first-choice college early decision.

Lists In many of the subforums, especially the Summer Programs, Financial Aid & Scholarships, and Internships ones, forum users will compile lists of programs, scholarships and internships that you can work your way through when you’re looking for any of the above. After all, why spend tons of time doing research when other people have already done it for you?

Off-Topic Subforums High School Life, College Life, the Parents’ Forum and the College Confidential Café are all off-topic, which means that you don’t necessarily have to discuss college admissions in them — although many people still do. An example of how helpful they can be is that at a time when I felt like I wasn’t getting any intellectual stimulation from my peers (as pretentious as that sounds), I used High School Life as a place to find friends and have the conversations I wasn’t getting to have in real life. A forum, after all, is a community. Some might think that all College Confidential users are crazy, but they’re really not. You just have to look in the right places.

Have you used College Confidential in the past? What do you think of it? Let us know in the comment box below.