This post was written by Celeste Barnaby, a freshman at Wesleyan University. It was originally published on The Prospect, a student-run college admissions and high school/college lifestyles website. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook and Twitter.
Ah, College Confidential: the web's premier community for college-bound individuals. Some love it, some have described it as, "an absolutely awful website that privileges and celebrates the Ivy League-Potential student, while completely forgetting about everyone else." It's, erm, controversial, to say the least. But despite its elitist, overzealous reputation, there are ways that any student can get something out if it-- if you use it correctly. Here are some basic guidelines for how you should and should not approach the infamous website.
Don't: Take anything you read at face value.
College Confidential is innately intertwined with "college admissions" culture, and as such, it comes with a whole host of problems including but not limited to prioritizing rankings, obsessing over test scores, and breeding insane amounts of anxiety in students. A substantial portion of the CC community is consequently misinformed about the realities of college admissions, and eager to spread this misinformation across the site. So if you do decide to check out the forums, make sure to shed yourself of all gullibility and equip yourself with a bucket of salt--you'll be using a lot of grains of it. I've seen people make statements as absurd and nonsensical as "all NYU students are worthless." Most inaccuracies, however, are a bit more insidious; if you see anything that sounds even a little bit fishy, crosscheck it with other sources such as accurate college guides, your guidance counselor, and other articles here on The Prospect.
Do: Utilize the other resources on the site.
When discussing the pros and cons of CC, most people focus solely on the forums, forgetting that the website has several entirely separate sections. Its "College Search" tool is a great resource that can help you find new colleges that fit your search parameters or narrow down your current list. In addition, the "Read & Learn" section offers articles written by actual well-informed people about a variety of college-related topics, including an "Ask the Dean" column, where college deans answer common admissions questions. Definitely check this stuff out along with the forum.
Don't: Post 'chance me' posts. EVER.
For those unaware, "chance me" posts are sort of a staple of College Confidential. How it works is you write down all your "stats" (i.e. SAT scores, GPA, whether you thought your essay was good, etc.) then ask any rando who comes by the post to assess whether you'll get into your top colleges. It is always a bad idea. The central flaw to chance me's is that people are only looking at your tests scores and grades without seeing you as a complete person. It's a completely inaccurate representation of the actual admissions process. Flipping a coin will get about as accurate answers as posting a chance me, and at least that way you won't be fed lies about affirmative action.
Do: Find camaraderie in a network of other college-bound students.
Applying to college is, now more than ever, a stressful, time-consuming, exhausting experience. And despite its numerous problems, at the heart of CC is a community of students who just want to get into their dream schools. Many of these students are ready to share their experiences, worries, and emotions surrounding admissions, and want to support others doing the same. After I took my first SAT, I got so stressed that it kept me awake at night. Going on the SAT Preparation message board allowed me to chat with other students who had taken the exact same test as I had. Talking to them helped mitigate my fears and showed me that we're all in the same boat. I think if that helps you be less stressed about the terrifying prospect of college admissions, go for it!
Don't: Get too sucked into that network.
That being said, you can still encounter certain drawbacks to entering this community. Some of the threads on the SAT message board include students desperately trying to remember problems they saw on the test and solve them retroactively. At that point, you're not trying to eliminate stress, you're creating more of it. I got myself sucked into one of these black holes of anxiety, and it was not a good time. As a general rule, discussions should involve general feelings and personal stories. If it turns into deep analysis of specific test questions, it's time to back way.
College Confidential is just one of the many tools that you have in your college-bound arsenal. You don't have to use it, but it is there if you want it. Use it correctly, and it'll work to your advantage. Good luck, and make good choice, Prospies!