Online college message boards comfort, concern applicants

By Lucy Jackson

When Danelle* ’09 applied early to the University of Pennsylvania, she checked College Confidential’s online discussion boards every day. She read over other applicants’ posts, hoping to get a glimpse at the competition. That knowledge of her rivals’ 2400s and 4.7 GPAs, though, only made her more anxious, she said. But she couldn’t stop.

“I got pretty addicted because it was a way of releasing some of the pent up anxiety, but it only increased it – it was kind of a vicious circle,” she said.

College Confidential, along with a handful of other sites like and, has soared in popularity in recent years as applicant numbers peak and college acceptance rates dip lower than ever.

The sites serve as an online community for college hopefuls in which applicants can read up about schools and communicate with others like them on discussion boards. Site users can also participate in “chancing” other members, a practice in which applicants present their stats and ask the community to predict their chances of getting into a given college.

Dean Sharon Cuseo understands why students like Danelle flock to sites like these, but she sees minimal benefits to the websites. While the sites can occasionally make Harvard-Westlake students feel better by making them aware of what the rest of the applicant pool looks like, she said, the ego boost comes at too high a cost.

“The only upside is that I think it gives them some perspective, but the downsides are many,” she said. “I just get frustrated by the misinformation. There are people on there who act like they know what they’re talking about but just raise anxiety, are completely wrong and are just irresponsible.”

James Pirruccello, who founded, which has experienced an almost 50 percent increase in traffic this school year, disagrees with Cuseo’s assertion that the sites have few positive aspects.

“It helps to see the actual numbers of the colleges you’re interested in, since numbers matter (not exclusively, but they matter), and it helps to see profiles of students who were rejected or accepted by the colleges you’re interested in, so you can start to form your own opinion about what your ultimate outcome will be.”

Madison* ’09, who applied early decision to a top university, created a member profile on Pirruccello’s site to gauge where she stood from an admissions perspective, but, like Cuseo, didn’t find the site to be that helpful.

“Somehow I came across the site and decided to set up [a profile] to see my chances of getting into schools, however, the site isn’t really updated so it’s a little off, plus there are a lot of things that they don’t take into account,” she said. “It didn’t turn out to be a crutch whatsoever.”

*Names withheld upon request