By Nikki Magaziner Mills, Director of College Counseling
The 2018-19 year was a time in college admissions when access to college and equity in the admissions process was more than ever a national and institutional priority. The Environmental Context Dashboard, which uses 31 data points to determine a student’s “adversity score,” was piloted by the College Board to allow colleges to incorporate more data into a not-new practice of trying to understand a student’s social context while his application is being evaluated. But this year was also a year when Operation Varsity Blues, wild parent behavior, suspect athletic recruitment, and standardized testing cheating scandals dominated the education-section headlines, shining a spotlight on those taking advantage of gaps in the structure of the admissions process to gain undue access to selective universities. It is difficult to reconcile these two forces, but what they both clearly affirm are the sociological complexities of the college admissions process in the United States.
Despite the scandals and a college application terrain that seems rocky and uncertain, what has always been most true about the process of applying to college, and about going to college, is still true. Finding a college is not actually about the application process. Finding a college is deeply individual. You have to be yourself. Wonder who you are. Find programs and places that match you. Challenge your comfort zone. Consider places and opportunities that don’t immediately spring to mind, just to see. Dream, not about a college bumper sticker to affix to the rear window, but of what experiences in college will change your life and set your path.
Equal parts intensive research and self-reflection, this journey demands wisdom, maturity, thoughtfulness, introspection, resilience, and a sense of humor. It requires a sense of the world beyond St. Albans, and beyond Washington, D.C. And, most importantly, it requires that each boy—precisely at the time that he is only just beginning to know how to be himself—lead the way and take control.
This year, eighty-three members of the Class of 2019 applied to 165 different colleges in the United States and abroad. Seventy-nine boys submitted an application under an Early Decision or Early Action plan and seventy-one boys were accepted under one of these Early plans. Seventeen students who initially received a deferral letter from an Early Action/Early Decision college were ultimately admitted in the spring. As of this writing, seven of the small handful of boys who chose to remain on waiting lists have been admitted off of their waiting list. In the fall, our graduates will enroll at fifty-three different colleges and universities in two countries, twenty-five states, and the District of Columbia.
In our office this year, we hosted speakers from Dartmouth College, the College of William and Mary, and Davidson College. In the fall, more than 160 college admissions representatives visited St. Albans to speak with small groups of seniors about their schools, and in the spring, we worked with a committee of local independent schools to host our annual large college fair at Georgetown Preparatory School. In the winter, along with NCS, Sidwell Friends, Maret, and Georgetown Day School, we hosted a College Case-Study Night in which thirty-five college representatives worked with “admission committees” of juniors and their parents as they evaluated four mock admissions files. We offered workshops on the college application process for juniors and seniors which ranged in topic from How Do I Begin My College Search? to Writing the Application Essay. Mostly, we met one-on-one with students as they tried to answer those biggest of questions: Where do I want to go next? What do I want my future to hold?
The single most important way for a boy to prepare himself for college is to make the most out of his time at St. Albans. Those boys who truly engage in the classroom, on the field, and in their clubs and activities, find their college search and application process to be a natural extension of what they have already begun. Once boys find their footing in the Upper School, they should start to identify their favorite subjects and activities, and they should pursue these with energy and enthusiasm. As they begin Form V, boys should choose their courses well, push themselves harder than ever in the classroom, and consider seeking leadership positions in activities that interest them. In the winter of Form V, the College Office, made up of Tim Hudson, Sam Schaffer, Linda Stratton, and me, formally steps in with large- and small-group presentations and individual and group meetings that begin and end with the question: what is each boy looking for in a college? Although we in the College Office help build lists, solve problems, assist with applications, read essays, host college representatives, submit school records, and serve as intermediaries between students and colleges, our most important charge is to help each boy discover the colleges that best match his educational, extracurricular, and personal goals.
We in the College Office feel privileged to have worked with the Class of 2019, and we are excited to watch from afar as they continue to find themselves and to be themselves. Congratulations!