By Ms. Nikki Magaziner Mills, Director of College Counseling
In my nearly twenty-five years as a college counselor, and seventeen years as a college counselor at St. Albans, one thing I know for sure is this: changes in the college application world are possibly the industry’s only constant. Every year brings new twists. This year taught us that, even as college life returns to a more normal status on most campuses, there may be no end to the ripple effects of Covid-19. That the national stories about just how hard it is to get into the most selective colleges, about how nothing in college admissions is guaranteed to be the way it was even just a year before, about acceptance rates continuing to plummet dangerously close to zero (all true), suggested that no one must have gotten in to college (absolutely not true). That larger-than-believable applicant pools are now the norm, fueled by the ease of applying via the Common Application, which continues to welcome more members, and by the why-not-apply? sentiment generated in large part by an overall lack of standardized testing requirements now in the application process. That we need to continue to pay attention to changes in standardized testing: The flood of movement to test-optional policies in 2021 has sustained. Although MIT and some larger public universities have announced a return to SAT/ACT requirements this upcoming year, others, like Harvard, have committed to staying test optional until 2030. (The majority of colleges have stated that they will be test optional in 2022-23 and will examine their test-optional policies on a yearly basis.) That soon–beginning for this past year’s high school freshmen–the SAT will be entirely digital. That college admissions and the Department of Justice are intertwined, as we watch two lawsuits that could have repercussions in the college admissions world. That as colleges increasingly use demonstrated interest in their admissions reviews, we need to ensure our boys hear our advice about how important it is to be able to articulate why they are applying where. There is, always, much noise around us.
Despite all this, what has always been most true about the process of applying to college, and 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.
This year, seventy-eight members of the Class of 2022 applied to 177 different colleges in the U.S. and abroad. Seventy-six boys submitted an application under an early decision or early action plan, and seventy-one boys were accepted under an early plan. Twelve students who initially received a deferral letter from an early action/early decision college were ultimately admitted in the spring. As of this writing, six of the small handful of boys who chose to remain on waiting lists have been admitted off of their waiting list.
Among the many college acceptances to celebrate, we are also thrilled that multiple boys received major scholarship awards: One boy matched with the Questbridge process, one boy won the very prestigious Herb Denton Memorial Scholarship, three boys earned ROTC scholarships, one boy was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy, and many more were awarded substantial merit scholarships from the colleges they will attend. Our college list is full of exciting opportunities, with graduates enrolling at forty-six different colleges and universities in two countries and in the District of Columbia, and our STA acceptance rates compared to national acceptance rates remain jealousy-inducing high. What is most important about the matriculation list, however, is the journey of self-exploration that each destination represents.
Equal parts intensive research and self-reflection, this college application 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.
In our office this year, we (virtually) hosted speakers from University of California at Berkeley, Tufts, and Davidson College. In the fall, more than 138 college admissions representatives visited St. Albans, either virtually or in-person, to speak with small groups of seniors about their schools, and in the winter, along with NCS, Sidwell Friends, Maret, and Georgetown Day School, we hosted a virtual College Case-Study Night in which four college representatives walked juniors and their parents through the admissions evaluation process for 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, 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 2022, and we are excited to watch from afar as they continue to find themselves and to be themselves. It was a great year for college admissions for the Class of 2022! Congratulations!