By Nikki Magaziner Mills, Director of College Counseling
This year, about 100 US colleges and universities made a somewhat revolutionary move: rather than requiring students to pay to have official SAT and ACT scores sent directly to colleges from the College Board or ACT, they would allow students to self-report scores on their application forms. A few months ago, Yale University announced that it would no longer ask students to take the ACT or SAT with writing; a few other selective universities followed suit. Last month, the University of Chicago proclaimed that it will from here forward be test-optional, meaning applicants can choose whether or not they want to submit standardized testing at all as part of their application.
In the slow-changing world of college admissions, these new policies are potentially (and hopefully) seismic. Inspired in part by a reaction to the hold—financial, emotional, academic, and otherwise—that standardized testing organizations have on high school students, and high schools, these initiatives send clear messages:
1. Standardized testing is an industry, a business that sometimes gets in the way of what educators want and need to do. (See: St. Albans’ and other area schools decisions to break away from the AP designation.)
2. The hype about the value of the writing sections of standardized testing, or the value of standardized testing at all, is worth close examination.
3. For colleges to reach all of the students they most want to reach, especially first-generation, underrepresented, lower-income students, testing policies can be a financial burden.
What does this mean for St. Albans students? It means that the landscape into which they send their college applications continues to grow more complex. It means that colleges are wondering about the value of standardized testing and how to use it. It means that colleges are concerned about keeping access to higher education open to all. It means that there are forces out there encouraging colleges to focus more on the whole applicant, the full person, the story behind the data points of standardized testing and GPA. And it means there are more details to keep track of.
Despite any changes, 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.
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 DC. 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, seventy-eight members of the Class of 2018 applied to 170 different colleges in the US and abroad. Seventy-one boys submitted an application under an Early Decision or Early Action plan and fifty-four boys were accepted under an Early plan. Four 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-one different colleges and universities in three countries, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia.
In our office this year, we hosted speakers from Georgia Institute of Technology, Columbia University, and Davidson College. In the fall, more than 150 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 2018, and we are excited to watch from afar as they continue to find themselves and to be themselves. Congratulations!