By Mrs. Nikki Magaziner Mills, Director of College Counseling
The 2015-2016 college admissions year was another one for the front pages. The Turning the Tide – Making Caring Common report out of the Harvard School of Education raised deep questions about how college applications affect the focus of a student’s high school life. Satirists flirted with a truth so close to home that many readers actually believed the fake news story that not one student was admitted to a particularly selective college this year. Newspapers featured articles focusing on the low acceptance rates of the most selective colleges, on issues of access to higher education, and on how valuable or not a college degree truly is. There were standardized testing security scandals abroad, and changes to the SAT and the ACT that had test-takers spinning and test-prep professionals soliciting new business in record fashion. The new Coalition Application was introduced, set to roll out in the summer of 2016 and become potentially the first real competitor to the now age-old standard, the Common Application. And amidst all this noise clattering around in the background, our seniors were doing the very personal work of asking themselves the two most important questions of every college search: Who am I? Who do I want to be?
No matter what is happening in the landscape or on the horizon, what has always been true about the process of applying to college, and going to college, is still true. 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, eighty-three members of the Class of 2016 applied to 153 different colleges in the U.S. and abroad. Seventy-four boys submitted an application under an Early Decision or Early Action plan and sixty of these applications were accepted. Sixteen 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. In the fall, our graduates will enroll at fifty-two different colleges and universities.
In our office this year, we hosted speakers from the University of Pennsylvania, Oberlin College, 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 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 Peter Kelley, 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 2016, and we are excited to watch from afar as they continue to find themselves and to be themselves. Congratulations!