In an earlier blog post on record high college application volume I referred to an essay by a private high school headmaster. I now have permission to quote the essay, by John M. Mackenzie, Headmaster of the Columbus Academy, in its entirety. Although aimed at applicants to college and their parents, it has a valuable perspective for all applicants dealing with acceptances and rejections. I have bolded key phrases since it is a bit long for a blog post, but a most worthwhile piece.
Storyboard, Not Scorecard March 10, 2006
The return from Spring Vacation marks an important milestone for a particular group of Columbus Academy students and for the school as a whole. By early April, most of our seniors will have received responses from the colleges to which they applied. These boys and girls will then have until May 1st to decide where they will matriculate. By early May
the school will be able to publish a Matriculation List for the Class of 2006, although there may be a few changes in subsequent months as colleges offer admissions off of their wait lists.
Because we are a “college preparatory” school, there is always much curiosity about the final list of college choices. Inevitably, there will be questions about “how did the class do?” and I will confess that this is one of my least favorite questions. Generally speaking, Columbus Academy students do very well in terms of college admissions. Our student body is academically able and actively involved in a wide variety of activities. They have the resources of supportive families, two very able college counselors on staff, teachers who know them well, and resources outside of
the school. Yet, even with these advantages, there’s not an easy or even a correct answer to that question of “how did the class do?”
College admissions is not a class or group activity. It is an erroneous practice to see “the list” as a scorecard on any class or any school. The Class of 2006 will not have one story on its college admissions; it will have sixty-eight different stories. Some of them will be simple and straight-forward, and some will be quite complex. Most stories will be happy; some will be unhappy; and some will be filled with question marks. But none of these stories will have an ending on May 1st, on Commencement Day, June 9th, and maybe not even in four years. Our past has many examples of graduates who left Columbus Academy and happily enrolled at their first choice college, only to have a miserable experience there. Conversely, there are examples where former students arrived hesitantly at colleges about which they were less than enthusiastic but then had four fulfilling years there.
The published matriculation list is not the result of an effort to try to rack up multiple admissions scores at the greatest number of “selective” colleges. It is the result of sixty-eight different matching processes. Along the way, that matching process is affected by any number of variables over which Columbus Academy and the senior applicant have little control. Examples: What’s the rest of the applicant pool at College X like this year? Why did he wait until the last day to complete the application and then write sloppy essays? Why did she insist on an urban
college, when she had never lived in a city? Who really influenced the student’s choice of colleges – a persuasive family member? a role model in the Class of 2004? an over-exuberant coach? a boyfriend?
At Columbus Academy and other college preparatory schools there are hundreds of tales that are both cautionary and instructive. Here’s one involving a recent graduate of X…, arguably one of the most prestigious schools in the country. [NOTE: This anecdote was shared by a parent at a panel presentation during the recent N.A.I.S. conference.] The boy’s father, a nationally renowned architect and President of the X… Board of Trustees, was a third generation graduate of X… and of Yale. There was every reason to expect that the boy, a strong student at X…, would follow
the family path to Yale and thus add another plum to X…’s matriculation list. Instead, he enrolled in the Davidson Honors Program at the University of Montana, where his twin passions of creative writing and fly-fishing could be jointly served. He was only the second X… student ever to apply to the University of Montana. Although his choice deflated
X…’s matriculation list, the boy is having a wonderful experience in Montana. In comparison, his father’s choice inflated X…’s 1963 list, although he was never really happy at Yale and transferred away before finally returning and receiving his degree. Moral: making the right match trumps making the list look right.
College admissions is a highly imperfect and unpredictable science. It may never have been as unpredictable as it is in 2006, and Columbus Academy will find renewed evidence of that in early April, when we learn of decisions that include pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Inevitably, we will all pay attention to “the list” for the Class of 2006, but it will be a mistake to make any final judgments from that list until we understand all sixty-eight stories behind it.