First, some background about myself. I applied to Andover, Exeter, Choate, Deerfield, Hotchkiss, Taft and Lawrenceville. I got into all of them, except Exeter where I was waitlisted. Currently, I’m a senior at one of them (not going to say which), so I’ve witnessed 3 full college admission cycles, and the early admission cycle of my own class. Observing the kids in the grades above me and hearing the advice of my college counselors and advisors has taught me about what types of kids typically get into highly selective institutions. For clarification, I’m defining highly selective as schools similar in selectivity to the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, UChicago, Duke, Vanderbilt etc.
I’m writing this essay because when I applied to boarding school, I thought that coming here would automatically increase my chances of admission at my dream university. I know that not everyone attends boarding school solely to increase their chances of admission, but I know many who do. Obviously, there are many reasons to attend boarding school that aren’t related to the college application process, but this essay will focus on that aspect of the boarding school experience.
One thing I’ve noticed is that many of my classmates who have gained admission into highly selective universities would have been able to do so without going to boarding school. Most of the schools I applied to cost above 50 thousand a year to attend full pay. With tuition this high, these schools attract incredibly wealthy students. As many on CC know, legacy connections and history of donation greatly improve the chances of admission, and these rich kids at boarding schools have a disproportionate amount of these connections compared to the general applicant population. What XXXX’s college matriculation list does not tell you is how many students in the class got into college because of legacy/ other connections.
Boarding schools also recruit and favor athletes in their admissions processes. Another big proportion of the students who are admitted into highly selective institutions are athletes. Obviously, these athletes are enriched by their experiences playing on school teams and training in school facilities, but many also aren’t. For sports like swimming, tennis or track, one could simply train at a public school and still be recruited. I know many athletes that had to chose between maintaining high grades and giving up high level athletics or chose athletics over grades. Boarding school academics are demanding, so these athletes might have been able to be admitted into a more selective school had they stayed home and earned a high GPA at an easier school.
At boarding school I’ve also noticed a fair amount of non-athlete and non-legacy students who are just brilliant. Lots of these students earn admission to highly selective institutions. However, it is harder to stand out in a boarding school, so lots of these highly motivated and accomplished students don’t make it into highly selective schools. These students usually end up at highly ranked liberal arts colleges or some of the better state schools like UMichigan or UVA. This is something that would be hard to judge yourself on in eighth grade, but if you think you fall into this category, I’d recommend talking to your parents about it. You can probably stay at an easier school, ensure high GPA and test scores, and search out opportunities for extra curriculars to enhance your applications. If you are considering boarding school, it is likely that you already do these activities anyways, because they are usually necessary to get in.
Finally, there are the students that do get into more selective institutions because of boarding school. This group is usually comprised of (some) international students and low-income URM students from bad school districts. The international students are those who use boarding school to improve their English ability, but this is a very small number since internationals rarely receive aid, and thus only the richest can come. These students often attend highly acclaimed international schools anyways. The low-income students are helped because their academic ability is greatly increased by coming to boarding school. Colleges know that these students are more likely to be able to handle the work compared to URMs from bad school districts, and these students are likely to earn higher SAT/ACT scores.
I would also like bring up the college counseling offices at these boarding schools. It is true that these offices have connections and might be able to use those to help you get admitted. However, these connections often don’t help much at highly selective institutions, and usually make the difference only for less selective ones. Since admissions are so
competitive these days, if you need your counselor to pull strings for you, then you probably aren’t qualified to be admitted to highly selective institutions. I’ve heard of students who have been helped out by counselors, but I can’t verify this and neither will the college counseling office/college admission offices. You can never count on this type of support because you don’t know what your counselor will think of you, or if they’d want to pull for you. Remember that the job of the office is to ensure good college placement for the class, not for you specifically. If you are an applicant who may be able to get into Cornell full pay, you are prime real-estate for a school like Wesleyan, and your counselor knows this. Helping you into Wesleyan may ensure the counselor a favor down the line for a less qualified applicant. This is just a theory because I can’t confirm that this happens though.
So, to conclude, out of the population of boarding school students who earn admission to highly selective universities, about 80% would have been able to do so without going to boarding school. Those who are helped are low income URM students, and a small subsection of athletes. With all this information in mind, even if you are one of the students in the categories who could obtain admission without boarding school, don’t write it off completely. Yes, you will work harder for the same end result, but you will grow in other ways during the journey and meet some cool people who will 100% change your perspective.
I hope this was helpful, and if you disagree with my ideas then please critique them so that misinformation doesn’t spread.