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Will going to boarding school help you earn admission into a highly selective university?

dkgjd932dkgjd932 Registered User Posts: 14 New Member
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.
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Replies to: Will going to boarding school help you earn admission into a highly selective university?

  • 1NJParent1NJParent Registered User Posts: 178 Junior Member
    edited February 11
    You're spot-on. Boarding schools may provide great education but may hurt your chances getting into the best college that you could otherwise get into. The counselor's job is to maximize the number of applicants getting into top 20 or 30 colleges and s/he doesn't want you to compete for the same spot with some legacy applicant, etc.
  • OhWhatsHerNameOhWhatsHerName Registered User Posts: 160 Junior Member
    I agree with this. I knew a kid who transferred out of my high school (rigorous, college prep) to go to a boarding school so he could go to an ivy league. However, it is not a "magic ticket" and his work ethic was never quite there. He ended up at a flagship somewhere and is doing fine, but I don't think he was very happy about it.
  • PublisherPublisher Registered User Posts: 771 Member
    This is an interesting & well thought writing. However, I think that you need to be careful throwing around specific figures--such as 80%--without very substantial justification.

    We fired our child's college counselor at an elite boarding prep school. Got outstanding results regardless. But student was offered by a counselor "assured" admission to an elite LAC if so desired. Truthfully, we had so many options due to individual effort , that I doubt our child met the college counselor more than once or twice.

    My contact with other parents was that they did a substantial portion of the college search.
  • PublisherPublisher Registered User Posts: 771 Member
    One very important aspect of college admissions that attending a top boarding school does establish is strength of schedule. Be careful about making assumptions about one's college application success if that student had not attended an elite prep school.

    With the ridiculous inflating of SAT scores, colleges & universities are focusing more on strength of one's course schedule then ever before.
  • PublisherPublisher Registered User Posts: 771 Member
    While I think that much of what you have written is accurate, it is not universally true.

    Many students at elite prep boarding schools get admitted into multiple ultra-selective universities (LACs are much easier). For example, one student was admitted to Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth & a host of other schools without outstanding SATs. Only rejection was that student's first choice school Stanford. Strong grades & great teacher recommendations, but the hook was rowing.

    Asian students seemed preoccupied with "Ivy League". One applied to all eight without a single acceptance & probably would have been unsuccessful even if at another school. That student matriculated at Tufts.

    Most rigorous course schedule, no class ranking & availability of Ivy League sports such as rowing, squash & fencing can make elite prep boarding schools a significant advantage in the college application process.
  • PublisherPublisher Registered User Posts: 771 Member
    Also, I think that teacher recommendations can be more meaningful for boarding school students than for a regular public high school due to 24/7 familiarity.

    I would like to share some surprises last admissions cycle for public school & Catholic school students. Schools which should have been match or safety resulted in rejections & wait-lists followed by varying results. Probably due to a significant increase in applications. This leads to applying ED.

    My point is that one should not blame the elite prep boarding school regarding prestigious university admissions failure as it is just much more competitive than ever. I would blame elite boarding schools for disappointing LAC admissions, however.
  • circuitridercircuitrider Registered User Posts: 2,636 Senior Member
    Wow. How are you defining "highly selective", like in the single digits?
  • sunnyschoolsunnyschool Registered User Posts: 780 Member
    @dkgjd932 - Great post. Well said. I think many on this site have realized this, but you articulate it well.
  • MtnTrailXMtnTrailX Registered User Posts: 11 New Member
    Grades and SAT scores are still a big part of the University Admissions process. Highly selective universities (we can say Top 20 universities in the US, or HYPMS-Ivy-UofC/JH/Northwestern/Duke/Vanderbilt/WashU) have WAY higher average entering class SAT scores than PA and PEA, let alone GLADCHEMMS as a whole. It shouldn't be a surprise that many GLADCHEMMS(+Thacher/Cate) grads don't get into their 1st, or Top 5 schools of choice.

    Yes there are a lot of super smart kids at GLADCHEMMS/TC. Proportionately, there are even more super smart kids at this nation's highly selective universities.

    Mean average PA and PEA SAT scores are below the bottom 25th percentile range for Yale, Northwestern, Duke, Dartmouth.

    The upper 75th percentile SAT scores for Choate, Hotchkiss and Deerfield are at or below the bottom 25th percentile for Yale, Northwestern, Duke, Dartmouth.

    20-30% of GLADCHEMMS/TC get into HYPMS+Ivy. 25% of GLADCHEMMS/TC have SAT scores above the bottom 25th percentile of highly selective universities. So perhaps top boarding schools DO help admissions chances of their grads.


    PA SAT scores: 1360-1540 25th-75th / 720 V 740 M
    PEA SAT scores: 710 V 720 M mean (below the bottom 25th percentile for Northwestern)
    Choate SAT scores: 1270-1460
    Hotchkiss SAT scores: 1320-1470
    Deerfield SAT scores: 1880-2160 (2015 stats, old SAT)

    Yale SAT scores: 1490-1600 (good proxy for HYPMS)
    Northwestern SAT scores: 1440-1570
    Duke SAT scores: 1465-1570
    Dartmouth SAT scores: 1490-1580 (2020-2350 Old SAT)
    Vanderbilt SAT scores: 1400-1550

  • gardenstategalgardenstategal Registered User Posts: 3,475 Senior Member
    ^^ This is interesting, and I see what you're getting at. Just wondering, though, if , BS kids prep for tests like other kids. My friends with kids at local day schools start SAT tutoring sophomore year in a very intensive (and expensive) way. I don't know any BS kids who did this but maybe it's just the circles I run in. Maybe a class over the summer, but not with that level of intensity.

    Curious what other people's experience with this has been.
  • dkgjd932dkgjd932 Registered User Posts: 14 New Member
    Mostly everyone preps, starting around the middle of Junior year, and the first exam being taken by the end of the Junior year. Many also start earlier, and do a sizeable amount of summer work. Depending on what level of math/language/science you are placed into you might have subject tests as early as freshman year also.
  • gardenstategalgardenstategal Registered User Posts: 3,475 Senior Member
    I am confused, @dkgjd932 . Your earlier posts indicated that you were the parent of a son and were concerned about him getting accomodating on standardized tests. Where's the fountain of youth that has allowed you to get back to being a BS senior? We've all been looking!
  • CenterCenter Registered User Posts: 1,735 Senior Member
    No it wont---not anymore. There is no more "college placement" The kids who get into those top colleges would get in regardless of where they attended high school--either because they are brilliant, they are great athletes, they are legacies or they are URM.
  • babymalcolmbabymalcolm Registered User Posts: 100 Junior Member
    An excellent message by @ChoatieMom

    On a side note to the OP, I would say that being an athlete and attending boarding school would harm one’s application to college, as BS interferes with an athlete’s training schedule and routine. Although there are resources at BS, these are often not nearly as good as those that are find outside of school.

    If one is looking to be a professional athlete or get recruited, BS is most likely not the best path to take...
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