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perspectives

Jac queline jones ’13

Members of the Class of 2011 display their college gear.

On the other hand, I wish I had a latte for every senior who has told me over the years, “I’m applying to Elite University X because it’s ranked in the top twenty.” College counselors hate those college rankings, which are disproportionately based on selectivity and prestige. I tell my counselees that “selective,” “prestigious,” and “good” (as in, “But is it a good college?”) are not synonymous, though they often converge. Selectivity depends on the size of the applicant pool. Prestige is based on nothing more than perception, and “goodness” means something different for each applicant. Is it value, as a ratio of tuition cost to future earning power? Is it the grad school admission rate? The intellectual je ne sais quoi? Success in developing citizenscholars who let their lives speak? And how can these qualities be measured? Sometimes the college that is right for a particular student is one that cultivates a self-selective applicant pool. I love it when a visiting college rep candidly tells a group of George School students gathered around our conference table why some of them probably shouldn’t apply to her school. Schools like this don’t try to boost their rankings by generating an inordinate number of applications. They value applicants who have thought carefully about what kind of college they want, have completed a demanding curriculum, and have competed with themselves to get the most they can out of high school.

If George School were to admit only the applicants with the highest grades and scores, or the ones who came from prestigious middle schools, it would be a very different place. And thank goodness it isn’t! For more than thirty-five years at George School I’ve had the privilege of working with a marvelously diverse range of students; every year I get to know counselees who are interesting in new and different ways. Fortunately, this country possesses an equally rich range of colleges, and while only a handful are “elite” in terms of selectivity, there is a plethora of very, very good ones eager to accept our students. It was exciting to see last year’s graduates enroll at schools as wonderfully different as Amherst College and the University of Mississippi. (Elite University X is on the list, too.) I’ll close with the story of a former counselee who dreamed of applying to Elite University X. “But it’s so hard to get in, and I don’t think I’m good enough,” she said. She was an excellent student taking tough courses, so I encouraged her to apply. Sure enough, she didn’t get in, but by April she’d been admitted to several other very fine colleges. A few months later she wrote to me, “I’m so glad I applied to Elite University X, because in reaching for that dream I improved my grades and scores, and my confidence as well. That helped me get into the other schools, and I’m really happy with the one I chose!” Her story exemplifies competition at its best. By all measures, she had won.

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Georgian, March 2012  

The Georgian is the official publication of George School.