In an April 8th New York Times article, Richard Perez-Pena wrote, “Enrollment at American colleges is sliding, but competition for spots at top universities is more cutthroat and anxiety-inducing than ever.”
Despite declining college attendance overall, a larger percentage of high school seniors pin their hopes on acceptance by a proportionately smaller number of highly exclusive institutions. It seems counter-intuitive, but that’s the case today.
While there are many reasons for this disconnect, they all serve to dampen curiosity about a whole host of excellent schools that have much to offer young people. Aggressive marketing on the part of even the most selective colleges and the growing use of the Common Application by private and public institutions across the country allow students to apply to large numbers of “name” colleges. In turn, colleges are able to become increasingly selective, often denying admission to greater and greater numbers of highly qualified candidates.
But while this year’s crop of seniors may be nearing the finish line of the college admission race, many students and their parents describe exhaustion and disgust with the apparent randomness of the entire process. So what’s wrong with this picture?
At Westtown School in West Chester, PA, the question isn’t about what’s going wrong. Instead it’s about what’s going right. At Westtown, a different approach to the college admission process empowers students to articulate what they want from a college education.
Westtown’s college counselors work with young people and their families to produce a good match, so that when all is said and done, students have multiple excellent schools to choose from and students and parents alike feel like their hard work has paid off.
Westtown’s Class of 2014, 120 in all, will definitely be going to the Ivies, schools like Harvard, Princeton and Penn. They’ll be moving on to some of the top research universities in the nation: Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Rice, University of Wisconsin’s College of Engineering, Penn State and more.
They’ll attend some of the nation’s best small liberal arts schools, including Bard, Swarthmore, Pomona, Wellesley and Haverford. Specialty schools like Maryland Institute College of Art, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the United States Naval Academy will also have Westtown graduates in their first-year classes.
And – Westtown grads will go to colleges whose names may not be on the tip of your tongue: colleges like Centre, Hampshire, McDaniel, and the College of Wooster – all part of the consortium of Colleges That Change Lives. Others will head to San Diego State and Pace Universities – among the 25 “most underrated colleges in America,” according to Business Insider.
Rose-Hulman University? Harvey Mudd College? These are among institutions designated by Forbes as the top undergraduate engineering schools in the nation. They, too, will be fortunate to have Westtown grads in their first-year classes.
According to Susan Tree, Westtown’s Director of College Counseling, members of the Class of 2014 applied to 300 colleges and universities, were accepted to 253 and will likely attend 70 of these. This is unusual, according to Eric Furda, Dean of Admission at the University of Pennsylvania, because many students at other schools with similarly strong college prep programs and reputations focus on applying to the same short list of popular colleges.
Westtown students tend to see things differently. The range of educational options Westtown seniors explore is unusually large in part because of the level of diversity they encounter at Westtown, a remarkably diverse school with students coming from 17 states and 20 different countries. At Westtown, more colleges are household names simply because Westtown households are spread across the country and the world.
Additionally, Westtown’s College Counseling curriculum is fundamentally a process of self-discovery, one that begins in the junior year and that is rooted in the curriculum as well as special programming and one-on-one counseling. Westtown students come to understand that the college admission process is about finding the college that best fits their needs and goals as learners.
The result? Students who look beyond mere popularity and name recognition and instead seek settings and programs that will bring out their best.
In the end, the same qualities – self-knowledge, critical thinking, respect for diversity and innovative problem-solving – that make Westtown students attractive to so many colleges and universities are also why they’re so successful when they arrive on campus as first-year students.