When I leave The Wardlaw+Hartridge School in November, I will have served students and parents in this community for almost four years. At the same time, it will have been more than 40 years since I was first a college counselor. As I’ve noted previously, like the character in the Farmers Insurance ads, I’ve “seen a thing or two.” But the last two years have been unlike anything any of us has seen, and in that context the Class of 2022 deserves even greater praise for its achievements.
In terms of statistics, our 54 seniors filed 535 applications to 165 different colleges, ranging across the United States and into Canada. The 54 seniors have chosen to enroll in 38 different colleges and universities, a remarkable testament to most students finding different fits that are right for them as individuals. New York University, with five of our graduates, will have the single largest group on its campus in the fall. Boston University, Drexel, Emory, and Rutgers will each welcome three of our alumni. Bryant, Drew, Toronto, and Villanova will each enroll two. No matter their choice, we are proud of each of our seniors, because they have triumphed in the most challenging circumstances I have seen since I started visiting colleges in 1975.
I note the matter of visiting colleges because, due to the pandemic, many of our seniors applied without having laid eyes on some or all of the campuses they were considering. Adapting to circumstances, their search became one of Virtual Reality. Admissions representatives arrived on Zoom rather than in cars; information sessions and tours became virtual, sometimes featuring video recorded by drones hovering over campus. In all sorts of ways, this class experienced the college process as a Brave New World of technology.
Despite all the changes in the tools of the search, the fundamentals of trying to get the fit right required students to pay attention to detail in the same steps: choose appropriately challenging courses; achieve the best grades you can; take standardized tests to see if you do well enough to want to submit them; contribute to your communities near and far in every way possible; impress teachers and your counselor to secure the best recommendations possible; then put the pieces together in compelling applications featuring your very best writing.
As much as things changed over two years in certain aspects of research on colleges, for students the basics of building a list right for each individual also remained the same: get to know yourself better, then identify the size, type, location, personality, academic program, and price tag that will make sense for you and your family circumstances. Then use data to assess the probability of your being accepted: have some that will be reaches, some that are possible for you, and some that are likely—all featuring the attributes that are right for you as a unique person. That’s exactly what the students in the Class of 2023 are working on right now.
In addition, the ways applications are evaluated also remain the same, because your chances of being admitted continue to boil down to two basic questions: Can and will you be successful in the college’s academic program, going on to thrive, grow, and graduate if accepted? Because the answer is Yes for most students applying to selective colleges, the second question makes or breaks your chances: What do you bring us that we truly value as a unique institution that the other qualified applicants do not offer us? Answer those two questions, an offer is yours.
As the cliché would have us put it, where applicants are concerned, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” But that’s not the experience for college counselors.
Over the 40 years since I was first in this role, the process has become more bureaucratic and less personal, driven more by data rather than relationships. As application volume has risen, especially so at the most desired places, with staffing levels rarely if ever keeping pace, essentially the same number of admissions officers have more applications to read and on which to make decisions. They are stretched and stressed, unable to field counselor calls anymore or directed not to do so by policies driven by considerations of equity: “If we can’t talk to everybody (and less-resourced often-public school counselors don’t have time to make calls), we’re not going to talk to anybody.” There are few “Deans of Admission” anymore; the title of the person in charge is now far more likely to be “Vice President of Enrollment Management.”
College admissions professionals speak of the “different sides of the desk:” high school counselors supporting students in applying; admissions counselors reviewing applications and making decisions. Through all my years, I cannot recall a cycle when so many jobs have been posted by schools and so many college-side representatives have left their positions. These two years have taken a toll on an unprecedented number of professionals doing this work.
What do these changes mean for Wardlaw+Hartridge students and parents? Work as closely as you possibly can with our excellent team. Email us, call us, and talk to us whenever you have questions or concerns. We have the experience and contacts to guide you, because—as admissions officers have left colleges—we have made new connections, and if they are still taking calls, we are making them. By using virtual tools, attending conferences, and visiting campuses ourselves, we also monitor trends in college admissions very closely. We will continue to do so. There is an ongoing learning curve in what we do. It’s steep, and we keep climbing. Soon, we will have a new member of the team, and she will make us even better.
In changing and challenging times, much of what makes for a successful college process remains the same, as the great results of the Class of 2022 make abundantly clear. We applaud this year’s seniors, and I now need to start studying a different topic: making sure I do all I can to pronounce their names correctly at graduation, the last time I will have that honor.