The Secrecy of the College Admissions Process at NCDS

Kelly Cloonan

With the November 1st college application deadline behind us, my fellow seniors and I can finally breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy a break from writing supplements and researching schools before the rush begins to complete regular applications for January deadlines.

Obviously, the college process is stressful everywhere; there’s the stress of getting a good score on the SAT or ACT, improving your GPA, asking teachers for recommendations, writing the dreaded supplements, and perfecting your college essay. But at our school, it seems that there’s the added stress of keeping your college list a secret. For students at our school, it may seem normal. NCDS students have always tended to be pretty hush-hush about where they are applying and where they have been accepted and rejected. In some ways, this secrecy makes sense; students don’t want to reveal their college list, only to be rejected from most of their schools and end up going to a college of lesser reputation than those they applied. Further, students seem to be afraid of disclosing their schools in fear of jinxing themselves, which is also a valid reason.

However, it seems like being open about college admissions has the potential to relieve some of the stress of college applications. Talking to friends from other private high schools in the area, it seems to me like we are practically the only school that is so secretive. At many schools, students seem to talk openly about their college lists, a circumstance that is practically unheard of at NCDS. At Winsor, seniors even have a rejection wall, where students post letters of rejection (sometimes crossing out their name) and their classmates write comments to make the student feel better. When my friend at Winsor first mentioned this to me, I was shocked. Why would students reveal their rejections? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing? However, the more I thought about it, the more I understood. By posting letters of rejections, rejection is normalized; instead of just hearing about acceptances, students realize that being rejected from schools is (sadly) a common occurrence, thus making students feel less discouraged when they receive bad news during the college process.

Talking to students from schools like Milton Academy, St. Sebastian’s, Dana Hall, and Dexter-Southfield, I was shocked at how much my friends from these schools knew about where their classmates were applying. When I asked my friend that attends Southfield where her friends were applying, she was able to list off nearly the entire lists of several of her close friends. If you asked any students at NCDS the same question, I can imagine you would get a much less elaborate response. Speaking for myself, I can only guess where most of my best friends are applying, and I’m sure they’d say the same about me.

All things considered, I think that the air of secrecy surrounding college applications at our school reveals some not-so-great things about our school culture. There’s no doubt that many students refrain from disclosing their lists do so in fear that their college acceptances and rejections define their worth. I commonly hear variations of the phrases, “Well, she goes to _____ school, so she must be really smart,” or “She goes to ______ school, so she must have gotten a bad SAT score,” and the like. Phrases like these contribute to students’ desire to go to highly ranked schools, just for the sake of bettering their academic reputation among their peers.

But in reality, where one goes to school is not always an accurate indicator of their smarts or hard work. There are several factors that go into college admissions, including course load, GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, leadership roles, teacher recommendations, the essay, supplements, legacy connections, demonstrated interest, awards, and many more. And there are plenty of qualified students that are turned away from their top schools every year. Yet, these students still go to college, and while they may not be attending their first choice, they often still have a great experience and come to love where they go. On the other side of the spectrum, there are plenty of students that are accepted into prestigious schools and end up feeling completely unprepared for the rigor of their school. While I hope everyone gets into their top school, I think there is something to be said for finding a school that is truly your right fit, where you will be happy and well-prepared for the academic environment. Going to a prestigious, highly ranked school is no doubt impressive, but in the end, it only really matters if you actually love it and will be happy there.

All these ideas lead me to wonder what it would be like if we talked openly about our college lists with our classmates. Would we find ourselves feeling more stressed? Less stressed? The same? Would we judge each other? Of course, there’s no ready answer to these questions. But I would hope that if students were more open about their college searches, we as a student body could rely on the teachings of our school to offer support to one another through these stressful times.

What do you think? Should students at NCDS be more open about their college lists? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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