by Oona Lundgren, Staff Writer, January 2022

Few topics loom as large in causing the stress of the student body as college admissions. In such a competitive academic environment, it is no surprise that college has a powerful influence on the Nobles community. Anxiety is not localized to upperclassmen, of course, but senior stress is undoubtedly the strongest. As decision release dates creep upon us, Nobles is a hive of tension and nerves. Many seniors feel overwhelming pressure and fear at the prospect of reading the fateful first lines of a college letter, where acceptance or rejection can feel like a determining factor in the next four years and beyond. 

The truth of the matter is that the college process at Nobles is unique. Along with the pressure to excel, our matriculation records are stellar, to a point of public notoriety. Nobles was well known in the 20th century as a feeder to Harvard and has not fully done away with its history. An article in The Atlantic published last March name-dropped Nobles as sending a staggering 50 students to Harvard over only five years. Harvard’s incoming class in 2018 was made up of about 40 percent private school graduates, which is even more shocking considering that under ten percent of American students attend private schools, far fewer at non-religious institutions. All in all, independent schools have a ridiculously high success rate of entry into the nation’s most selective colleges, giving students with the resources to receive private schooling a valuable leg up. With all the drawbacks of a college admissions system that favors private school students and sustains inequality, the privilege of attending a high school that will send a student to a selective college is still attractive. In other words, there’s a reason why parents want to send their kids to feeder schools. 

One of the essential selling points of Nobles is the valuable college counseling resources. Through the connections that the counseling office forms with college admissions offices, Nobles students are put in favorable positions to apply to selective schools. In fact, many choose Nobles for that draw and the results that are implied. “Many students come to Nobles with an expectation of what will be delivered on the back end,” Director of College Counseling Kate Ramsdell said.

College counselors use their expertise to guide students through the college admissions process. Counselors must have close knowledge of the colleges that Nobles students hope to attend. “The fundamental work that we do hasn’t changed, but the landscape has evolved significantly,” Ramsdell said. A change in recent years has been the disconnect between selectivity and reputation. College has become exponentially more competitive and the applicant pool has grown significantly. As a result, many schools with less prestigious reputations are becoming very difficult to get into. “The advent of the internet and the role of the Common Application broadly speaks to colleges thinking very intentionally about the work they do in enrollment,” Ramsdell said. “Demands on colleges to produce strong classes and increase rankings are really high.”

Considering the landscape of college admissions leads to critical questions on the overall fairness of the process. As of now, there is no way to guarantee equal opportunity in college admissions because there are so many facets built into the holistic admissions process that many colleges use. “College admissions have never been meritocratic, but American colleges have never claimed to be,” Ramsdell said. Whether it comes in the form of elite private schooling, athletic recruiting, donations, legacy, or other advantages, there are many ways beyond the classic process to gain entry into selective colleges. 

For one, financial privilege is very influential. Donations in conjunction with familial connections can seem to be a very relevant part of the college process. Unless a school openly says they do not consider legacy, it is a real possibility that it is a factor. Many schools consider or prefer legacy not just to preserve relationships with alumni, but also to ensure they have the most resources available, including donation funds. 

However, the abolition of legacy can be problematic in its own right. Legacy funds and donations account for huge portions of financial aid and educational resources. Further, schools like Amherst College, which recently announced that it was not considering legacy preference in ongoing applications, are questioned for doing so at a time when the alumni pool is the most diverse it has ever been. If legacy is truly being fazed out as a factor in college admissions, it leaves in its wake an overwhelmingly more diverse generation of college grads without the same alumni privilege as those who came before. “I think [legacy] is built into the process. It’s by no means fair, but at this point, it’s kind of unavoidable,” Caitlin Fitzmaurice (Class I) said. 

Athletic recruiting also plays a significant role in college admissions at Nobles. There’s no doubt that athletic accomplishment at the collegiate level is impressive and requires commitment and hard work. Nobles’ athletic strength as a school provides athletes with a jumping-off point from which to start the recruiting process with lots of support, but with many athletes vying for spots on hyper-competitive teams, pressure within the process is inevitable. “I think there’s a common misconception that you either go to an Ivy for a sport or you don’t go at all,” Charlotte Walkey (Class I) said, who went through recruiting for crew. 

The process can be controversial among a class when students are getting into highly selective colleges on the earlier side. “I was lucky to know where I was going early on even before a lot of other people knew where they were submitting Early Decision,” Walkey said, of her decision in October of 2021. Some sports seek commitment even earlier, with some conversations even beginning in freshman year. 

Further, some non-recruits describe feeling cheated out of their own opportunities to get into college when there is a different standard set for recruited students outside of athletics. Recruiting by design takes a different avenue into college than general admission, where conversations with coaches and athletic performance are essential, sometimes prioritized over other factors in decision. 

The world of college admissions can seem scary, especially to younger students who feel anxiety set in earlier and earlier these days. Ramsdell explains that the key is “maintaining a sense of self in the midst of a stressful process.” What is perfect for one person may be completely wrong for another. Within the landscape that is rapidly changing, it is vital for students to stay true to who they are. College acceptance doesn’t determine who someone is as a person or what they are capable of. In a process masquerading as a meritocracy, acceptance can often come down to a pure lottery. In short, you are worth more as a person than a simple college acceptance or rejection can determine.