Besides rigorous academic curricula, extracurricular opportunities, long histories of distinguished alums and growing national and international reputations, the Harvard-Westlake School and Phillips Academy have something else in common.
Both institutions have sent more than 45 graduates each to Brown in the past five years, according to figures released by the schools’ college counseling departments.
Top-tier private and magnet high schools boast high matriculation rates to the most prestigious colleges and universities. But these schools deny that the relationships between college counselors and college admission offices help boost their students’ chances of getting in.
Harvard-Westlake, a college-preparatory day school in North Hollywood, Calif., and Phillips Academy, a Massachusetts boarding school usually referred to as Andover, are two of a handful of high schools across the country that send more than one-fourth of their students to Ivy League or highly reputable institutions.
The all-male Collegiate School in New York City has sent 39.6 percent of its graduates in the past five years to universities falling under the “Ivy Plus” umbrella — the eight Ivy League universities, as well as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among the graduates, 14 have enrolled at Brown.
Other New York private and boarding schools located throughout New England boast similar statistics.
Trinity School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — named “America’s Best Prep School” by Forbes Magazine last year — sent 21 students to Brown and matriculated 37.3 percent of its students to “Ivy Plus” universities in the past five years.
Twenty-two graduates of Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in Exeter, N.H., enrolled at Brown in the past three years, while 250 alums have entered other “Ivy Plus” institutions in that time. Milton Academy in Milton, Mass., sent 24 students from its past three graduating classes to Brown.
But according to Jim Miller ’73, dean of admission, personal relationships between prestigious institutions and secondary schools do not impact these numbers.
“We do not admit schools,” he wrote in an email to The Herald. “We admit students.”
Miller credited these prep schools’ ability to attract a diverse and talented group of students with their high college admission rates. The growing global reputations of institutions such as Andover, Exeter and Milton allow the schools to enroll exceptional students from all corners of the world, he wrote. And renowned day schools, such as Harvard-Westlake or public magnet Stuyvesant High School in New York, benefit from their footing in larger metropolitan areas.
Such preparatory schools possess a high level of talent, and the greater number of applicants from the schools is “inevitable,” he wrote. Brown receives more than 75 applications from many of these schools each year, he wrote, adding that “it makes sense” for schools with such a large number of applications to see a high number of acceptances.
“The successes of these schools in our admission process … is a function of the unique opportunities they have to find promising students across a broad geographical spectrum and educate them well,” Miller wrote. “We do not have any quotas, expectations or targets for any institution for any reason.”
But the top independent schools across the country expect they will maintain a “batting average” in university admissions, said Stephen Nelson, senior scholar at Brown’s Leadership Alliance. College counseling is undergoing a process of “professionalization,” Nelson said, making it the college counselors’ jobs to get students into top universities.
Though he is unsure whether an “on-the-phone relationship” exists between universities and certain high schools, he said college admissions are affected by trends, and universities tend to invest their time in schools and regions from which students consistently enroll.
Nelson, an alumni representative of Gettysburg College, said there are schools from which Gettysburg seeks prospective students and other institutions it avoids based on previous matriculation statistics.
Examining the relationships
Martha Lyman, associate head of school and director of college advising at Deerfield Academy, a boarding high school in Massachusetts, denied the existence of any special relationship between Deerfield and universities. According to the academy’s website, six members of the class of 2010 enrolled at Brown while 48 others matriculated at the remaining “Ivy Plus” institutions.
Tamar Adegbile, an upper school dean at Harvard-Westlake, said her school has developed a positive relationship with Brown, but students at Harvard-Westlake do not receive “preferential treatment” in the admission process. Ed Hu ’87, Harvard-Westlake’s chief advancement officer and former associate dean of admission at Brown, has often led Harvard-Westlake students on tours of the University, but Adegbile said Harvard-Westlake has not used the relationship to its advantage.
But she added that athletes, especially water polo players or students with family connections to Brown, may have a greater chance of being admitted.
Max Lubin ’12, a graduate of Harvard-Westlake and a member of the men’s water polo team, said it has been “a long tradition” for the school’s water polo players to attend Brown. The coaches at Brown and Harvard-Westlake do not have an established relationship, but Harvard-Westlake is well-known for its water polo program, he said.
But Lubin said he believes special relationships have affected college admissions in the past. According to Lubin, more than 25 students — what Lubin said was an “absurd” number — were admitted to Penn from Harvard-Westlake’s class of 2007 because of connections among school personnel, but when the admissions officials at Penn changed, the acceptance numbers noticeably decreased, Lubin said.
Stanley Bosworth, former headmaster of Saint Ann’s School in New York, established connections with a number of universities through his ability to be “personable,” said Caleb Townsend ’11, a 2007 graduate of the school. Bosworth, who retired in 2004, developed relationships that were personal at first, rather than school-to-school, Townsend said. But as Bosworth consistently sent talented students to reputable universities, Saint Ann’s became more oriented toward university preparation.
Bosworth’s influence became noticeable after his retirement, Townsend said, as the “gravity” of the relationships between Saint Ann’s and top universities has been “dwindling.”
According to matriculation statistics available on the school’s website, 50 students came to Brown and 152 enrolled at “Ivy Plus” universities in the six years prior to Bosworth’s retirement. In the six years after his departure, 26 Saint Ann’s graduates have enrolled at Brown, and a total of 118 have entered “Ivy Plus” institutions.
Students at Saint Ann’s receive written reports from their instructors instead of grades. Universities are accustomed to the school’s grading system, wrote Elizabeth Hannan and Melissa Gibson, college counselors at Saint Ann’s, in an email to The Herald. They declined to comment on whether or not Saint Ann’s has special relationships with certain universities that can sway admission numbers.
Brenda Tan ’14, who graduated from Trinity last year, said students at her school expected approximately 50 percent of the graduating class to be admitted to an Ivy or equally reputable institution. She said that, though many of the students who went to Ivy League schools from Trinity were legacy candidates, college counselors who themselves attended the schools were able to establish connections and contact institutions on behalf of students placed on waitlists.
But Katrina Toal ’12, a graduate of Hunter College High School, a public magnet school in Ne
w York, said her school’s counselors “don’t buddy it up with admissions staff to get students into schools.” She said she believes special relationships exist between Hunter and institutions across the country, but they are “based solely on the reputation of the quality of students at Hunter.” Hunter does not publish matriculation statistics.
Clogging the applicant pool
But some graduates of these preparatory schools said attending competitive schools may have actually hurt their chances of admittance to top institutions.
Chris Sulawko ’13, who attended Stuyvesant, said he was “frustrated” when applying to Ivy League universities because of the stiff competition he faced from his classmates. The school tends to create the “formulaic college applicant” derived from a “how-to book,” according to Evan Schwartz ’13, also a Stuvyesant graduate.
Due to the caliber of Stuyvesant students, some might have had better luck in the college admission process had they attended another high school, said Gabe Paley ’12, a Stuyvesant alum. Paley said his father suggested he enroll at the Horace Mann School in New York, which was ranked second in the nation last year by Forbes, to better his college prospects. Horace Mann boasts a matriculation rate of 36 percent at “Ivy Plus” universities, according to Forbes. Like Hunter, Stuyvesant does not publish matriculation statistics.
Allen Kramer ’13, a member of Stuvyesant’s class of 2009, said the school sends around seven students each year to Brown, significantly fewer than it sends to Cornell and Harvard. But Miller wrote that over the past two years, Stuyvesant has been the school with the highest number of applications to Brown.
Alice Hines ’11, an Exeter alum, said some students at Exeter believed their chances of attending a top-ranked university were hurt by having attended the school. Above-average students who did not stand out among their classmates could get “screwed over” in the admission process, she recalled.
College counseling officials at Andover, Exeter, Collegiate, St. Paul’s School and the Dalton School in New York declined requests for comment. St. Paul’s, a boarding school in Concord, N.H., sent 15 students to Brown in the past four years, while Dalton matriculated 25 graduates to Brown in the past five years.
Though many of the nation’s top secondary schools are heavily concentrated in New York and New England — Forbes placed only two prep schools located outside the northeast in its top-20 rankings — Miller wrote in his email to The Herald that other schools with pools of gifted students find similar success in the college admission process. Among them, he mentioned the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. and Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong. Around 120 alums of the 13 UWC campuses attend Brown, The Herald reported in February.