On Good Ends and New Beginnings

Most students begin Andover with sunny optimism about their future college prospects, but college admission isn’t the foremost thing on their minds. They just “won” the grueling gauntlet of the prep school admission process. So, they assume the gods—otherwise known as college admission counselors—will favor them during their Senior year as well.

This attitude doesn’t arise from a pampered sense of academic entitlement. Instead, it pops up as a kind of innocent logical deduction. After all, if Andover accepted them, shouldn’t Harvard, Yale or Princeton as well?

Nope, not really. But that shouldn’t matter—as long as it was the educational program Phillips Academy offers that brought us to Andover in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of Andover students get into top colleges. But they earn their spots by competing against large applicant pools, according to Sean Logan, Andover’s Director of College Counseling. As Logan explains in a must-read interview that appeared in the winter 2013 edition of the Andover magazine, “The pool that applies to boarding schools is a sliver of what applies to highly selective colleges. It’s a very different group of kids you are competing with. The idea that ‘I was admitted to one of the best high schools in the country, so I should be competitive at the top colleges’ doesn’t mean as much now.”

Most of my fellow members of the Class of 2013 have adjusted their college expectations to the reality Logan aptly describes. Still, college admission still remains a mystery wrapped inside a conundrum locked inside a black box for many of us. Our college counselors have helpfully designated the expected level of difficulty of acceptance for each school we have applied to from the balanced list of likely, possible, reach and unlikely colleges. Even more, we have spent more hours than we would care to admit mulling over the predictive college admission indicators on Naviance, like the ancient Greeks parsing the meaning of an oracle from Delphi.

By now, some of us have happily pocketed early decision or early action acceptances to schools we covet. Others nervously wait for regular decision notifications with the hope that T.S. Eliot was wrong when he called “April the cruelest month.” Those still waiting for college acceptances can’t precisely predict the future.

They know, however, to anticipate both the expected and the unexpected in the college admission process. For many, the dream of attending an elite college still burns brightly. Others seek admission to top colleges with the Stoic understanding that the odds are heavily against them in the Hunger Games that is the college admission process. Still others happily search for a niche at excellent hidden gem schools.

To be sure, all Andover students will matriculate to good colleges when the warm days of spring bloom again in May. As Logan observes, “98 percent of the [Andover] class was admitted to a top-100 university or college,” with the other “two percent. . .attending international schools that weren’t rated. . .or specialty schools—like a specific arts program or conservatory.”

By any rubric, that’s pretty impressive. Nevertheless, the dream of matriculating to an Ivy or schools like Stanford dies hard for some students. Instead of embracing their final days of high school, they second guess their decision to attend Andover by playing the “what if” game. They ask what would have happened if they had graduated in the top one percent of their former school instead of outside the top 10, 20 or 30 percent of their class at Andover.

Logan understands this phenomenon. But as the Andover motto “finis origine pendet” suggests, he believes that a good beginning makes a good end at Andover. That’s why he advises parents, “If your main reason for sending your student to Phillips Academy is to get into a great college that is a mistake. I can’t guarantee that. I can guarantee they’re going to get an amazing education, and I can do that because I’ve visited well over 300 high schools in my life —domestically and internationally. This is a really unique community, and our kids capitalize on that.”

Logan’s message should resonate with all Andover students—especially those graduating this June. We didn’t uproot ourselves from our former lives only because sugar plum dreams of attending Harvard, Yale or Princeton danced in our heads. We came to Andover because each of us, in our own way, wanted to broaden our intellectual or extracurricular horizons by taking advantage of opportunities not available to us at our prior schools. Hence, we should judge our end at Andover in the same way we valued our beginning here. A great high school experience, not college matriculation, matters most of all about our time at Andover.

Eric Meyers is a a two-year Senior from Miami, FL and a Columnist for The Phillipian.