Reading Between The Lines: What A College List Doesn’t Tell You

It has become customary for schools to publish a list of college decisions each May. Working in the college admissions field for more than 13 years, I have come to understand that, no matter how impressive, the college list alone does not convey what is truly important and meaningful about a young person’s college admissions story. What matters most are the truths she discovers about herself during the college admissions process.

A college list says a great deal, certainly, but here are a few of the things that a college list, on its own, cannot tell you:

A college list does not articulate how a student finds her voice. Each student invests so much in understanding herself and her goals. Where she intends to apply and where she actually applies and ultimately enrolls often evolve profoundly during this process. There is a real self-knowledge that develops along the way. Ultimately, a college list shows you what decisions were made, but not the many ways in which a student came to know herself and define what she wants from her future, especially if the school selected is not an instantly recognizable brand name. Behind the college list are well-developed, independent, exciting voices.

A college list doesn’t begin to capture the maturity, bravery, and seriousness of these seniors. Students pour themselves into their applications and, as such, deal with tremendous potential for rejection. Some students feel enormous pressure to apply to Ivies, to legacy schools, to those that fulfill family or cultural expectations of success, or that reflect financial realities. Despite these pressures, the Class of 2015 applied to the schools that spoke to their authentic aspirations. They almost never made the easy or obvious choice. These young women came to know, deeply, what they want from their futures. They went for it.

A college list does not reflect how carefully a student and her family weighed the financial implications of a particular choice. In the year of 2015, when college costs continue to rise in levels disproportionate to family incomes, cost and value become an increasingly important part of the college decision-making process. A highly selective school that offers little financial aid or scholarship funding might place future plans for graduate or medical school out of a student’s reach. Many students paid close attention to such considerations. Some students were offered financial packages that were just too good to refuse. We should be proud of our students for having the foresight to think through how their choices now may affect their choices later. That type of careful planning takes real maturity and vision by the student and her family.

A college list does not express the support these girls provided to one another. I’ve had the privilege to participate in and overhear many heartfelt college discussions. I’ve witnessed students cry tears of joy when their peers have been admitted to college. I’ve watched students uplift one another in the most respectful manner imaginable when the path to college took unexpected turns. The way that our girls’ school students speak to one another demonstrates that these seniors have the emotional intelligence to be both ambitious and profoundly supportive at the same time. These young women know when to ask probing questions and when to step back to allow each girl to feel confident in her decision. This type of empathy, teamwork, and friendship will sustain these young women far beyond their time on our campuses.

Finally, behind this list is an unscripted and hopeful future. A college name on a list does not set a girl’s course. No matter where a student enrolls for college, her future depends on the choices she makes when she is there, the opportunities she seizes, the connections she builds. The way students engaged in this process tells me that the Class of 2015 has maturity and takes intelligent and strategic risks. They are confident, creative, and competent in equal measure.

When you look at the college list, I encourage you to read between the lines, and see the diversity, individuality, and promise of each and every girl.


Lauren Droz Lieberman, Director of College Counseling, The Ellis School

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally posted on The Ellis School blog “Girl Talk,” and is used with permission.

Challenging the Coed Standard: A Single-Sex Education Makes all the Difference for Girls

It’s time to challenge the coeducation standard. The evidence supporting the benefits of all-girls schools is abundant.

A new report comparing all-girls high school environments to coeducational institutions provides clear evidence that—from academics to personal aspirations—the impact of the all-girls experience positively permeates a girl’s life at rates coeducational environments simply cannot match. At a time when real and resounding inequities remain between women and men in the workforce—from pay disparity to significant leadership gaps in nearly every industry—the report provides compelling evidence that girls’ schools offer a worthy solution.

Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools analyzed the responses of nearly 13,000 high school girls attending all-girls schools, coeducational independent schools, and coeducational public schools to the 2013 High School Survey of Student Engagement. According to the survey [conducted by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University], girls attending girls’ schools are more likely to have an experience that supports their learning than are girls attending coeducational schools. In particular, students at all-girls schools report:

  1. Having higher aspirations and greater motivation.
  2. Being challenged to achieve more.
  3. Engaging more actively in the learning process.
  4. Participating in activities that prepare them for the world outside of school.
  5. Feeling more comfortable being themselves and expressing their ideas.
  6. Showing greater gains on core academic and life skills.
  7. Being and feeling more supported in their endeavors.

Among the most striking results detailed in this study is the effect the all-girls environment has on a girl’s personal aspirations. Virtually all girls within an all-girls environment expect to earn a four-year degree; two-thirds expect to go on to graduate-level work. This is compared to under 40% of coeducational public school girls with graduate school expectations.

Such higher personal aspirations are likely influenced by the educators and classes girls attend while at school. More than 75% of girls in all-girls schools report their classes challenge them to achieve their full potential and that they gave their maximum effort in their classes. This was higher than both coeducational independent and public schools, with public coed schools faring the worst with just under 40% reporting that their classes challenge them to their full potential.

The majority of our girls deserve better from their education. How can we hope to raise the profile of women if we cannot push them to reach their full potential in the classroom? Confidence grows out of experience and our girls are simply not getting enough practice.

The girls’ school girls also report higher levels of confidence in a wide variety of academic areas compared to their coeducational peers including writing, speaking, critical thinking, reading, teamwork, and independent learning abilities. In sum, they are more personally engaged and successful in their learning and they report higher levels of support from both their fellow students and teachers.

The difference for girls in these educational environments is dramatic and the impact of educating even more girls in this way could help balance our social and political landscape, enabling women to claim their talents in a world that needs them to do so. Imagine a world where all women receive an education that unleashes their true potential.

A study released last month by University of Massachusetts at Amherst states that when women make up the majority of a group in an educational environment – specifically in the sciences – they are “more likely to worry less, feel confident and also to speak up and actively contribute to solve the problem at hand.” Another study at UCLA found that, even when accounting for self-selection biases, graduates of girls’ schools enter college with more confidence in their mathematical and computer skills, a greater interest in engineering careers, a greater propensity to become involved in extracurricular activities, an enhanced interest in political and civic engagement, higher SAT scores, and generally a more intellectual orientation towards the purpose of college, according to the researcher.

With this supporting research and thousands of successful girls’ school graduates as living proof, we now have clear evidence that the coeducational high school environment needs to be challenged.

An all-girls education is a choice made by families because they value the extraordinary benefits of this learning environment.


Trudy Hall, Board President, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools and Head, Emma Willard School

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools