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.

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