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Monday, April 12, 2010
Students at Manhattan private schools are finding it harder than ever to get into Ivy League schools
In the past, Dalton has had as many as seven students accepted early at Harvard. Not this year.
At the prestigious Dalton School, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, administrators can’t remember the last time a graduating senior class experienced a “Harvard drought.” In the past, it wasn’t unusual for as many as seven students to be accepted through early admission to the top Ivy League institution, says a guidance counselor there. But for the first time in memory, inside sources say, no Dalton students will be shipping off to Harvard come fall. And some parents—who shell out $31,200 a year for their kids’ private school education—are pissed.
At Dalton’s graduation earlier this month, one mom was heard muttering, “I won’t send my grandchildren here, that’s for sure.” Another frustrated parent says she “had to use personal connections” to get her Dalton-educated daughter, who had an A-minus average and near-perfect SAT scores, into Johns Hopkins this fall. She says: “The consensus is that the school took its eye off what it’s supposed to be about”—that is, getting kids into Ivy League schools or, more specifically, the holy trifecta of Harvard, Yale and Princeton. “One of the things I looked at in picking a high school is what kind of colleges the students got into,” the parent continues. “But [Dalton] wasn’t focused on preparing these kids to get into college. The parents who trusted the school to do the job got screwed.” Of course, Johns Hopkins—rated the 14th-best university in the country in ’08 by U.S. News & World Report—is hardly sloppy seconds. But the need to strive for the best is just another extreme example of the NYC helicopter-parent stereotype (that is, parents who hover over their children’s every move).
Among nine parents interviewed for this story, many say the Dalton guidance counselors “lowballed” students. “They encouraged one girl who later got into Brown to shoot for Syracuse University,” says a disgruntled Dalton parent. Bev Taylor, the founder of the Ivy Coach (an independent college admissions counseling service), confirms that lowballing is common at prep schools, whose worst nightmare is being stuck with graduating seniors who haven’t been admitted to any college at all. “The last thing any school wants is for a kid not to get in anywhere,” says Bev, who charges clients a flat rate of $46,000 for tutoring on how to get into the top colleges, and starts working with some students as early as the seventh grade. “Schools worry that parents would sue them, so they play it safe and lowball students who can probably get into better colleges.”
While Dalton does not make its college admissions list public, administrators say they are pleased with how their students fared. “We focus on achieving the right match for each student,” says head of school Ellen Stein. “We are proud of the fact that, once again, a very high percentage of our students were accepted at one of their top choices.”
Dalton isn’t the only Manhattan prep school that won’t be represented in Harvard’s freshman class come fall. This year marks the first time in five years that no students from Marymount, a private school for girls on Fifth Avenue at East 84th Street, were admitted to Harvard—though, according to teachers at the school (who declined to give their names for this story), 10 girls from a graduating class of 49 applied. Last year, Marymount sent four students to Harvard from a graduating class of 44.
Students at Manhattan private schools like Chapin are finding it harder than ever to get into Ivy League schools.
While high SAT scores and grade point averages, extracurricular activities and privileges such as a $46,000 private guidance counselor were once expected to guarantee admission to Ivy League schools, that’s not the case anymore. And for private schoolers who have grown up with their eyes on the Ivies, the idea of getting a good education at a less prestigious school is little comfort.
“My best friend had his heart set on Duke, but got rejected,” says 18-year-old Tom Iadecola, who graduated from Dalton and will be attending Brown in the fall. “He’s going to Johns Hopkins, but people going to their backup schools, like Wesleyan or Hopkins, are acting like it’s a fate worse than death.”
In recent years, the college admissions process has become more competitive than ever for both public and private school students across the country. The rates of admission at elite colleges dipped to record lows in ’08, with just 7.1 percent of Harvard applicants getting in, compared to 9 percent the year before. At Yale, the acceptance rate in ’08 was 8.5 percent, down from 9.9 percent in ’07.
This year wasn’t a wash for everyone. The Trinity School on the Upper West Side, with a graduating class of 107 students, is sending six students to Harvard, seven to Yale and two to Princeton. The Horace Mann School, with a graduating class of 173, is sending nine students to Yale, nine to Princeton and eight to Harvard (including Eliot Spitzer’s daughter, Elyssa). But “most people I know are not going to their first-choice schools,” says one Horace Mann grad who was admitted to Cornell University only as a guaranteed transfer sophomore year, and will attend Syracuse in the fall. “A lot of my friends who expected Ivies are ending up at Tulane and Vanderbilt instead.”
Three factors are making college admissions more competitive than ever: First, there are a record 3.3 million high school students graduating in ’08, according to the federal Department of Education. Second, students are applying to a greater number of colleges. And third, universities are overhauling financial aid policies to make an Ivy League education more affordable to lower- and middle-income families.