What's On The Test?

Chris Boehm
Club crew, a 50-foot rock-climbing wall, great Indian food within walking distance, and a sink in a dorm room—the list of specific college-wants can be long and perhaps to the outsider, trivial. To students and families that are familiar to having their needs and wants met, expectations can be high and particular (or peculiar!). However, when deciding where to apply and ultimately where to enroll, students tend to use much broader priorities when making their big decisions. We survey alumni after graduation about a lot of things, one being, an inquiry about what most influenced their final decisions. And while Saturday football games, a campus near the beach, great sushi, or a single room might have had some sway, there are bigger ticket items that were leaned on to narrow and finalize matriculation. I share the list of the constant top three responses to assist our present students and families in getting through some of the less consequential variables and skipping to what will be most important when creating a list and comparing colleges.

  • Campus Community can encompass a lot! A student could be seeking “their people,” hoping for certain opportunities, or wanting a feeling of pride and belonging. Before judging a community, a student must be able to reflect upon what the word and variable means to them. This requires looking inward before acting outward. It’s not uncommon for a high school sophomore and junior to be unable to articulate their wants, thus requiring some trial and error. Visiting campuses, listening to information sessions, and talking to students and community members will assist students in deciphering and expressing what priorities make them happy, comfortable, and perhaps even…inspired! Individual discussions, observing if students (and employees) are happy, and noticing how many students are wearing school apparel can certainly be indicators of community. For those that like data, a good indicator of community and happiness is a school’s first-year retention percentage. If students are returning after year-one, and families are willing to continue to pay the bills, I conclude the college is delivering on expectations and the community is providing comfort. To gage this statistic, the average for a four-year college in the United States is 76%. There are approximately 60 schools with a first-year retention above 95% and another 95 with retention above 90%.
  • We’re always pleased when academics highlights the list of priorities, and Strength of Major is first or second each year. But how students come to this conclusion is, to be expected, inconsistent. Many will start, and fewer will end, with the dreaded US News and World Report rankings. Which, just as a reminder, is a company that is defunct other than it’s rankings. But I digress. Our office’s feeling about rankings has a wider lens than the one that students and families will use. We feel, even with subjective and novelty rankings, that if a school makes a list there’s probably merit to that recognition. However, schools being omitted from rankings could be for factors that are not easily known. We also find that when families shift from their application to matriculation decision, they tend to defend their choices with information from a variety of places rather than referencing a single resource. Citations will include the school’s academic pages and recognitions beyond the one previously mentioned publication.
If we had an Elder Wand, the College Counseling Office would absolutely have families deeply examine all the academic positives of colleges and specific departments earlier in the process. Taking into account educational delivery, institutional priorities, mission, core requirements, experiential opportunities, class sizes, facilities, special programming, mentoring programs, and many other variables instead of taking, dare we say – the easy way out, and assign a number to a school by a publication that doesn’t take all of these things into account.
  • A college’s vicinity can impact a student’s experience in many ways. The College Setting for students can mean an avenue to entertainment, an ability to get home easily, access to internships, even safety or lack-there-of. One thing is for sure, while a college’s neighborhood can go through changes, it’s very rare to see a college move its campus. Some students are simply attracted to a type of setting: urban, suburban, rural, college town. Others take a deeper dive into how a greater community might impact their educational experience and opportunities. While college setting will mean different things to different students – it always shows up in the top 3 most important variables when making a final decision.
This week during our annual faculty professional development days, someone referenced a regular student inquiry during the school year, “what’s going to be on the test?” Responding to this question can provide a shortcut that can squelch learning, exploration, and inquiry. However, there are times when providing direct guidance can help a student understand what might eventually be most important. So, whether you are a senior in the process of trimming your application list or a younger student exploring college options, here’s a clue to what will be on the test: Campus Community, Strength of Major, and Campus Setting. Know what you are looking for, ask questions about these areas, and research schools individually (not through rankings – that’s too much of a short cut) to begin to determine which schools are the best fit. Now you know what’s on the test, we expect you to use this information wisely. Good luck!
Archmere Academy is a private, Catholic, college preparatory co-educational academy,
grades 9-12 founded in 1932 by the Norbertine Fathers.