An Insider's Look Into a Complex Process

With millions of high school students applying to colleges each year, the process can feel daunting. Since its inception in 2013, Chapin’s College Case Studies Night has provided an insider’s look at college admissions to Class 11 students and their families as they prepare for their own application process. Organized annually by Chapin’s College Guidance Department, this year’s enlightening evening workshop was held last month.

In the weeks leading up to the event, the Class 11 students prepared by learning how to read a college application during their College Guidance classes. They became well versed in everything from examining test scores and reading transcripts to reviewing letters of recommendation and essays, and felt confident and well-prepared for the big night.

During Case Studies Night, the juniors and their parents were separated and split into small groups spread throughout the Upper School classrooms. In these groups, they assumed the role of College Admissions committee members and spent time reviewing sample applications from fictitious students in order to decide who would be accepted to their university. Actual college deans of admissions joined each group to both facilitate and offer support. In order to ensure an unbiased experience, these officers would not reveal which colleges and universities they worked for until the conclusion of the evening.

To begin, the visiting admissions officers gave a brief overview and explanation of their own college admissions processes and described how they determine which students they will accept to their unknown schools. Next, they turned it over to the groups, who discussed each case and worked towards their own admissions decisions. They reviewed the fictitious applications and transcripts, and read the essays and letters of recommendation, using this information to determine who should be admitted to their college, who should be waitlisted and who should be denied. But suddenly, an unexpected curveball was thrown into the mix…. midterm grades! With this new information, the groups had to quickly reevaluate their candidates and decide if their original decisions still stood. By actively completing the admissions decision process, the groups discovered just how complex it really is. After much deliberation, the groups came to their final decisions and moved into the Assembly Room for the closing discussion.

The College Guidance Directors presented each group’s admissions decisions, exposing the disparity between them. At this point, the visiting deans of admissions revealed the secret they had been keeping all night… their colleges and universities.* They shared what their admissions decisions would have been for each of the case study applicants, explained their reasoning and answered thoughtful questions from the audience, giving those present a valuable behind-the-scenes look at the actual college admissions process.

Brittany Dávila, Director of College Guidance, explained that the biggest takeaways for most parents were how much the admissions process has changed since they applied for college and how complex the process actually is. “There is never really an easy decision,” she noted.

College Guidance Coordinator Samara Antolini added that authenticity was a strong theme throughout the evening. “The deans often share that you shouldn’t try to plan your entire high school experience around what you think would impress an admissions officer. They can see right through that,” she explained. 

As they prepare to embark on their own college admissions journeys, Chapin’s Class 11 students and their parents were thankful for the opportunity to learn more about the ins and outs of the application process. One student, Kaiya Vicioso, was reassured to learn that not every applicant has to fit a certain profile. “I learned that there are so many factors that get taken into consideration. Lots of different things can make you a good candidate,” she explained. Another student, Chanelle Moise, added that it was helpful to see how people reacted to different items on an application. “It made me more aware of what I need to include [or not include] in my own application.” she shared. “And now I know I definitely need to avoid typos!”

Undoubtedly, this informative event went a long way toward demystifing the college admissions process. Equipped with these useful Case Studies, and the honest feedback from admissions officers, Chapin’s Class 11 and their families can feel confident and comfortable as they move forward with their own applications.

*This year, college admissions officers from Bates College, Chapman University, Dartmouth College, Drexel University, Duke University, Smith College, Tufts University, Tulane University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Williams College were in attendance.