INSIGHT: College Admissions: Looking Beyond the Surface

By Bart Gummere, Associate Head of School for College Counseling and Alumni Relations

One of my least favorite questions to field each year is “Is EPS having a good college admission season?” It tends to come from many sources. Some are expected. Parents, faculty and even alumni. Some are more distant, such as friends who have no connection with the school other than knowing it through me. In all cases, I do not resent the interest. After 40 years in this business, though, I am still amazed and a little baffled by people’s fascination with the college admission process.

What makes this inquiry uncomfortable for me, is the desire of many to reduce the responses to a “gradeable” result. Somehow it is imagined that we are keeping score, with some individual results being better than others and taken further, some years being better than others. I was prone to this exact thinking in my early career, so I get it. Once you watch the process for a few years (or decades) you recognize these decisions of our students on their next steps in life are vitally important, but not in the outcome fixated analysis most people want to assert. My discomfort is always around a desire of some to commodify the process.

Our students should not be viewed as products. It has been a great gift that our founding Head of School Terry Macaluso never wanted to market the school through college results. “The experience while here should be what matters most,” she’d often say. Certainly, Sam Uzwack shares this view. None of the three of us are so naïve to believe people select independent schools without some focus on the outcomes of our students post-graduation. I just never want a list of acceptances to be the defining portion of the story.

I glow in the light of people’s stories once IN college, not the sticker they can put in the car window announcing the destination. To me the things people feel equipped to do once there is what most matters. And choosing a school environment in which they can best flourish is the central focus of our college counseling office.

Last spring, I was on a campus of a prestigious institution meeting with one of our EPS grads. What was she most excited by? The fact she’d enrolled in a place that took personal interest in her story and guided her through some difficult times to emerge now truly settled and confident. Earlier this fall, I received a communication from a 2020 graduate who was ecstatic because she was finishing her degree in 3.5 years and moving on to pursue her Master’s degree. She had started at EPS as a self-described “reluctant student.” Through the years there are so many happy, unanticipated stories.

So, if you want to know how things are going for this year’s seniors my most honest reply is “We don’t know yet, and we won’t fully for many years.”