Private Schools and Ivy League Admission

Private Schools and Ivy League Admission, Private Schools and Ivies, Ivies and Private High Schools

Students from private schools do not have better odds of admission to Ivy League colleges than students from public schools (photo credit: John Phelan)

There is a common belief out there that students hailing from private high schools have better odds of getting into Ivy League colleges. There are many folks who believe that if they don’t send their children to fancy private schools, they will be at a significant disadvantage when they apply to Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Brown. The fact is that these parents are absolutely, positively wrong. Students hailing from private schools do not have better odds of getting into highly selective colleges — like the Ivy League colleges — than students hailing from public schools. Did they many years ago? Yes. But times have changed and it’s high time to get with it.

Do a number of students from the likes of Deerfield, Exeter, and Harvard-Westlake gain admission to Ivy League colleges year in and year out? Absolutely. But a number of students from public high schools across America also gain admission to Ivy League colleges year in and year out. Because Ivy League admissions counselors want those students! They are fully aware that many — and in fact most — of their admitted students will hail from public schools. After all, they seek a diverse class of uniquely talented students. Do you think if every student came from Exeter, they’d have a diverse class? Well, Exeter has certainly increased the diversity of its student body over the years but absolutely not! If every student hailed from Exeter, that university would have a student body that is quite the opposite of diverse.

Schools like Exeter and Andover are quite often for the privileged few. While they may have scholarship cases, so many of their students come from very wealthy families who attended Ivy League universities years before. Ivy League admissions counselors don’t root for students who are privileged. They root for students who dared to do what no member of their family did before them (get a college degree). They root for students who are from underrepresented minorities. They root for high-achieving students whose parents drive a taxi and work at a factory. They root for all different kinds of students — that’s the point of what we’re trying to say. They don’t just root for those from fancy private schools. And, quite often, those students are rooted against!


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  • Sam says:

    Trinity in NY sends about 40% of its graduates to the Ivy league. The very, very best non-magnet high schools send 15% or less. Less stellar public high schools likely send under 2%. An average hs? I imagine pretty close to 0%.

  • NYCfather says:

    As Sam posted before me, a student entering a “feeder” school is looking at a worst-case of being one of the 30% of graduates from that school who will get into an Ivy League university. In some cases 40%.
    “Magnet” and such other “special charter” public schools cannot enter into this discussion. They’re practically a lotto ticket. Not a factor one can use in planning for their child’s life.
    That leaves public schools in general, where a student entering is looking at a chance of being one of the 2% who will go on to the Ivy’s.
    There is no question in my mind that I would rather have my child in a school where their chances are in the 30-40% than one where the chances are around 2%.

    What am I missing? How are you arriving at “The fact is that these parents are absolutely, positively wrong”?

  • RH says:

    While maybe it’s true that any one one child from say Exeter has no better chance at the Ivy League than from a local public HS, as a whole top prep schools send more students to the Ivy League and other top colleges for several reasons (you can’t simply just decide you’re going to send your child to one to give them a better chance to get into an Ivy):

    1. The prep schools themselves are very selective to begin with in terms of admission, so you’re already dealing with a situation where the entire student body is smart, competitive and motivated. The Ivies and other top schools know that students from these schools are already among the “best and brightest”. You’re simply going to have a larger percentage of students who meet Ivy standards. Public schools have to enroll *every* student in their district regardless of ability. That alone drags down their college admission rates, let alone that to the Ivy League.

    2. Prep schools are exactly what their name says: “preparatory” schools. Their very purpose is to “prepare” their students to go to college and pretty much always has been the case. This creates a VERY different learning environment than in a public school with very small class sizes only being a part of it, and they have the resources to create an unbelievable learning environment. They are much heavier on critical thinking, not rote memorization. If you’ve never been to one of the top prep schools and seen their facilities (academic, athletic, arts, and student life), it’s mind-blowing. Better than most colleges.

    Most public high schools don’t even send all of their students to college and aren’t necessarily set up with that as the primary purpose although typically upper-middle class HS lean more that way. I graduated from an upper-middle class HS and I think maybe 80-85% of my class went to college…which is pretty high. Across the US only about 84% of kids even graduate from HS. Of them, only about 65% go to college….any college, including 2 year ones. So you’re only looking at slightly more than half of public school kids who go to some kind of college. At prep schools the rate is 100% to 4-year colleges, year in and year out. That’s what they exist for and prepare students for.

    3. Because of the above, prep school college admissions departments (especially at the older schools) have long-established relationships with the Ivy League and other top colleges. Many of the top prep schools were set up *specifically* to be feeders to particular colleges (Exeter to Harvard, Andover to Yale, Trinity to Columbia, etc). Back when the prep schools were established MOST public school graduates (if you even graduated) didn’t go to college – period; that’s what the prep schools were for. That’s a real boon when applying from one of those prep schools. Not a guarantee, but it sure helps. I’m pretty confident an admissions counselor from Andover is far more likely to be on a first-name basis with admissions officers at Yale than is an over-worked guidance counselor from a public high school in the middle of Oklahoma.

    No doubt it’s a self-perpetuating cycle where many top prep school grads go to the Ivy League who then send their kids to those same prep schools and donate money to both, and those kids go to the Ivy League, ad naseum. The key is for your child to do well enough in middle school that they can then be accepted to one of the top prep schools. We sent all 3 of our children to them (including one to Exeter and so far one to the Ivy League) and we’re not wealthy nor Ivy League graduates. Another secret — the top prep schools have GREAT financial aid for regular families if your child can clear the admissions hurdle.

  • James Jones says:

    We are getting argument but not statistics (facts). What percent of the students at the elite universities went to prep schools versus those who did not. If it is higher you have a bias. This is important because of the claims that prep school is no longer the express route to ivy school admission. This test will validate or invalidate the claim.

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