Three Ivies Respond to Op-Ed on Private Schools

Caitlin Flanagan wrote a fantastic piece in The Atlantic on private schools that has ignited conversation.

Several days ago, we shared with our readers an editorial penned by the inimitable Caitlin Flanagan for The Atlantic. The piece, Private Schools Have Become Truly Obscene, earned high praise on this college admissions blog for its forthrightness and for its juicy stories that shined a bright lantern on how these schools profess to be engines of social mobility but are instead bastions of entitlement. We, of course, work with students applying to elite colleges from the full gamut of high schools — from fancy schmancy boarding schools to large public high schools to magnet schools and everything in between — yet we can’t help giggle at some of Flanagan’s insights into the culture of many especially well-known private schools. But it seems that not everyone is giggling. Some of our nation’s elite universities have responded to Flanagan’s words in an unsurprisingly rather defensive manner if you ask us. Representative of Dartmouth College, Brown University, and Princeton University have all issued statements in response to the editorial, while Yale University declined to comment.

Dartmouth, Brown, and Princeton Go on the Defensive in Their Statements

As Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed in a piece entitled “Do Top Colleges Favor Applicants Who Are Extremely Wealthy?,” “At Dartmouth, Diana Lawrence, associate vice president for communications, said via email, ‘There are a few aspects I would highlight regarding Dartmouth’s ‘independent school’ cohort: It includes most of our students from international schools around the world, it includes many of the college’s enrolling athletes and many students whose parents are alumni, and it encompasses a growing number of students who are in the first generation of their families to attend college.’…A spokesman for Brown University, Brian E. Clark, said via email, ‘First, I’d note that not every student who attends a private high school comes from the same background. Among undergraduates at Brown who come from private schools are a number of first-generation students, others from low-income families and many who identify as students of color. Of the total 1,756 first-year students in our Class of 2024, 45 percent are students of color, 14 percent are first-generation college students and nearly half receive need-based financial aid.’…Ben Chang, a spokesman for Princeton, said: ‘The Atlantic article you cite advances a narrative about the admission process through selective use of data that ignores our significant ongoing efforts and progress in attracting and supporting talented students from throughout society, including students from groups that have been underrepresented in higher education and denied the opportunities they need to flourish.'”

These Private Schools Are Important Hands That Feed Elite Universities

And where do we stand on these statements from representatives of Dartmouth, Brown, and Princeton that all more or less say the same thing? They’re not wrong. Private schools like Exeter, Andover, Choate, and the like are not the private schools of yesteryear as seen in School Ties or Dead Poet’s Society. These schools, through the years, have become increasingly diverse. They’ve evolved. They’ve gotten with the program. Their student bodies do indeed feature many underrepresented minorities, students from low-income families, and students who will be the first in their immediate families to attend college. They’ve essentially mimicked the moves of elite colleges — only they make their moves first since students attend boarding private high schools before they attend colleges. The elite colleges then pull in these underrepresented groups from the private schools that have — for decades — been feeding them students. So these elite schools can continue to be fairly, well, lazy in continuing to go to the hand that feeds them rather than expanding outreach to schools that may not have previously been on the radar. It’s an imperfect system for sure, one that doesn’t serve underrepresented minorities, low-income students, and first-generation college students at lesser known schools across America. But it’s the system nonetheless.


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  • Pearson Blass says:

    As you have pointed out on this blog- many times- why are admissions offices asking applicants if they will need financial aid and can see the applicants answer if they are indeed ‘need-blind’? I know our theory is subjective, but when our daughter applied to Top 10 schools with full need and was rejected- it crossed our minds had she been full pay if she might’ve gotten in.

    • Ivy Coach says:

      Hi Pearson,

      It’s not subjective :). Elite colleges want to encourage students to apply. It’s why they’ll market to students who don’t have the grades or scores to earn admission. It’s why they’ll say you don’t need to demonstrate interest. It’s why they’ll say they don’t take into account financial need when weighing one’s case for admission. They want to remove all barriers to inspire applicants to apply. But, of course, it doesn’t mean they’ll get in.

  • Christine Ruiz says:

    Please Publish This:

    I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment, but there is another- almost unbelievable victim of elite admissions- that is flying under the radar- and that is one group of underrepresented minorities (URMs) being preferred over another group of URMs. How? One word: QUESTBRIDGE. Questbridge has become the sole provider- and defacto admissions office- for 45 of the very best schools in the USA for Low-income URMs. If you are a low-income URM and you do NOT apply to the top schools via Questbridge? Good luck getting in. I have personal experience with this because as a college applicant three years ago, I did not apply through Questbridge but through Commonapp (I did receive application waivers to all schools) and a handful of the top LACs. I am a low income URM and ended up being Salutatorian of my graduating class of 632. But I did not get into any of the Questbridge schools. Why? I did not apply through Questbridge. It seems if you apply after the Ivies have spent all their money on free scholarships to their Questbridge applicants, there is not much money available for you in the regular round. Or, maybe the Ivies reason if you REALLY were a full-need URM, you would have (no, should have!) applied through Questbridge early. Not only did I not get into any of the Questbridge schools, but I got into all the schools unaffiliated with Questbridge- including the only 2 Ivies NOT affiliated with Questbridge- Harvard and Cornell, in the regular round. And I got into 3 LAC’s not involved with Questbridge also. Questbridge exerts undue influence over the elite admissions, almost like a Mafia/Bounty hunter, as they get thousands of dollars for each student who enrolls. I think this is a terrible system and, thankfully, Harvard and Cornell do not participate and choose their own applicants for themselves. But so many of my Latinx friends have lost opportunities because Questbridge cut in line with a group of URMs that was aware of their power over all elite admissions. Questbridge has become a lobby with veto power. Please alert your readers to this and hopefully use your own power to expose this fraud in a more eloquent way than I have.

  • Mariah Jonessy says:

    Yeah, I agree Ivy Coach- these schools are disingenuous. Harvard can take 10 kids in ONE CLASS from a top prep school, but can’t find 10 people for their freshman class in 3 in mountain states- combined??? Their excuses are thinly veiled falsehoods. The diversity at elite prep has increased dramatically with one demographic: wealthy Asians. And those are the ‘minorities’ the Ivies are talking about whom they admit. They admit very few black and hispanic full-need students who attended elite preps on scholarship.

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