College and Catlin Gabel

Every moment of a Catlin Gabel education has value. Together those moments form a remarkable journey of self-discovery and mastery, which itself is an end as much as a means. Still, the journey does lead somewhere. Every year our seniors head to college, after navigating an admission process both revealing and challenging. Presenting themselves and their achievements to colleges is a culmination of the hard work, skills, and confidence they have developed here at Catlin Gabel.

These days the process of applying to college draws more attention than the experience of attending college. There are a number of reasons for this: the common application has increased the pool, which has driven selectivity to new lows; the testing and counseling industry fuels anxiety; colleges increasingly serve global communities; and graduates face uncertain job prospects. All of these developments have made accessing high-quality higher education a high-stakes process. 

The good news is that students at Catlin Gabel are among the best-positioned college applicants in the world. They have deep knowledge of academic content and concepts. Small classes, talented peers, and engaged teachers have taught them to speak up. They have pursued a wide range of experiences, including athletics, clubs, service, trips, and leadership. Our college counselors, Kate Grant and Blythe Butler, are experienced and expert, and provide personal attention and information to support each step of the process. They see the process as an opportunity for students to practice research, analysis, and decision-making skills. They, and the teachers who write recommendation letters, know every student well, and advocate for them with passion and understanding.

As a result, our students find success in diverse and selective colleges and universities. At a recent Upper School assembly, young alumni currently attending Brown, NYU, Tulane, Harvey Mudd, University of Puget Sound, Hamilton, and Occidental shared their observations. They praised the preparation they received in study skills, time management, critical thinking, collaboration, decision-making, and writing. They agreed that trusting relationships they had with teachers here prepared them to be effective self-advocates in the bigger world of college. They explained that while the admission process can be unpredictable, admission officers are thorough and thoughtful in choosing whom to admit. They also argued that there is no perfect college; it is possible to create an enjoyable and successful experience in a variety of settings.

I also heard about the value of a Catlin Gabel education when I visited several East Coast college campuses. The deans of admission at Wesleyan University and Connecticut College know our school well and are eager to have more of our students apply. They endorsed our progressive liberal arts education as the best preparation for the wonderful opportunities they provide. At Princeton University, I was warmly welcomed by two admission officers, with whom I had a lively conversation about trends in education and Catlin Gabel’s philosophy and mission. Two freshman, Catlin Gabel alumni, then walked with me for an hour, sharing their excitement about what they are learning, how well prepared they feel compared to many peers, and their appreciation for the passion of their Catlin Gabel teachers. Their visible pride in both their new college and their former school was heartwarming.

Our goal for every student at Catlin Gabel is a choice of “good fit” colleges in which they will be appropriately challenged, have opportunities to pursue current interests and discover new experiences, and be themselves in their new community. A Catlin Gabel education and the college counseling team position students well for the admission process. Part of that is helping families understand that it needs to be the student’s process. As Kate reminds parents, we have had our opportunity to go to college; now it’s our child’s turn. We support our children when we cede control, trust their judgment, and remind them that their hard work and achievements have value in themselves, beyond how they factor into the college admission process. As one of our young alumni said, “College is about independence and learning to be a person in the world. Give your child space - and don’t worry, they’ll come back.”


For further reading on college admissions, check out the College Admission blog, which has great practical advice. A story from NPR’s “All Things Considered” features Wesleyan University president Michael Roth discussing why higher education - and the liberal arts - are worth the investment. 

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