Uniquely navigating the college landscape

by Dr. Jamie Griffin ([email protected]) 389 views 

The college admissions landscape has evolved significantly in recent years, as evidenced by tightening acceptance rates at selective and highly selective colleges and universities, the introduction of test-optional and test-free admissions, continued fallout from the Varsity Blues scandal, and the increased focus on diversity and social justice in the admissions process.

In tandem, intricacies of financial aid processes and programs have become more nuanced, demanding a comprehensive understanding of resources available to make higher education accessible to a wider spectrum of students.

As the head of Episcopal Collegiate School, I take immense pride in our commitment to providing a comprehensive and values-based education that prepares students not only for the challenges and opportunities that await them in the next chapter of their lives, but one that also effectively guides and gives them an edge in the college admissions process.

That’s why we created the annual “Deans’ Panel and Case Studies Program,” a cornerstone of our four-year college preparatory program and a counseling initiative designed for 11th-grade students and families. We are privileged to host admissions deans from prestigious institutions nationwide, creating a unique platform for our students to gain insights directly from decision-makers. In January, our school welcomed admissions deans from the University of Pennsylvania, Washington University at St. Louis, Occidental College, Emory University, University of Mississippi, and Oklahoma State University, representing a diverse group of colleges and universities throughout the country. Recognizing this extraordinary opportunity, we felt called to share it with a broader community so that more students and families could benefit from the program. This year, Episcopal Collegiate partnered with Arkansas Commitment, an intensive Central Arkansas-based college preparation program that assists high achieving African American students by offering free supplemental counseling to ensure a seamless transition from high school to college.

The “case studies” element of this program brings together students and college admission representatives to form mock admissions committees to evaluate applications to a fictitious university to learn more about the intricacies of the college application process. Participants enjoy collaborating directly with college admissions experts in small group settings throughout this exercise. Following the “case studies,” the admissions deans led a variety of workshops that participating students and families could attend for further insight into specific areas of the college search process. Examples of these workshops included showing personality through essays, scholarships and financial aid, how to be successful in your first year in college, and standing out to highly selective colleges, among others.

Darren Morgan, executive director at Arkansas Commitment, shared that the interactive format of the Dean’s Panel created a fun and engaging opportunity for students to learn tips that may increase their likelihood of being accepted to their dream college or university. He also commented that the panel consisted of very charismatic and relatable deans from across the country. And since familiarity and comfort are two leading factors in students’ choice of where to enroll, he hopes to see students apply to a much more diverse roster of schools in the future. Darren added that the collaborative nature of this event differentiates it from the rest, as the merging of two brilliant groups of students to exchange perspectives from their diverse backgrounds created “an invaluable experience.”

Tricia Morgan, director of College Counseling at Episcopal Collegiate, added another layer to the discussion by highlighting what she considers a top benefit of the program, “No other school or program in the state is giving students and families such a behind-the-scenes look into the college admissions process.” This insight deepens their understanding that college admissions offices want to assemble a diverse mix of incoming students with various interests, talents and backgrounds and thus encourages students to find their niches and excel in order to stand out in the process.

A testament to Episcopal Collegiate’s success in college counseling is found in statistics and scholarship numbers. The acceptance rates for Episcopal Collegiate students at very selective (<25%) universities outpaces the global acceptance rates for these schools by over 40%. Notably, Ivy League schools have admission rates of approximately 5%, while the admittance rate for Episcopal Collegiate students in recent years has been approximately 57%. The graduating Class of 2023 received $8.8 million in scholarship awards, with 89% of students earning merit-based scholarships. Most importantly, these outcomes stem from a counseling approach that seeks to understand students and families and places their values at the core of the search process to find the best fit college.

Editor’s note: Dr. Jamie Griffin is the Head of School at Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock. The opinions expressed are those of the author.