by Ari Worthman, director of college counseling
During a track meet my sophomore year of high school, I was running the last leg in a distance relay — the mile. As I prepared to start, we were not only in first place, but had a huge 200-meter lead. The advantage was ours.
I ran as fast as I could. As I approached the finish line, another runner passed me. He was fast — so fast that he eliminated my 200-meter lead. I had had a head start, but that wasn't enough to win. We came in second place.
Parents and guardians frequently ask whether attending Lakeside advantages students when they apply to college. The answer: "Yes!" It's like beginning a race with a head start.
Our students have almost unparalleled resources: top-notch teachers, a rich and diverse curriculum, a robust student support team, and a plethora of opportunities in the arts, athletics, and other non-academic areas. They also have college counselors with extensive experience and small caseloads (35-40 seniors for each full-time counselor).
Most selective colleges know Lakeside well. Given our college counselors' extensive networking with admissions officers; the in-depth school profile of our academic program and student caliber, which we send with every transcript; and the strong performance of our alumni in college, admissions officers assume all Lakeside applicants are well-prepared for college.
This was reinforced for me last year when I sat in on the admissions committee at a highly selective East Coast liberal arts college. (I had to sign a confidentiality agreement that I would not disclose its name.) Each applicant receives scores for such categories as grades, rigor of curriculum, standardized test scores, community engagement, special talents (e.g., athletic, artistic), personal qualities, and quality of high school, and each of these categories is weighted differently. These are totaled to determine a final rating, with a maximum possible score of 18.
Most high schools are considered average and receive 0 points. A select number of schools, including Lakeside, receive the maximum, two points. This means when our students' applications are reviewed, they have earned two points before their files are even opened.
So, our students clearly get a head start because they attend Lakeside. Yet, much like my relay race, a head start doesn't guarantee a win. Research shows this generation of students is the largest and most accomplished in U.S. history. Hundreds of thousands of students competing for space at selective colleges have unique talents and personal qualities and excel in their schools.
Some might start the college race without any points, but they can catch up and even take the lead. Others also attend phenomenal high schools that, like Lakeside, get two points.
When that runner passed me in the final stretch, I was disappointed. I wanted to win. Who doesn't? But I was still proud of my second-place finish. I also knew that we earned second, in part, because of my head start. What if I hadn't had a head start? Would we still have been runners-up? Maybe. Or might we have finished fourth, fifth or 10th? I'll never know for sure.
Applying to very selective colleges can feel like a race. While every institution rates applications differently, Lakesiders are advantaged in every applicant pool through a variety of rating systems that account for the caliber of our school. Getting rejected from a first-choice school doesn't mean a college didn't recognize Lakeside's caliber. The applicant might have started ahead, but lost ground to candidates who earned more points in other categories. Moreover, those two points for attending Lakeside might have been the head start they needed to finish ahead at the colleges where they were admitted.
Unquestionably, going to Lakeside is an advantage when students apply to college. How big an advantage depends on how fast the rest of the applicants can run.
You can reach Ari Worthman, director of college counseling, at email@example.com.