Who is Really No. 1?

The high-stakes world of college admissions is fueled in part by published rankings, which often give a far-from-accurate picture of the schools they claim to describe. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before these “best of” lists infiltrated the independent school world as well.

In my 30 years as a school educator and leader, this is the first time I’ve seen misleading “lists” enter the independent school space. We have been able to avoid it up until now because of good work by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and locally by the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS), as well as school leaders nationwide, who show time and again that there is nothing to be gained for a school by entering the list race.

There is no one factor that will make a student successful. Anyone who has worked in independent schools knows it is rather about fit. That’s why independent schools spend so much time getting to know each child through the admission and application process. Just imagine if schools relied on Lists of the Top Kids in the same way the market is pushing Lists of the Top Schools. It’s an absurd thought. No credible school would abandon the careful work teachers and administrators do to select a group of students for whom their school is the very best fit.

Why, as a parent, rely on an arbitrary ranking based on scant information, instead of a careful consideration for the partnership and “match” that is so crucial to the success of a child in a school? In other words, should you send a child to a school because of its ranking, even if it goes against all your instincts as a parent or recommendations from the counselors in your current school?

It is a good thing that according to the SSATB, the leading independent school admission board, the most reliable source of information families use to select a school is still “word of mouth.” What better way to learn about a school than to hear from families with children already there (or recently graduated), to get the vital information you need to make this most important choice.

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