Senior Ditch Day?

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Senior Ditch Day?

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On Friday, March 29, the senior grade decided as a collective to cut school after a bout of anger and stress in response to the release of college decisions. Most colleges had released their decisions over the course of the previous two weeks, and Thursday, March 28 was the culmination, with all eight Ivy League schools releasing regular decisions at 7pm ET, along with other top-tier schools such as NYU and Duke. Some students did gain acceptance into their first choices, while other students found themselves not only not accepted into their first choices but also rejected from schools into which they expected to be accepted.

This impromptu ditch day was different that the usual senior one, when seniors get together and go to the beach or go to someone’s house with a pool. While there was a small sector of students who stayed home “because I wasn’t in the mood” or “I was tired and didn’t need to be convinced,” many students felt they were actually making a statement by not coming.  For some students, however, ditching school was solely in response to the release of decisions that week and, specifically, the night before. The intensity is at a peak on decision day, and some students needed a day off to recover from the stress. Regardless of the reasoning, out of 44 responses from the senior grade, only eleven students (25 percent) answered that they had attended school on March 29.

“The grade as a whole was upset about things and needed a day to calm down and cool off. I think that if everyone was in school it would have been a bad environment for everyone else,” said one anonymous senior.

Another student wrote, “I felt the need to stay home not in protest against school but rather in support of what certain [seniors applying to college] had been going through.”

For others, the ditch day was indeed a protest against the school. The implication is, of course, that some of these students blame the school for the disappointing results: they stayed home “to show my disappointment that my friends didn’t get into the schools they deserved to get into” or “because Ramaz is known for its connections regarding getting kids into good colleges and the school failed to deliver,” wrote two anonymous seniors.

During the ditch day, most teachers either taught some extra material or just cancelled class altogether. It’s hard to progress when there’s only one student. Such was the case of Dr. Milowitz. “It was a bad decision for whatever reason because that isn’t making a statement; it’s like throwing a tantrum, and there’s nothing productive about it. If the students have an issue, they should come in and discuss it,” he said.

“The students made their own decisions,” said Senior Grade Dean Rabbi Sklarin. “However, if they’re upset about not getting in and don’t show up, then their grades can go down, which could hurt their chances of getting in elsewhere or get them in trouble with the schools to which they’re already going.”

What’s important to note is that college admissions are becoming more and more competitive each year. Almost every single university boasted a sizeable increase in applicant numbers. According to several admissions sites, Yale and Columbia both reported a 0.4% decrease in their acceptance rates, Boston University had an 11% increase in applicants to the ED pool, Duke had a 1.2% decrease, and NYU had a roughly 3% decrease. Over the past five years, Binghamton University has also reported a higher rate of selectivity over the past several years, dropping from a 42.5% acceptance rate in 2015-16 to a 40.4% rate in 2016-17. These may seem like only small differences, but, compounded with affirmative action and geographic diversity, New York schools ending up bearing much of the brunt. Sadly, a high GPA and SAT or ACT score are no longer sufficient markers to guarantee entry into any school.

Results can also change each year based on the grade: some grades are just stronger than others and will consequently have better results no matter what the college office does, while other grades may have students who are especially well-connected. Additionally, people often evaluate success based on how many kids get into Ivy League schools, but not everyone wants an Ivy, and sometimes the better metric is whether people get one of their top three choices. 33 out of 44 respondents (75 percent) did say they were happy with their college results.

“The school did what I needed. During the C10 free, we were taught how to complete the Naviance, which I found necessary, though I know others found it pointlessly needless to go over. I know my advisor called the school I applied to ED, so I personally have few complaints,” said one senior.

Another wrote, “[My advisor] was very supportive, always willing to talk through things and remind me about deadlines.”

“The college guidance can’t do everything. It can advise and remind, but students have to take independence in the process, and often, they rely too heavily on college guidance to do everything for them,” said a third senior.

Additionally, Director of College Guidance Mr. Rafi Blumenthal feels that results this year were certainly good, if not even better than usual. “People make the mistake of focusing too much on top-tier schools,” he said. “We use the word fit, and there are plenty of kids who are elated because they are going to schools that are a great fit and may have been a reach for them even if they’re not top-tier schools.”

Nonetheless, others feel like Ramaz could have done a better job preparing and advising them during the college process. “To some extent the rising selectivity in colleges is out of the school’s control, but on the other hand I don’t think a lot of students were adequately prepared to face the new admissions world,” said a senior. “The same methods that have worked for Ramaz in the past decades will no longer work, and the [school] needs to [better] adapt.”

“We’ve been making some changes by moving a little earlier as far as meeting with the sophomores informally and trying to introduce them to the process. Last year, we started an informal advisory session pizza lunch where it’s basically one of the college guidance counselors doing a Q&A debunking myths such as that students can choose whether or not to send their Judaic GPA,” said Mr. Blumenthal.

“One important element of the application that the college guidance really could give more attention to is advising students on what to do during their summers. Students should, of course, be interested in their activities, but if they decide the summer after sophomore or junior year to go to camp or go touring, they should be aware that won’t help their college application,” wrote one respondent.

To respond, Mr. Blumenthal said, “Yes, we want students to pursue programs and activities that make them unique and interesting [in college admission] but at the same time to pursue their passions. We’re a Jewish institution that values chesed, so we don’t discourage kids from doing KH or [another activity] just for strategic purposes.”

This does still raise the possibility of college advisors’ meeting with students to discuss summer plans that are most advantageous to a student’s area of interest, whether it be chesed or tutoring or working at a camp. Which programs should students apply to based on their passions? Additionally, maybe students should at least be aware of where certain extracurricular activities will place them on the admissions spectrum.

The other aspect of yeshiva-world college admissions that may put Ramaz kids at a disadvantage is the students’ tendency to apply to the same schools in packs, but there are only so many Tri-State-area Orthodox kids that The University of Maryland will accept. Mr. Blumenthal says that the college guidance office does encourage kids to apply to different types of schools, but that sometimes it’s the students or parents who push back against having a greater range of schools.

Some seniors are worried about the impact these results may have on Ramaz’s appeal and reputation. “Results like these make it seem like Ramaz is losing that connection, and that definitely does not look good for the school,” said one student.

Another student did not think the results had as much to do with the school’s connections as the status quo: the school could prevent more years of disappointing results by being more consistent “through getting a long-term head of school” or “an administration that isn’t constantly reconfiguring.”

Mr. Blumenthal stated definitively that continual changes to Ramaz’s administration or faculty would not affect admissions decisions. The only reason admissions might care is if there’s some kind of seismic shift in programming, such as the school’s decision to drop AP courses eleven years ago: “The admissions offices either don’t know or don’t pay attention to [who’s in the administration]. They’re more interested in programmatic changes, like TEC.”

So what do students who are dissatisfied with their results do? Eight students in the survey stated that they planned to reapply next year, while three said they just hoped they’d get off a waitlist, or else they would just end up at the schools to which they had already been accepted.

The junior grade was, for the most part, excited about the successes but unperturbed by any of the disappointments. Gaby Schwartz ’20 said, “Of course, people in the junior grade are nervous for next year, but the college guidance office knows what it’s doing.”

Students will have to see and decide for themselves whether Ramaz and the college office can continue to compete in the new admissions world. One thing, however, is clear: Ramaz students must, to an extent, take the college process into their own hands.

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