Among the biggest milestones for high school seniors is acceptance into college. Now more than halfway through the school year, Western Reserve Academy students have earned acceptances at notable colleges and universities across the country. Early acceptances hail from the University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago.
WRA's Head of School Christopher D. Burner '80 said this year's early acceptances are great news for seniors and affirm the impact of the school's new independent curriculum.
"I'm really proud of our Class of 2019," said Burner. "They have worked very hard, aimed high and embraced a curriculum that encourages distinction, giving them opportunities to cultivate passions and projects that stand out in the crowded field of college applicants."
Last year, WRA became the first high school in the region to end Advanced Placement (AP) classes, replacing them with courses called College Level for greater depth and opportunity. Students also have harnessed the opportunities presented by The Wang Innovation Center, the school's 6,000-square-foot makerspace.
WRA's acceptances align with recent trends in college admission, notably significant increases in early applications and early decisions by students. WRA's Director of College Counseling Gunnar W. Olson said many schools are admitting 50+ percent of their freshman class through the early decision process.
"There has been a significant increase in the number and quality of applications, especially to highly selective schools, but the number of 'seats' has remained consistent," said Olson. "The more students can do to distinguish themselves in meaningful ways that help to highlight their talents, interests or innate motivation to learn and excel, the better position they put themselves in when it comes time for admission offices to sit down around a committee table."
Olson said opportunities for external distinction - national competitions spanning disciplines including writing, STEM, fine arts - are becoming increasingly important, especially for consideration at top schools. For example, Reserve student Juliana Xie '19 received a Congressional App Prize for her iMathland app and spent summers at the selective Management & Technology Summer Institute and Pennovation Center for young entrepreneurs at The University of Pennsylvania. She was recently accepted to Penn as a freshman in the class of 2023.
"I use 20 percent as a benchmark," said Olson. "Once a college or university admit rate falls under 20 percent, recognition in national programs becomes more important."
The proliferation of student applications has become a game-changer.
"Because colleges are becoming more selective, students on average send out more applications," said Olson. "More applications at colleges means a lower admit rate, which motivates students to send out more applications." He adds that whereas the WRA Class of 2002 sent out an average of 4.2 applications per student, this rose to an average of 8.7 applications for students in the Class of 2018.
Many Reserve students are thrilled to earn early acceptance to their first choice college. Jake Pendergraft '19, a senior boarding student from North Carolina, now knows his path to college will lead him back in the direction of home to Sewanee: The University of the South, where he will enroll as a student-athlete, playing baseball and likely football. WRA estimates that over the past decade, more than 80 percent of WRA graduates have matriculated to schools outside of Ohio.
Burner added, "While the statistical realities of the college admission process become more competitive, the commitment of WRA to helping tell our students' stories to colleges in clear, compelling and memorable ways has not waned. We know our students well and are able to relay to college admission committees, with authority, who our students are and what they can contribute to their communities. We owe our students as much, because we know that the end of their time at Reserve is, in fact, just the beginning of the rest of their lives."
A study of WRA graduates spanning the years 1933 through 2017 revealed that the most attended colleges and universities by WRA graduates historically are Case Western Reserve University, Cornell University, Harvard University, The Ohio State University and Yale University.