The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Selection Secrecy

Iris Chung
Typical college banners from the eight Ivy Leauge schools are being hung up next to each other. Illustration by Iris Chung.

Clarissa Brown ’24 had to make a decision. Waiting behind the tee box for her turn at golf practice, Brown was approached by her fellow teammate. When her teammate asked her where she was going to apply for her Early Decision (ED) school, Brown paused to think whether or not she wanted to reveal where she was applying. After deciding not to share, Brown’s teammate became frustrated with her for being secretive. Brown said she has nothing against her teammate for being angry, and it is a personal choice for her to not tell anyone about her ED.

“I’m really good friends with her, I love talking to her and I trust her,” Brown said. “But I was like, ‘To be honest, I’m not telling anyone. It’s nothing personal.’ I remember them getting really mad at me and saying, ‘Do you not trust me?’ . I genuinely don’t want to tell anyone.”

ED applications are binding: a student can apply early to their school of choice, and, if they get in, they have to attend that school and withdraw all of their other applications, according to The College Board. Some students students who are planning to ED to a school typically finish that school’s application over the summer because the deadline is much sooner than a regular decision application.

Brown said she wants to keep her ED private so she doesn’t have to deal with external pressure from her friends.

“I think when your ED is public knowledge, people are just going to constantly be bringing it up,” Brown said. “People will be like, ‘Are you ready for the decision day?’ That puts more pressure on [the result] . For me, it’s not a competition thing, but I just don’t want to stress myself out more than I already will be.”

Brown said there are many students at the school who become overly competitive and possessive over where they’re applying ED.

“I’ve heard of people making spreadsheets of everyone’s ED school. People definitely get competitive and want to gatekeep schools,” Brown said. “I understand having a school you want to go to and trying to get a gauge of who else is applying ED there, but I think at Harvard-Westlake , it gets to a point where it’s like, I don’t want to talk to you because we’re applying early to the same school.”

While there are many students who decide to keep their ED school a secret, some students decide to be public about where they’re applying. Unlike Brown, Nathan Casamassima ’24 is comfortable with people knowing his ED choice.

“I don’t really care if people find out where I’m applying,” Casamassima said. “A lot of people say it could be embarrassing if you don’t get in early decision, but I don’t really care. l’ll get into some college eventually, so it doesn’t really matter.”

Casamassima said he thinks people are afraid of being judged for where they are applying for whether or not they will be accepted.

“It’s anyone’s personal choice to keep [their ED] a secret from people,” Casamassima said. “You have your own personal reasons. In the end, if you really are close friends with someone, you wouldn’t be embarrassed, and no one should judge you.”

Many colleges offer higher admission rates for the ED process compared to the regular application pool, according to College Kickstart. In 2022, Washington University in St. Louis’s ED admission rate was 27%, while their regular decision admission rate was only 8%.

Upper school deans play a vital role in the college admissions process, working with students on college applications and materials starting at the end of junior year. Upper School Dean Sharon Cuseo said that there is a lot of competition among students at the school.

“It’s very clear people believe that college admissions is a zero sum game, that ‘my direct competition is my classmates,’” Cuseo said. “‘If [a school] takes them, they’re not going to take me,’ which is actually not true. There are no schools that have quotas. There is no maximum, so especially in early [decision], people start to really get very possessive. They’re like, ‘oh, but that’s my school, you can’t apply there.’”

Cuseo said this culture at the school often puts pressure on students to exchange information and not respect privacy.

“It’s really common where someone doesn’t tell,” Cuseo said. “Then their friends are so mad, even if they’re happy for them, even if it turns out well and even if they weren’t in the same pool. They feel like, ‘but you should have told me, that’s information I’m entitled to,’ and it’s not. Because there is a culture [to not] say no when someone asks you for information, you seem like bad friend [for not telling]. .”

In the past, according to Cuseo, students have made spreadsheets that list different students and include where they are applying for ED. Cuseo said making spreadsheets always has a negative impact on the student who made it.

“I understand why students make [spreadsheets], and I don’t want to shame,” Cuseo said. “I don’t think people should do it because again, why do you care? I could understand why someone might be interested in who else is applying to their school, but there is nothing that could come from knowing where everybody’s applying. That is simply trying to amass as much currency as possible, and it happens every year. The mental health of the people doing it always suffers.”

Cuseo said parental pressure often perpetuates the culture among students regarding early decision and college applications in general.

“[Parents] are so focused on where you’re gonna look [at colleges] , what you’re gonna do, where you’re gonna apply, how’d that test go,” Cuseo said. “[Parents] send all these messages that they do care, but they’ll say, ‘Oh, no, my children know that they can go anywhere, and I’ll be totally happy.’ But it’s not why they chose to go to Harvard-Westlake. I’m not really claiming that there are bad actors in this scenario, but there’s a lot of miscommunication.”

College recruitment is a process where a coach or college athletic representative scouts possible athletes that they want to join their school’s sports teams. Many athletes at the school get recruited for their sports. Water polo player Jaaziah McZeal ’25 said the recruitment process can be very competitive at times.

“When colleges started reaching out to everyone [on the water polo team], there was pressure about which college was talking to who,” McZeal said. “I would say the [college recruitment and the regular college application process] are pretty similar because you’re being put against your teammates and they’re comparing themselves. A lot of people ask on the team which colleges have talked to you, but I like to keep my process private. Personally, I don’t want people getting jealous or hating on me for a college that I’m talking to. I don’t want to cause tension with a teammate.”

Idalis McZeal ’23, Jaaziah McZeal’s older sister, is currently a Freshman at Harvard University. Jaaziah McZeal said he tries hard to not let sibling pressure affect him.

“[Idalis and I] have always had different aspects,” Jaaziah McZeal said. “She’s academically very strong and I focus more on sports. There’s a lot of pressure, but I try to focus on myself and not have that pressure against me all the time.”

According to a Chronicle poll, 50% of 97 students surveyed said that they are going to share which school they are applying to ED.

Fiona Ryan ’25 said she refrains from asking where others are applying to college because it does not respect a person’s privacy.

“I like to know about [where others are applying to college], but for me it just feels uncomfortable,” Ryan said. “It feels like a little bit of an invasion of their privacy if I ask them or hound them with that question. I let whatever happens happen.”

Ryan said that every piece of information that is shared can potentially be spread.

“I think everything gets leaked to a certain extent,” Ryan said. “No matter how secret you think your information is, whoever you told, unless they’re your best friend in the entire world, [is] going to tell someone else. If you really want to keep it a secret, don’t tell anyone besides your parents and maybe your best friend. That’s it.”

Ryan said she believes people should be able to decide if and when they want to share their ED school with others.

“There is no harm in being more secretive about college applications because it truly is sensitive personal information,” Ryan said. “However, I also believe that if someone receives a letter of acceptance from a certain school and feels compelled to tell their friends, then they have every right to do that.”

College Kickstart, the platform that the school uses to help students create a list of schools to apply to, categorizes schools into three categories: reaches, targets and safeties. Reach schools typically have very low acceptance rates and are extremely competitive. Target schools offer a slightly higher chance of admission if you have the test scores and GPA that the school normally admits. Safety schools have high acceptance rates and are usually there as a back-up option.

Lily Stambouli ’24, who is open about where she is applying ED, said she thinks there is judgment from students at the school based on where someone decides to apply.

“I think a lot of [Harvard-Westlake] kids view each other as their competition, especially for ED applications, ” Stambouli said. “There’s barely any other high schools other than [Harvard-Westlake] where people think you’re crazy if you don’t go or want to go to a highly selective school.”

Stambouli said everyone will experience some kind of criticism during the college admissions process because of the culture at the school.

“If you don’t want to go to a selective college, even if it is the perfect school for you, people say you’re not trying hard enough or are dumb for not wanting to go to an Ivy,” Stambouli said. “Then if you do want to go to a top college, you’re either a genius or not good enough for that college. Even though every single one of us is going to end up somewhere amazing, regardless of ranking, there’s definitely a lot of judgment along the way.”

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Georgia Grad, Assistant Features Editor
Hannah Shahidi, Assistant News Editor

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