Rockport High School Graduates.  What Colleges do they choose and why?

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Rockport High School Graduates.  What Colleges do they choose and why?

Colleen Coogan

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Our family recently sent one Rockport High School graduate off to college, and we are now on the hunt for a good college fit for our Junior. The process can be stressful and confusing. How to pick? We know what factors drove the recent college application and acceptance decisions in our house, but wanted to get a sense for decision drivers for other Rockport High School students. Where do they apply, where do they go, and why?


Of course, seniors late in their final year with one foot out the door do not always let our guidance office know the full list of schools that accepted them. Some students change their mind after graduation, or switch colleges after a semester or two. While incomplete, the information discussed here is from the partial list that the Guidance Office has regarding where graduates from the past three years (Classes of 2016 through 2018) were accepted and where they intended to go as of graduation.


Rockport High School graduates, Classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018, were accepted into over 210  different colleges and universities located as closely as Beverly and as far away as Hawaii. Colleges known for business, liberal arts, music, engineering, fine arts, fashion design, and other specialties are well represented. We were not surprised to see ivy and “sister ivy” colleges (Columbia, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Vassar) on the list, as well as other competitive schools (defined by US News as those that accept 30% or fewer of all applicants), including: American University, Boston University, Emory, New York University, and Northeastern.


Which schools do our students actually attend? Upon graduation from Rockport High School, 200 of the 225 graduates from graduating classes (89%) expressed their intention to go to 90 different colleges and universities. Our graduates spread out widely, from Amsterdam to California, 52 students are in colleges with no other RHS graduates; and an additional 36 attend colleges with only one other Rockport graduate from these graduation classes. But some aggregations are evident. Not surprisingly, cost appears to be a driving factor regarding which schools many of our students ultimately select.  More than 50 of our graduates entered Massachusetts state universities, colleges, and community colleges that offer substantially lower tuition costs than private colleges. Neighboring state schools and those private colleges that have generous academic and/or need-based scholarships also show up near the top of the list when sorted by attendance frequency.


But what other factors are important?  And how does the final selection work out for our kids?  Hoping to get some sense of how our students chose when applying and eventually selecting, a college, we created and distributed a survey for recent graduates.  We also wanted to know how it worked out. If a student couldn’t afford their first choice, did their ultimate pick still suit them? Although we didn’t apply rigorous survey distribution methods and our response rates wouldn’t be considered a statistically defensible survey sample, we learned a lot from those graduates that responded.


We received 29 responses.  They confirmed some of what we suspected, but most importantly, responses to our survey remind us that compromises work out fine in most cases, and that no decision has to be final – it’s not too hard to change schools and always possible to take time out to raise college funds or figure out if college is the right choice.  


Thanks to all recent graduates that participated in our survey.  Eleven (37.9%) of the 29 Rockport High School graduates that responded are currently college freshmen, the same percent are current college seniors. Two sophomores and 3 juniors responded, and two respondents were taking time off from college. The results:


Number of college applications submitted:

Twelve students (41%)  applied to three or fewer college applications; eight students submitted 4-8 applications, and 8 submitted 8-12 applications. One student submitted more than 12 college applications.


Relative importance of various factors in choosing where to apply:

We asked graduates to identify how important the following factors were when they were considering where to apply: choice of major, total costs, availability of need-based aid, availability of academic aid, athletic options, food quality, housing quality, parents’ direction, social life, impression from campus visits, and whether or not it was a long-term dream school.  We assigned points to their answers so that “most important” received 3 points,”very important” received two points, “worth considering” received one point, and “not important” received no points.


Here are the results in order of importance. Our former Rockport High School student prioritized total cost and availability of a specific major.  Campus visits seem to be important, as the impression from visits also scored high. Academic and need based aid availability and housing quality were also relatively important.


Acceptance in top choice colleges:

We were curious about whether or not Rockport High School seniors were accepted into their top choice colleges.  Top choice schools are often the “reach” schools that may be fairly competitive. But our students seemed to do well, 22 out of 28 respondents indicated they were accepted into their top choices, one was accepted into 2 out of 3 top choices, and only 5 did not get into their top choice colleges.


Relative importance of factors in choosing which college to go to:

Once applicants knew what their actual choices were, what were the factors that determined which colleges Rockport students ultimately chose? We asked graduates to identify how important the following factors were when choosing which college they accepted: choice of major, total costs, aid received, food quality, housing quality, parents’ direction, social, impression from campus visits and dream school.  We again assigned points to their answers so that “most important” received 3 points,”very important” received two points, “worth considering” received one point, and “not important” received no points.


Our former Rockport High School students prioritized total cost, availability of a specific major, financial aid, and impressions from campus visits.


How’s it working out?

When you are in the middle of the process, applying and choosing a school can feel like a huge decision, with irreversible consequences.  What if you didn’t get into your first choice? Or couldn’t afford to go there? More than half of the responding graduates felt the school they went into was a good fit for them.  And another four students felt like they could make it work. Three students switched schools, three are taking time off, and two have decided that college at this time is not right for them. These students provide us with an excellent reminder that you are not locked into any decision.  Here are the actual poll results:


Advice for current Rockport High School Students:

We asked responding Rockport High School graduates if they had any advice for current Rockport students thinking about applying to college. Twenty two of these recent graduates provided insightful advice. If you are thinking about college, we suggest you review this advice carefully.


Don’t bother applying to a ton of colleges; just pick a few good choices
Think about your major carefully
Don’t waste your money on a school if you don’t know what you want to major in. Go to community college – it’s way cheaper and you’re getting the same exact education.
It’s okay to transfer, and transferring is not as hard as it seems. It may be worth it in the end.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to individuals at certain schools if you are the least bit interested. Talking to a student and not just taking a tour makes a huge difference
Take it slow and go with your gut, no one else’s.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get into your top school or if its too expensive. Spend 1-3 years at a school that may help your finances and maintain good grades to transfer to your top school in the future.
Make sure you take a tour before you choose which school to go to. You’ll know when you know.
Don’t rush into it, be mindful of your financial situation
After visiting the school I chose to attend, I told my mom I would never go there. After rethinking and talking to other students that were considering going to my school I decided maybe it wouldn’t be too bad and I could make it work. And now that I’m here I absolutely love it and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. So my advice is take your time for your decision and connect with other students (via a Facebook page) who are considering going to the schools you’re deciding between. It’s a very good way to tell the vibe of the people at schools.
Get involved on campus! Make a variety of different people. You don’t have to be friends with your roommate but at least be civil
1) You probably should continue your education at some point, although not necessarily right after school. 2) The most important thing outside of actually being able to afford school you pick is the type of other students that go there and the things those students do and value. You will learn from and be influenced by your peers much more than you are by your professors, study abroad, or internships. 3) It’s also worth picking a school where changing majors is easy, because you will most likely want to do that at least once. 4) Everyone I know who took a semester or two off in college came back to school happier, healthier, better in touch with themselves and their goals, and got better grades after coming back. There should be no stigma against taking a break from college, and if you feel like you want to take a semester off, you should (I never did, but I know many people that did). 5) Frankly, the whole college selection process is super alienating and totally sucks, and I’m sorry you have to go through it.
Your choice of major is your first priority. Of course, that’s assuming you know what you want to do. If you don’t, choose a school that you feel comfortable at. If you’re uncomfortable with a schools layout, whether it be across a city or a consolidated campus, then you won’t be comfortable going to class. Also, relax. It doesn’t have to be a stressful process. If you have questions about the school contact someone from the faculty about it, especially in your specific major department, or if you know someone who attends or attended.
Apply to as many as possible and pick one of the cheapest. Your 22 year old self will thank you for not being in tons of debt and you have freedom to take a dream job rather than one that pays a lot.
If you’re unsure about whether or not a school would be for you just by reading and researching, take the time to visit it. Talk to alumni if you can and ask for brutally honest opinions. If you find don’t like it, at least you KNOW you don’t like it. In an ideal scenarios you don’t feel any “what ifs” once you’ve made your choice.
It’s 2019. There are other paths you can choose outside of the 4-year college norm. The possibilities are endless. Don’t fall for the idea that college immediately after high school is the “right way.” It’s ok to choose a different path than your friends. It’s ok to choose a different path than your parents. You only have one life. Don’t let those around you tell you how to live it.
Apply to a safety school IN STATE!
If you can afford it don’t be afraid to go far. It’s an amazing cultural experience and really helps you become independent. Also take advantage of everything your school offers. Lectures, workshops etc. And for art students you can do it! Art can be a profession if you work for it. It’s a competitive market and you need to take it seriously if you want to pursue it.
Go to where you find yourself most happy and don’t let any sort of failure get in the way of your dreams
Visit at least once before choosing a school. Really try to envision yourself going there. Make sure they have the major/program you are looking for!!
Don’t go into debt and don’t be afraid to switch majors OR schools OR take a gap year OR take 4 classes a semester
Cost should be a primary concern. While it is tempting to focus your efforts on a dream school/first choice school, a more affordable option such as in state/ public college may be better in the long run. Scholarships are not a guarantee, and more often than not they do little to put a dent into tuition, especially at private/high tuition schools. This is not meant to discourage students from pursuing specific schools, however If you are accepted by/want to enter a dream school with a high tuition you should be confident in your work ethic/self-discipline and be honest with yourself about your limits.

More often than not the effort you put in to pursuing your degree/field of interest is more important than the college itself. There are many opportunities to talk to professors about specific topics of research, pursue internships, make connections etc. which will bolster your portfolio/resume. College is a huge investment of your time and money, so it is best to maximize what you can.

You should also be realistic about your degree after college. While this is farther in the future, you should consider how your degree will help you financially. If you have a real passion for working into a specific field that does not pay especially well, you will have to balance that passion against what you are willing to personally sacrifice, and there is absolutely no shame in pursuing a more stable option.