Headmaster’s Notebook | What Makes a Good Cate Student?

What makes a good Cate student?

For the fourteen members of our Admission Committee, that is not simply an existential question.  Over the last six weeks the faculty members and admission officers who comprise that committee have been poring over every detail in somewhere north of 700 applications, trying to get a sense of each individual who has made application to our school.

I have been sitting in periodically on their meetings, always leaving with profound appreciation, not simply for the men and women in that room discussing candidates, but for the young people who have chosen our school as a potential destination in their educational journey.

It is easy, frankly, to be amazed by what you see and hear.  In our system, the individual who interviews the applicant presents the student to the Committee.  There is a narrative opening in which the interviewer essentially tells the story of the student’s visit to Cate, the interview, feedback from tour guides, and an encapsulation of impressions and take-aways.  At least three other members of the Committee will have read the complete file and will offer their observations on the candidate, provide additional insight and details, and ultimately launch the full Committee into a discussion about the student.

That dialogue includes various quantitative details—test scores, grades, teacher ratings, and the like—but the discussion is rarely centered on that data alone.  More often than not there is lots of back and forth about the essay or the short answer section.

These responses are pretty bare bones… how carefully is the student thinking through them?  Did the applicant intend for all the answers to rhyme?  (Obviously, yes. That can’t be an accident.) I don’t know if this essay is fact or fiction (it’s about the student’s grandmother) but I love the way the applicant tells it.  Trying a dystopian story for your SSAT essay is a little risky, but this applicant pulled it off.  I wish I could write like that in 8th grade!

In one meeting I attended there was a long conversation about language.  One student self-identified as a “bit of a perfectionist,” a term that when I was growing up was universally positive.  Yet the Committee in the current context wondered about such a posture.  It is hard (impossible?) to do everything perfectly at Cate.  There is just too much.  And yet success here depends on a certain level of aspiration and resolve, characteristics quite common in your average perfectionist.  So how do we assess fit?

As with most inherently complex questions, there is no single right answer.  We do our best, just like our applicants, to use the information we have to draw the individual conclusions we need.

There are few things more indicative of school culture than the manner by which the members of a school family consider those who seek to join the community.  At Cate, it’s deeply personal, labor intensive, and profoundly thoughtful.  And it’s led by a team of people who love our school and our kids.  It is easy to trust in them.

Can’t wait to meet the Class of 2023.