The McCallie School Class of 2015 — like most graduating classes in the past 110 years — was made up of an impressive group of young men ready to depart for college and adult life. But for Director of College Guidance Jeff Kurtzman, this group of seniors made a special mark.
The College Guidance office continued a trend of exceptional results, with McCallie students far surpassing the national average in their rate of acceptance at the nation’s most selective universities. But for Mr. Kurtzman and his staff it goes beyond acceptance letters — it’s about finding the right fit for each McCallie student in the next phase of their education.
“Looking at the past 10 or 15 years, this is probably the most acceptances and matriculations to marquee, highly selective places,” he said. “We’ve had great rates of acceptance at other places that are very popular and guys are really excited to go.
“Also, I love that boys are going to places like Montana State and Iona — places that we don’t send students very often. Those experiences are just as transformative, and sometimes more, than the other places we send students.”
McCallie’s 13 acceptances to the top-tier schools — Ivy League schools, plus Stanford and MIT — may be the top talking point, but the numbers beyond that are equally impressive. Kurtzman and his staff helped place McCallie’s 173 graduates at 93 different colleges this fall, with 36 percent of the Class of 2015 going to college outside of the Southeast.
For some students, the college search process may take them to places they never thought they would consider, and College Guidance works to make sure all options are explored using a student-centered process that provides guidance while letting each boy direct where the process will lead them.
“Students are making decisions here based on a lot of different reasons,” Mr. Kurtzman said. “I think we do a good job of getting students to look past just the rankings and figure out what’s right for them in terms of specific programs.
“We have such a broad range of students and aspirations and goals, it make sense to make it a very individualized process. Some kids are going to need a lot of help early, and some are going to need help late when we’re talking about financial aid.”
McCallie’s College Guidance staff begin getting to know students early in their freshman year and the process becomes more intense beginning in their junior year, preparing college essays, determining what schools are the best fit for each student and helping make sure the college experience is affordable with the ever-increasing cost of tuition.
“College keeps getting more expensive, and financial considerations are part of almost every decision at this point,” Mr. Kurtzman said. “Part of the search for us is making sure we understand the family’s financial situation and crafting a list that accommodates that.”
McCallie’s focus on building the whole boy helps produce college applicants that bring more than just book smarts to the table. The work of the faculty helps students combine strong academics with athletics, extracurricular talents and a sense of service and duty to give McCallie students an advantage when colleges look to build a new freshman class.
“Increasingly colleges look for boys with a unique combination of different talents and gifts,” Headmaster Lee Burns said. “To have boys that are remarkable musicians, athletes and outstanding scholars and leaders — that’s a pretty compelling package.”
In the highly competitive atmosphere that the college-search process has become, the extra steps taken at McCallie have become the defining factor for McCallie alumni as they take that next step in their education.
Mr. Kurtzman recalled a conversation with Princeton’s admissions director, who said, “We have 1,200 really great kids coming in, and we would have been just as happy with the next 1,200 and the next 1,200. But what sets these apart are the ones that have something interesting that they do or are interested in or bring to the table.”
T he College Guidance staff encourages McCallie students to experience different things at McCallie, both academically and extracurricularly, but in the end it has become important to find an activity or course of study you are passionate about and wish to pursue in college and potentially beyond.
“Twenty years ago, you heard a lot about the well-rounded student: somebody who does a lot of everything and that colleges were excited about,” Mr. Kurtzman said “Now you hear more about the well-rounded class that a college is trying to admit. That is a class that is made up of lots of people who are very passionate about one or two things.
“I think colleges have realized that just because you do a lot of things, doesn’t mean you’ll do all of them when you get to college. But if you do two or three things that you’re really excited about … you’re going to bring that enthusiasm and spirit to their campus.”