The Chosen Ones
FOR the vast majority of public high-school students, admission to school is a straightforward process. Students either attend the school in their community or, if they have special talents or needs, they may be admitted to a specialized public school where admission is based on openly stated criteria. Private schools, including boarding schools, are rarely democratic from the standpoint of admission. Like private corporations, country clubs, and cooperative real estate holdings, private schools have the right to choose whom they will or will not admit. And while it is their stated policy not to discriminate on the basis of race or religion, the social traditions of the schools have meant that their student bodies have tended to be homogeneous in terms of family background, religion, and race.
Acceptance into an elite boarding school is in itself a form of ritual, the first step in the prep rite of passage. There was a time when a parent simply rang up the head or dropped by the school and a deal was struck, but by and large those days are gone. Today, applicants and their families must find their way through a maze of forms, letters of recommendation, transcripts, school visits, and interviews. Tenacity is essential to mastering the ritual of acceptance because for the majority of students entrance into the status seminary is not easy, nor is it meant to be. The schools have certain standards to uphold, and often those standards have less to do with ability or willingness than background and style. Tradition weighs heavily in the