Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools

By Peter W. Cookson; Caroline Hodges Persell | Go to book overview

9
The Vital Link: Prep Schools and Higher Education

LIKE YOUTHS undergoing a tribal rite of passage in which the badge of manhood is killing their first lion, prep youths have historically sought to bag an Ivy League college acceptance. But, like lions, Ivy League acceptances have become more difficult to obtain. Their growing scarcity means that prep schools need to convince many students and parents that X, Y, and Z colleges are as good as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and therefore as worthy a prize for undergoing the grueling period of preparation.

The students whose families are seeking their socialization for power, however, are skeptical. Virtually everyone in prep school is going to college, so whether or not one goes is not the critical question; where one goes is what matters. Going to the right college is "part of the formula for their lives," as a select 16 college advisor phrased it. As we shall discuss in this chapter, the students' collective identity functions in their collective aspiration for similar colleges, including those with relatively modest academic or social backgrounds.

Many students come to boarding school with the hope that it will enable them to get into a better college. The prep schools know that this promise poses certain problems for them, given the changes that have occurred in

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