Racial Diversity Rises, Aid Requests Drop in Class Admitted to GDS Without Testing

The high school admissions office. Photos by Kaiden J. Yu.

The high school admissions process for the 2021-22 school year was different from any other in recent memory. Along with competitor schools, GDS decided to not look at standardized test scores, leading to a rise in the number of applicants. 

“Despite not hosting a single visitor this year, applications have gone through the roof,” Director of Enrollment Management & Financial Aid Barbara Eghan said about the 20 percent increase in the number of applicants from the 2020-21 admissions cycle. 

Eghan assumes that more students applied to GDS due to the school’s decision to temporarily eliminate standardized testing from the process, which “gives us [GDS] a shot at enrolling the broadest diversity of talented kids as possible.”

As a result of not looking at scores from standardized tests such as the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) and Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE), admissions officers saw a dramatic increase in the racial diversity of the applicant pool, with 62 percent of interested high school applicants and 57 percent of enrolled students in the incoming freshman class self-identifying as people of color. Eghan told the Bit that standardized testing has been a barrier to greater diversity at GDS in the past. She explained how test scores generally reflect the societal discrimination that students in marginalized groups face.

“The SSAT doesn’t really define you,” incoming freshman Natalia Freedman said. “My score wasn’t really an accurate representation of my academic abilities.” 

The context of the pandemic makes the increase of racial diversity even more surprising to Eghan. “When you think about the communities that have been most directly impacted,” she said, “whether it’s they have gotten sick, lost loved ones or lost jobs, we know that that has predominantly hit families at the intersection of racially and economically marginalized communities.” 

GDS’ mission statement is printed on the wall inside the admissions office on the first floor of the high school.

While GDS’ applicant pool became more diverse, the distribution of financial aid for families became more concentrated, with the number of families requesting financial aid dropping to 34 percent, a 6 percent drop from the 40 percent average of recent years. “There was a big subset of families who had bigger problems in life than applying to an independent school,” Eghan said. Eghan explained that potential applicants may have been hindered from applying due to losing jobs or a loved one getting sick. 

Overall, Eghan views the recent admissions cycle as a success, and interviewed students tended to agree that GDS was as successful as it could be, considering the unpredictable circumstances of the pandemic. Incoming freshman Hudson Pizali, younger brother of senior Tia Pizali, thought GDS did a better job than the other private schools with more information sessions and chances to get to know the school. He applied to Maret and Sidwell Friends as well. “GDS kind of went above all of the other schools. They definitely did it best,” he said.

“The interview and the questions they gave me for the essays gave me the best sense of what the school was really like,” Freedman said. She explained how she eventually chose GDS because of the amount of information they provided her family about the school. In contrast, she described the terrible job some of the other schools she applied to did at providing applicants with enough information. She said Maret only had one Zoom information session for prospective families. 

When it came to making the decision about where she wants to spend her next four years, Freedman said, “Deciding what school I wanted to go to was kind of just a guess.” 

CORRECTION (April 25, 10:39 p.m.): A previous version of this article’s headline misleadingly suggested that the decrease in financial aid requests among incoming GDS freshmen was a result of the decision not to require applicants to take standardized tests.