Sam Wood, an applicant to the GDS class of 2026, gathered his whole family around his laptop on Friday, March 4, as he clicked through to Ravenna, the applications portal GDS uses. In an interview with the Bit, Wood happily reported his letter from GDS “started with ‘Congratulations.’”
Newly admitted freshmen put down preliminary deposits securing their spots right before spring break, marking the end of this year’s admissions cycle. After an application process that was entirely virtual, GDS opened its doors for the new admits for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hosting open houses and shadow buddy visits where prospective students could spend a half-day at GDS with a current freshman over the two weeks before decisions were due.
The admissions team strives to create a balanced class, Director of Enrollment Management and Financial Aid Chris Levy explained to the Bit. “We’re looking at gender balance, diversity in all of its definitions, and we take that information and use it to inform what the makeup of the newly admitted kids to ninth grade will be,” he said.
One particularly salient imbalance in the class of 2026 at the GDS middle school is its gender makeup, with female students currently outnumbering male students by a ratio of about 3 to 2. To counteract the disproportionate number of female students, the school admitted a proportionately larger number of male students to the incoming class.
Ben Kanter, an eighth grader at GDS, reflected that the imbalance has made school harder socially and he is looking forward to having a more balanced class. Having a smaller number of male students created a “social ladder,” according to Kanter. “There’s not enough space for people to have their own different friend groups because the numbers are so slim,” he said, so he is looking forward to the influx of male students next year.
However, EJ Mazo, also an eighth grader at GDS, is skeptical of the reported gender ratio. Mazo, who identifies as gender fluid, has many friends who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) but don’t identify as girls and could be miscounted. “There are a lot of closeted AFAB trans people.” They posed the question, “Would the statistics be different if every trans person were out of the closet?”
Although Mazo hasn’t noticed issues as a result of gender imbalance, they recognized the potential benefits of admitting more male students. “I think it should be based more on intellectual ability rather than gender, but it is also important to have a diverse grade,” they said.
In addition to diversity, the financial aid budget is a factor that shapes the incoming class. GDS guarantees that it will meet 100 percent of the financial aid needs of its students. “The goal is to make sure that once you get here, you aren’t worried about these additional expenses,” Levy said.
During the first round of review, the application readers don’t look at the financial aid needs of applicants. But during the second round of consideration, Levy explained, the admissions office has to reconcile the number of applicants in the pool who might need aid with its budget.
For the past two admissions cycles, the application process had been virtual. Levy said that during a normal year, students and parents would have had the opportunity to come to campus before applying. “There’s something to be said about sitting across from the person, being able to have that direct engagement, to shake a hand, to give a hug, to walk someone to different classes to have them see the kids in action,” he said. “It’s pretty special.”
Not having these in-person opportunities made it harder for this year’s prospective students to get that same understanding of GDS. Wood explained that “it was harder to recognize how the school community was when you could just see it through a computer.”
Last year, incoming freshmen didn’t get a chance to visit the school in person until the Summer Bridge orientation program, well after they made the decision to attend GDS.
Freshman Ellie Schaffer, who came to GDS from Alice Deal Middle School, attended a virtual open house where teachers discussed their curricula when she applied last year. She was also paired with an upperclassman whom she could ask questions over email, which provided some insight into the life of GDS students but “much less so than doing the shadow program.” Schaffer, who hosted a shadow buddy this year, said that it was helpful for new admits “to get the overall experience of what it’s like to be here.”
For Levy, the two-week period before students matriculate is about creating “opportunities for families to really feel and experience what GDS is all about.”
Before attending the shadow buddy day, Wood had only been on campus a few times to watch his sister, junior Alex Wood, play basketball. So for him, the shadow buddy visit was crucial for getting a sense of the school community: He said his visit put him “in the shoes of a GDS student.”
Other students agreed that being on campus for the shadow buddy program and open houses helped them get a sense of the community and student experience.
“It’s hard when you haven’t stepped foot in the school,” Deb Oremland, a parent of a newly admitted incoming freshman, said of her daughter’s application process. “But once she was accepted, the doors were open.”