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A Thomas Jefferson Brain Drain?

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dear Extra Credit:

I have a sophomore at Oakton High School in Vienna. We are just beginning to think about colleges.

The school has provided statistics on those colleges to which 2007 graduates had applied, showing the number of applicants and number of students accepted from Oakton. I found one aspect of the statistics shocking. Very few students from this top-ranked Fairfax County high school had applied to A-list colleges (Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Penn, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, etc.), and just about no one had been accepted.

I knew that college admissions had become fiercely competitive, but looking at the school's statistics was a major revelation. I wonder whether Oakton's statistics are similar to other Fairfax County high schools' and, if so, whether the reason is that those colleges look almost exclusively to students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and so a pattern develops where very few students from a school such as Oakton apply and an even smaller number are accepted.

Then I read an article in the October issue of Washingtonian magazine in which Georgetown University's dean of admissions, Charles Deacon, is quoted as saying, "Georgetown gets a relatively small number of applicants from the Washington area. The problem in Northern Virginia is Thomas Jefferson, the science-and-technology magnet school. Jefferson robs all the local schools of their best students, leaving behind a culture that's more dominated by athletics and rock music and less dominated by AP's and high academic achievement. It's great for the kids who get to Jefferson, but it leaves behind a lot of schools where the top of the class is a lot thinner. So we don't see a lot of great candidates from Northern Virginia high schools other than Jefferson. Even those that rank high in the class don't look that great to us. We see much stronger candidates from Montgomery County schools than from Fairfax."

That statement is shocking! Not every smart Northern Virginia high school student wants to be a mathematician, engineer or scientist.

As your Challenge Index shows, several Northern Virginia high schools are offering Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. Do other college admissions officers have this impression of Northern Virginia students who don't attend Jefferson?

If so, that would be a most unfortunate perception and most likely would be disputed by many Northern Virginia parents and their children.

Nancy Burke-Sanow


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