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Cate School

School rating 4 / 5 by

1960 Cate Mesa Road Carpinteria CA 93013 United States
9th to 12th
9th to 12th


Cate School review by .

Cate's traditional academic strengths are in its English and history programs, where the Harkness-style discussion and intimate class size work best. With honors programs starting the sophomore year and a wide array of senior electives taught in teachers' fields of expertise, I loved almost every English class I took at Cate. The history department offers a similar though slightly less extensive set of courses for students to choose from—for example, during my senior year I took a course on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, which was not only one of the most enjoyable and interesting classes I took at Cate, but has also given me a continuing interest in the field that I am pursuing in my studies at university. Science and math classes vary depending on the teacher: Cate has several virtuoso science and math teachers who helped awaken my interests in their subjects, but these departments also have one or two teachers apiece who seem to lack in energy. It's hard to get through four years of math and science without taking at least one class with a truly excellent teacher who makes the learning experience electric—as well as one class with a teacher who falls short in terms of teaching performance, leaving students to learn material from textbooks or from one of the nightly academic clinics run by students (Math Lab, Physics Lab, etc.). Foreign languages also have some degree of variability. Taking classes in the Spanish program, I found teachers to be more laid-back than other departments, yet quite successful at developing fluency in students. Other language programs (French, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese) are smaller than the Spanish department (which has five teachers) and the success of the program often depends in large part on the student's relationship with the (usually) two teachers who comprise the program. Among the students, the Spanish program is generally more or less admired for its more casual approach, while each of the smaller programs receives both praise and censure depending on whether the student in question likes the faculty. In terms of general academic atmosphere, Cate students tend to be easygoing and laid-back in conversation, but often tense and sometimes competitive under the surface. Academics are deeply valued and there’s a respect among kids towards those who excel in classes, but the mandatory athletics programs and busy extracurricular life keep academics from weighing too much on the mind. The Harkness-style discussion made me incredibly confident compared to my peers in discussion-based classroom environments at university. Four years of learning discussion skills—how to distill thoughts and present them effectively, how to disagree with someone (including the teacher/professor) respectfully, and when and when not to speak—made me feel like Superman in a discussion where everyone else didn’t have the same experience. Conversely, though, the fact that almost every class was interactive in some way—if not discussion-based then at least equipped with an activity or active interlude to lecture—made college-style lectures hard to pay attention to at first. The set of skills I find I developed most at Cate were my writing and speaking skills. The junior year honors English class, which is supposedly taught under AP Language Exam curriculum, functions more as an incredibly rigorous course in style and composition. I was by no means an inexperienced writer coming into the class, but upon enrollment I found my writing style was being entirely deconstructed and then rebuilt from the ground up—a process I then found infuriatingly difficult, but have been thankful for ever since, as I find myself again and again with the tools and technique to write effectively in every situation. As for public speaking, this was a skill I was forced to develop in Harkness-style English and history classes, as well as math classes where I was asked to explain difficult calculus concepts to my class, as well as in all-school assemblies where I had to make announcements for the clubs I ran and sports teams I captained. Seniors at Cate are encouraged to make speeches to the entire school, which are given each Tuesday morning and are known as “Tuesday Talks”—an experience I found formative, one that bookended four years’ development of my writing and speaking skills.

College Counseling

Cate’s college counseling is certainly not lacking in energy or success. I first met with....

Sample insights on college counseling

  • They have contacts at most of the major universities and feel perfectly comfortable picking up the phone and advocating for a student to get accepted somewhere they feel is a good fit for that student. However, these counselors are certainly not magic bullets. They cannot guarantee that a student will get into an Ivy League university...
  • For those wishing to move on to Oxford or Cambridge, the provision is second-to-none. In the months running up to application and interview, every subject faculty offers classes (often run by former Oxbridge tutors) exploring further areas of their subject as well as offering advice on personal statements, interview technique and more...

Admissions - Getting Accepted

Cate favors well-rounded students. I recall the Latin saying mens sana in corpore sano (a....

Sample insights on admissions

  • For the interview, dress conservatively. Try to be very clean and put together. Also, I was a tour guide for two years and at the end of every tour, we were asked to evaluate the candidate so if you think the tour is not apart of the process, you are very wrong. Ask questions and be interested. Also, tip for the parents: the kids speak on the tour. Do not ask their questions for them...
  • Most younger siblings have an easy time in the admissions process. I can only think of one case of a younger sibling not being admitted. About half of the students who entered with me had come from public schools. The remainder came from private K-6 schools, or had transferred from other New York private schools The Elizabeth Morrow School and St. Bernard were two of the larger feeder schools...

School Life

Cate has a beautiful campus and a lively, mannered community. Facilities are quite satisfactory in every regard I can think of—from three playing fields and ample lawns to two swimming pools, a state-of-the-art workout facility and a ceramics barn—and its situation, of course, on top of the fabled mesa in the foothills of mountains overlooking the Pacific, is one of a kind. The student body is generally liberal-leaning, though there’s always a very vocal group of more conservative students making their opinions heard. The administration deals harshly with plagiarism and instances of students who contravene rules related to substances such....

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