By Talia ’20, Nina ’18 and Lauren ’19
Marlborough is one of the top ten all-girls school in America according to Niche, a company that specializes in data on educational institutions. While Marlborough may be viewed as a prestigious institution across the country, the image of Marlborough is continually evolving and is reflected in the opinions of Marlborough students, students in schools around Los Angeles, and college communities. One way people form their perceptions of the school is through Marlborough’s branding and seal.
The past and present parts of Marlborough’s branding- the logo and seal -allude to the values that the School attempts to project.
According to Peter Chinnici, the School Archivist, the idea of Marlborough as a brand has come about in recent years.
“Branding is a relatively new word to apply to independent schools, even though the seal was used for Marlborough, I don’t think it was ever thought of as a brand. It was just Marlborough’s seal,” Chinnici said.
The seal was created in the late 1920s under the leadership of principal Ada Blake, the successor of the School’s founder Mary Caswell.
The seal was used interchangeably as the school’s logo until 1980. Eventually, Saul Bass, father of a Marlborough student and a well-known brand artist, created a new logo for Marlborough – a girl’s profile in the blank space of a violet Although it can be seen on the 1980-1981 Course of Study, the new logo was abandoned by the 1990s.
“The logo was not very well received by Marlborough,” Chinnici said. “It only lasted a couple years. It never really caught-on, and they just reverted to using the Marlborough seal.”
At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, Marlborough has revamped its brand, introducing a new school logo after almost two years of research involving students, parents, alumnae, faculty and trustees.
Head of School Priscilla Sands called for an update to Marlborough’s image and oversaw the rebranding process.
“We started thinking about a branding exercise over a year ago in order to take a critical view of our school-wide communications messages,” Sands said. “In other words, were our values in line with our message?”
Director of Communications and head of the new branding process Carly Rodriguez also hoped for the rebranding process to modernize Marlborough’s image to more authentically reflect the school’s community.
“Evolution is important, and change is important, and you need to make sure that the way you’re presenting your organization or school represents who you are today,” Rodriguez said.
Out of 94 upper-schoolers surveyed by the UltraViolet, however, only 1% of the students believe that the new logo accurately represents the school.
One respondent to the survey explained that she views that the new logo ignores Marlborough’s history and paints Marlborough in an inaccurate way.
“Our old logo showcased the rich history of our school and the new one looks very generic. The crest really represents Marlborough as a school, despite all the claims that it seems too ‘uppity,’” the student said.
The Marlborough seal is still a part of the School’s image, history and future. In addition to being engraved on the ground at the main gates and displayed on the core value banners, the seal will continue to be used for formal ceremonies, such as graduation.
Sands believes that rebranding is an important exercise for Marlborough, and moving forward, it should take place more periodically.
“It is valuable to get out of our own echo chamber and listen to what others say about the school,” Sands said. “This experience provided us with a chance to hear the great things about the school as well as learn about the areas where we may want to change perceptions.”
Regardless of which logo or seal is instituted, Rodriguez does not believe that Marlborough is losing an element of the School’s history by changing the brand.
“We’ll always still have those pieces of history to remind us. But I don’t think we necessarily need a visual component every day to do that. It’s a part of everything that’s here,” Rodriguez said.
A long and rich history is just one of the aspects of Marlborough’s image students value when choosing to attend the school. Academics is a large reason students choose to attend the Marlborough; as 75% of the students in the survey cited Marlborough’s academics as a reason for choosing the School.
However, with Marlborough’s strong academics there comes a heavy workload. 80% of the respondents said that the heavy workload is a disadvantage of Marlborough. And this heavy workload often leads to a large amount of complaining as Sophia ’19 said.
“There is definitely a prominent stress culture at Marlborough; students often complain about academic rigor. The workload is very heavy and the competitive nature of the school encourages students to challenge themselves as much as possible,” Sophia said.
In fact, in the survey, 89% of the students said that students complain too much at Marlborough. Furthermore, 77% of Marlborough students outside of Marlborough often view the school as being academically rigorous.
The image of academic rigor also translates to the perception of Marlborough outside of the School.
One student who attends Loyola and chose to stay anonymous said that he views Marlborough as an academically tough school with anxious students.
“Marlborough is a very academically challenging school… All I know is that all the girls are stressed out 100% of the time…and they never have anytime to do anything. They’re always frazzled,” he said.
Similarly, Paola Santos a student who considered attending Marlborough, but ultimately choose to attend Brentwood, acknowledged Marlborough’s strong reputation.
“[People] think that Marlborough girls are the smartest of all the schools. Compared to Archer and Marymount [Marlborough girls] work harder,” Paola said.
The Loyola student elaborated and stated that when he talks to Marlborough students he always feels pressured to speak in an intellectual manner given the academic rigor of the School.
“Every time I talk to a Marlborough girl I get really intimidated because they’re all really smart. I just sound really stupid everytime I talk to one so I have to be on my game and make sure that what I am saying is intelligent,” he said.
While Marlborough has a strong academic reputation compared to other Los Angeles schools, the Loyola junior said his perception of the social life of Marlborough girls ranges from only studying to partying without moderation.
“Marlborough girls are so overworked… they are so stressed out they need a release on the weekend” he said.
Similarly, 80% of students in the survey found the social life of Marlborough to be a disadvantage of attending Marlborough.
In addition to its academics, Marlborough’s supposed snobbiness is discussed in other public high schools. Paola Santos’ older sister Sofia Santos, a junior at Beverly Hills High School, said that there is a stereotype that Marlborough girls are either wealthy or hard-working girls.
“There is a stereotype that at Marlborough there is a certain group of people that have a lot of money and that’s how they got in. And maybe there is a group of people that is really hard-working and that’s how they got in,” Sofia said.
Paula explained that Marlborough girls manage a lot of activities.
“People seem like they are doing a million things at once, they juggle everything. They are very busy and determined. And people are doing a sport, and 5000 clubs and charity work. [They’re] somehow doing it all,” Paula said.
Similarly, the image of Marlborough girls as intelligent and driven plays a role in college decisions, according to Dean of College Counseling Monica DePriest. DePriest said her positive perception of Marlborough played a large role in her decision to move from the admissions office at Vanderbilt University to a college counselor at Marlborough.
“I wanted to be at a school with a really strong reputation, with really amazing students and great resources. And Marlborough absolutely checked all of the boxes and that hasn’t really changed,” DePreist said.
As far as the effect of Marlborough’s image and reputation on the college admission process, DePriest explained that many colleges continue to be interested in Marlborough girls because they are well regarded.
“We continue to be an exceptionally well-respected school, and our students are highly sought after,” DePriest said.
However, alumna and current senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Isabel ’14, said that the reputation of a student’s high school has very little impact on how she is viewed in college. According to Isabel, most professors are not aware of what high school their students attended.
“I think you’re lucky if your professor knows what town or state you’re from,” Isabel said.
Although where a student went to high school may not be relevant in college, many Marlborough girls still have strong opinions about the School. DePriest discussed how current students feel about Marlborough, and said it is important to remember that views of the high school experience can often change.
“I think that with any experience when you are in [the experience] you have one thought about, but when you are out [the experience] and you have the benefit of hindsight, you could think differently,” DePriest said.
Gendler said that in her experience, time away from Marlborough has changed her perspective, stating that the appreciation she has for the culture and traditions of Marlborough has increased.
“I’m more grateful for the time I had being in a single sex environment and wearing a uniform, because both of those things are no longer a part of my life,” Isabel said.
DePriest said that once she joined the Marlborough community, she began to discover that Marlborough students were not only strong in academics and college matriculation, but also good people.
“I found the students to be really competent, really engaging, warm, and a delight to work and interact with…Marlborough girls—they don’t disappoint,” DePriest said.