National Newspapers Report Private Day Schools

Andover bills itself as the nation’s most selective private secondary school, yet according to the Wall Street Journal, it may be easier to get into Andover than to some exclusive private day schools. An August 25 article in The Wall Street Journal, entitled “Private-School Admissions: The New Math,” tried to dispel the common belief that elite boarding schools are the most exclusive in the country. The article, one of a slew written about boarding schools over the summer, ran a picture of Samuel Phillips Hall with the caption, “Phillips Academy is easier to get into than some local day schools.” On average, PA admits 21 percent of boarding applicants, with other peer schools admitting a similar percentage. However, Roxbury Latin School of Boston admitted only 13 percent of their applicants last year. Andover Dean of Admissions Jane Fried said, “Admit rates tell the applicant nothing about who is in the pool of candidates.” There has been a recent boom in private day school applications while the number of boarding school applications has remained relatively constant. Recent newspaper articles suggest that this trend is due to the reputation of boarding schools as havens for the elite and to parents who wish to remain involved in their teenagers’ lives. A September 7 column in The New York Times by Curtis Sittenfeld, author of the novel Prep and a Groton alumna, listed reasons for parents not to send their children to boarding schools. Ms. Sittenfeld wrote, “The self-containment of boarding schools can create terrariums of privilege in which students develop a skewed sense of money.” Ms. Sittenfeld believes that the atmosphere of a prep school can lead children to feel snobbish and falsely entitled, citing the immense cost (about $140,000 for four years at Choate) of a prep school education. Another Wall Street Journal article, this one from July 6, wrote that more and more parents want to keep their children at home under close supervision. The front-page piece, entitled “Boarding Schools Face New Hurdle: Mom and Dad,” explored this trend, which is contributing to the relative decline in the number of boarding school vs. day school applicants. The article quoted Clay Gibson, an alumnus of the Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who decided to break with family tradition by sending his son to private day school, as saying, “We’re very involved in our kids’ education and life, and we wanted to stay involved on a day-to-day basis.” Some parents even relocate their families cross-country so that their children can attend prestigious boarding schools as day students. Ms. Sittenfeld finds the new breed of super-involved parent “slightly creepy,” but she believes in the benefits of children receiving an adult perspective, often lacking among dormmates. Boarding schools are beginning to appeal directly to prospective students in an attempt to reverse this trend towards private day schools. By revamping websites, advertising directly to teens, hiring marketing consultants, and working to dispel common stereotypes about prep school, boarding schools are trying to promote boarding and its benefits. While the most schools like Andover and Exeter have not really felt a squeeze, many other boarding schools are worried about declining enrollment. Boarding school enrollment numbered 39,000 students last year, a figure that has hardly changed in the last five years. Boarding school enrollment has increased by 2.7 percent over the last decade, compared to a 15 percent increase in enrollment at private day schools. In fact, the increasingly competitive private day school applicant pool has led more parents to look at boarding schools as an option for their children. As a result, more schools, including Andover, are trying to increase their number of boarding students while maintaining the overall student body size, which has created even more competition for day student spots. Instead of focusing recruiting efforts on students in traditional areas, such as New York and New England, Andover admission counselors travel to places like Texas, Oregon, and Beijing to bring a more diverse student body to Phillips Academy. Ms. Fried said, “Although we already had the most comprehensive admission program among secondary schools, we began a program to increase our national travel and recruitment three years ago. The breadth and diversity of our recruitment strategy will serve us well.”