Repeat Students Uncommon at PA Despite Trend at Other Schools

A recent New York Times article reported that a substantial percentage of the student body at many academically rigorous prep schools repeats a year as they enter these schools. But, according to Dean of Admission Jane Fried, this has not been the case at Phillips Academy. In her November 6th article entitled “If at First You Don’t Succeed Enough,” New York Times reporter Abigail Sullivan Moore suggested that repeating a year has become an “increasingly accepted practice at private schools in the Northeast, especially boarding schools.” According to the article, 10 percent of the 9th grade class at The Lawrenceville School was entering freshman year for the second time this year. However, only a single student out of 150 incoming freshmen was repeating a grade in 2001. Also, currently at The St. Paul’s School, 22 percent of the freshman class transferred in to repeat the year, as have 6 percent of sophomores. At Kent School, 11 percent of juniors are doing the same. St. Paul’s Director of Admissions Mike Hirschfeld has observed a noticeable increase the number of repeating applicants. “Parents want their kids to be successful, and if they believe repeating will enhance their chances, they will absolutely consider it,” he told the New York Times. Whereas these “repeats” comprise more than 10 percent of the freshmen class in each of the schools mentioned in the article, only 2.8 percent of Andover’s freshmen class, a total of 6 out of 212 students, starts 9th grade for the second time. “It’s also interesting to note that Exeter, Deerfield, and other big subjective boarding schools were not cited. The article did not say that it surveyed a whole group of schools and saw this [large percentage] in the majority of the schools. So we must ask, is this trend really a trend?” said Andover’s Dean of Admissions Jane Fried. According to Mrs. Fried, Ms. Moore contacted PA Communications Office and said that she was “trying to get in touch with several boarding schools” in the process of gathering information for her article. In the article, Ms. Moore suggested that increase in the number is due to students’ motivation to make themselves look more appealing in the intense competition for admission to elite colleges. Students want to load college applications with a longer list of Advanced Placement courses and extracurricular activities, according to the article. Gregg Maloberti, Dean of Admissions at the Lawrenceville School, was quoted in the Times as saying, “Five or ten years ago, students didn’t repeat unless there was something broke that needed to be fixed, a presiding academic deficit, an illness or some disturbance in the family pattern.” Ms. Fried said, “We don’t see many repeating kids who are nervous about that kind of thing. Students who come to Andover to repeat a year typically are chronologically young for the class, lost a year due to illness, family situations, or they want another year to have a stronger year academically.” The article explored the uncertainty with which some parents approach the practice, as they are unsure if it will boost the applicant’s chances with college. Because students are required to send in records for freshman through senior year, and the college admission officials get transcripts from all secondary schools the student has attended, some parents choose not to send in transcripts from the first ninth grade year completed in the previous school. However, any hint of deception may undermine the student’s chance at the college. The article explained that repeating a grade to gain a competitive edge in college admissions does not necessarily guarantee acceptance to a first-choice college. In fact, according to her, overloading one’s course load with Advanced Placement classes may make an application appear “overly groomed.” Andover’s Director of College Counseling John Anderson said, “Every single student is different from other students. For some, it may have been a good idea to repeat a grade. I don’t think college admissions exactly has a stance about whether [repeating a year] is always positive or negative; it all depends on individual circumstances, what the students have accomplished, and why.”