The Andover Exodus

The Class of ’09 has seen a sharp decline in its numbers by means of the Leave of Absence. In merely two months, nearly half a dozen Lowers have voluntarily left our Gilded Hill. Now, while the reasons are as unique as the persons who left, and their respective situations, there seems to be a common undercurrent to the proceedings: each of the departed Lowers felt that Andover was not for them. How is that so? Phillips Academy Andover is the world’s greatest secondary school institution; it is here that the keys are handed out to whatever kingdom the graduate desires. The mere honor of gaining acceptance to such a place should provide all the happiness necessary to grind it out through four (or fewer) years. Right? Well, not quite. Part of the problem for our departed is the reality of the school. Andover is an academic institution before all else, and its academics are among the most rigorous in the world. Every new student must undergo an adjustment before adapting to the workload and the frenzied pace of life it requires. Inevitably, some will burn out. That’s fine; it always seems that half the school is on the brink of crashing anyway, and for those that cross that line a leave of absence might be the perfect solution. A couple of terms to remind someone of their superlative qualities and provide a break from the Big Blue grind might be just what the person needs. Another element of the equation could be the people themselves. Many students choose to attend Andover for all the wrong reasons: to please their parents, gain easier access to their dream college, or simply to gain the bragging rights that come with the name Phillips Academy. These people would naturally be predisposed to unhappiness here. Andover is as unique as each of its students, and sometimes that uniqueness does not create the happy chemistry that could be created with a different school. Applicants: prestige aside, is Andover a better fit for you than St. Paul’s, Deerfield, or even your local public school? Know that if you get into Andover you will probably do extremely well at whatever school you attend, and thus you should try and attend the school where you feel you will be the happiest. Another problem could be the lack of assertiveness on behalf of the departed. The school offers world-class counseling services and supports in many aspects:social, academic, medical, athletic, whatever. Your house counselors, Isham, the athletic trainers, Graham House, and even your peers are here to help you make it through. It would be a tragedy if someone were forced to take a leave of absence because of a problem that could have been prevented by asking for help. At Andover, there is no one to constantly watch your back; that might sound cruel, but it’s the way the real world operates, and it also teaches students to be advocates for themselves. This goes back to my previous point that if an applicant can’t handle that, they should realize that beforehand and pick a different school that might be a better fit for them. Some people cannot bring themselves to walk over to Isham if they have pounding headaches, or make an appointment with Graham House if they are having persistent grief problems, or talk to their house counselors or teachers about academic difficulties, or vent off to a friend about a painful break-up. That’s fine; go to a different school. However, the school should not leave it completely up to the student to present problems they have. Teachers and house counselors, with their years of experience, can often recognize problems before the student can and a little action on their part can make the difference between some stress management and a suicide attempt. It’s too easy to say “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” when some elbow grease can prevent the possibility of squeakiness in the first place. Finally, it should be noted that the Leave of Absence policy is a great boon to those who simply require a little time to bring themselves together, or deal with other non-school related issues. Day schools in my area require one to reapply after withdrawal; we don’t. Hopefully we can work to prevent student withdrawal except when it is absolutely necessary.