Admissions Gets It Right

At last week’s All-School Meeting, Jane Fried, Dean of Admission, made a comment of what some considered dubious taste. She jokingly asked the Andover community who would be the “yield machines” this year. Ms. Fried was referring to which revisit guides would attract the most kids to the school and proclaimed that the revisit days were the Admission Office’s “Andover-Exeter.” Some students, perhaps not understanding the nature of her humor, thought that she was asking the student body to present the school in the best possible light, perhaps to the point of not telling the whole truth. It seemed that keeping Andover’s yield rate the highest among its peer schools was more important than making sure Andover is a good fit. Nich Koh ’08 called her question “demeaning and symbolizing the worst part of the school.” Many students, like Nich, believe that Andover’s revisit day should show the true Andover rather than the “super Andover” and that Ms. Fried’s comments were distasteful. I, on the other hand, write in defense of Jane Fried and the rest of Admissions. While the Admission Office naturally wishes that every admitted student would attend Phillips Academy, they do in fact understand better than anyone the importance of showing prospective students what Andover really is. Unlike what some exaggerated comments have made the office out to be, Admissions isn’t just a shrewd, business-oriented empire, of which we are investments that will eventually make them a profit. Human beings make up the office, and they care about the students and the school, as sincerely as any of us. Many of the officers are house counselors, coaches or teachers, and in all these roles they mentor us well and, if close with us, give us advice in our toughest situations. Zach Dixon ’08 said, “I know two Admission/Financial Aid officers as a house counselor and as a coach, and I’ve never been closer to any faculty in my life. I can comfortably say that I’ve laughed and cried in front of both, shared my greatest and worst moments at this school with them. These two have been like fathers and friends away from home for me. If it wasn’t for the two, I don’t think I could have thrived, let alone stayed at Andover. I don’t know how I could ever repay or thank the Office of Admission and Financial Aid and its amazing officers.” While yield percentages and money may even be a first priority for them, we are not just investments to them; they still care for us deeply. Perhaps we need to recognize that. When Ms. Fried gave her misunderstood motivational speech she was not implying that we should break moral boundaries in order to become “yield machines.” In my limited experience at Andover, Admissions has always stressed honesty strongly. For example, just this winter break I was asked to be on a panel, answering the questions of applicants from New York. Right before the panel began, I remember that one Admission officer approached a few of us. He said that, while we probably shouldn’t highlight what we perceived as the school’s negatives in great depth, it was important to remain credible and honest with the crowd. The officer said we should answer the questions with personal anecdotes when possible. Keeping this advice in mind, I was asked about my toughest challenge at Andover so far. I responded by telling them about my first Commentary article, which discussed the GSA dance somewhat disapprovingly. The article was controversial and fueled much argument within the Andover community, and I told the crowd this. While this story may not have presented Andover in the best possible light, it was an experience from which I had grown, and I felt it was illustrative of life at the school. The Admission officer agreed; after the panel, he told me that he was very glad I had mentioned it. Granted, the Admission office clearly boosts the Andover image at least a little on revisit day. The speeches at the end of the day are tad over the top with “best and brightest” and “many opportunities” being the most common phrases. While they don’t ask us to lie, it is, after all, their job to bring in a large, qualified student body that is suitable for the school and our community. However, these speeches (which, admittedly, might contain white lies) don’t make a difference in a kid’s decision to attend or not to attend Andover. Administrators at every school make them come revisit week; these speeches don’t falsely set Andover apart from any of its peer schools. Kids base their decision on the more genuine aspects of the school. I talked to many students who revisited. Whether they thought the classes were the most interesting, the teachers the most dynamic, or the kids the most friendly, all their reasons for liking Andover concerned what they saw with their own eyes during the day, not what they were told by admissions officers and administrators. Where do we students fall in this revisit process? We just have to continue with our normal routines. Revisit guides should simply expose admitted kids to Andover, answer questions honestly, sit with friends during lunch, and participate normally during class. Admitted students need and want to see a standard Andover day, and that’s what Admissions wants you to show these students, nothing else and nothing less. So far we have done a pretty good job of that. Ms. Fried, in her speech on my revisit day last year, said that, although Andover has the highest yield of its peer schools, it, more importantly, has the lowest dropout rate. This statistic may have been taken before the departure of a significant portion of the class of ’09, but, nevertheless, it accurately shows that the students who come here generally “fit in.” The State of the Academy survey last week showed that 93.6 percent of students answered “yes” to the question “Are you happy you came to Phillips Academy?” This statistic reflects overwhelmingly well on the integrity of Admissions process at Andover and the number of Andover matriculants who are satisfied with their decision to come here. To newly admitted students: Andover is a great school. However, like every school, it has its positives and negatives and is not for everyone. Whether or not your revisit guide may have fibbed, you know when a moment is genuine. With the information you yourself have gathered (not been told), it’s up to you, not the administrators or anyone else, to decide if Andover fits for you. Sebastian Becker is a one-year Lower.