A Closer Look at College Admissions

Declining acceptance rates at top American universities have led many Phillips Academy students to find other college options in recent years. Matriculations at some Ivy League universities, particularly Harvard and Yale, have decreased over the past four decades, according to John Anderson, Director of College Counseling. Nine students from the Class of 2008 matriculated at Harvard last fall, in stark contrast to the 36 students from 40 years earlier, a typical number for that time period. In 1968, 242 students graduated from Andover. In 1978, 30 students matriculated at Harvard. The number has grown smaller over the years, averaging around 18 students per year between 2004 and 2007, before reaching the new low point in 2008. Matriculations at Yale have not taken as hefty a hit. In 1968, 26 Andover graduates matriculated at Yale. This number has also dropped, but by a smaller margin. An average of 11 students matriculated each year between 2004 and 2007, before the 16 matriculations in 2008. The 13 students who matriculated at Princeton in 2008 were a significant increase compared to recent years. The average number of Andover graduates who matriculated at Princeton between 2004 and 2007 was six. In 1968, 18 students went to Princeton, while 20 matriculated there in 1978. “There was a sense of entitlement involved with going here… that if you’re going here, you are going to go to an Ivy,” said Anderson. “With colleges, it’s now more of a meritocracy than it was then.” Some Ivy League universities, however, have not witnessed a decrease in enrollment from Andover graduates. Brown University received only four Andover students in 1968, but the number jumped to 29 just 20 years later. Currently, the number of Brown matriculations hovers around nine per year. Matriculations at the University of Pennsylvania have also increased, with 13 in 2007 and 2008, compared to six each in 1968 and 1978. Schools are becoming more concerned with maintaining the diversity of the students they admit, said Anderson, which may have helped to cause these trends. “Diversity is a much more important goal now than it was 15 years ago,” said Anderson. “Part of that diversity is the number of high schools they admit students from.” Andover students are now also choosing colleges that were previously less popular than Ivies, said Anderson. “Is it bad that there are more students going to [schools like] Stanford? No,” said Anderson. “In the past 20 or so years, Andover has really opened up opportunities to educate about the wealth of terrific colleges.” “[The graduating classes] on average go to about 100 different colleges,” said Anderson. “In the College Counseling Office, we put an emphasis on ‘fit.’ We try to look at which colleges fit well with what each student is looking for, and what makes them thrive.” Brian Faulk ’00, Instructor in Chemistry, graduated from Stanford University in 2004 and received a Master’s Degree from Harvard University in 2006. “To me, it seems like there is still a huge percentage that is focused on going to an Ivy League school. However, there is a growing population that is interested in other options, and doesn’t necessarily see [non-Ivies] as a bad thing,” said Faulk. “Ivies are not the be-all end-all.” More often, Anderson said, students aren’t getting “hung up on certain colleges.” Ruth Quattlebaum, School Archivist and Instructor in Art, said that she believes the that landscape of college admissions from Andover to the Ivy League has changed slightly over time. “What I think has changed is the range of colleges that students now apply to from Andover. I think students are thinking more broadly in terms of college possibilities and have a clearer picture of the options that are out there,” she said. When asked if Anderson thought attending Andover helped or hurt students’ college chances, he said, “I wouldn’t encourage students to enroll here if their primary purpose is to get into an Ivy. They should choose to come because they know to take advantage of the [resources] here, and want to have a terrific education.” “There are probably people out there who still think of Andover as a ‘stepping stone’ to an Ivy League school. To that I would say that that is a narrow focus, and [if they view Andover this way] they’ll miss out on a lot of absolutely superb colleges,” Anderson said. He also said that many students have the mentality of questioning, “If I do X, will it get me into an Ivy?” Jane Fried, Director of Admissions, said, “We try to tell prospective families that Andover is a stepping stone to life, and if the focus is on college, kids will miss out on a large part of their education here,” said Fried. Fried added that the admissions office is “constantly confronting” media reports that portray Andover and its peer schools as vehicles to college. A Wall Street Journal article from November 2007 defined Phillips Academy as “a virtual factory” for sending 19 students to Harvard that previous fall. Fried said that colleges, as with Andover, “are very much about having a large recruiting pool, with many types of students from different communities and backgrounds. We offer colleges a very wide range of students, but sometimes [colleges may want] students from [other types of schools].” The Admissions Office recently released a new catalog for prospective students. Fried said, “The purpose of the catalog is to send a clear message that we [at Andover] have a bigger goal than getting kids into certain schools. We’d like students to set their sights higher.”