The Sooner the Better

The College Counseling Office has been asked by both the Student Council and The Phillipian to state its position for supporting the new calendar model recently approved by the faculty. While the need for Fall Term grades in the early admission process has become a big issue in the last four to five years, our interest in the new calendar is much broader and includes “quality counseling time” for all Seniors and college access issues for different groups in the community—one and two-year Seniors, postgraduates, financial aid students and those students who enter Andover with a “preparation gap.”

After finishing my first fall term at PA last year, my biggest surprise was how little time we had to work with Seniors in comparison to most of our peer schools. In the fall (on average), we have nine to ten fewer days to work with our Seniors than most boarding schools, and in comparison to many private day schools, we have 30 fewer counseling days. These numbers also assume that the nine days after the Thanksgiving break are actually productive counsel, which they generally are not because students are busy with final projects and preparing for assessments. The CCO continues to work with students via phone, email and Skype right up to the January 1st deadline, but this is not the most efficient or best way to work with our counselees.

For the Class of 2012, 72 percent applied to some type of early program (November 1st to December 1st deadlines), but 68 percent of the Seniors ultimately matriculated at a school they were admitted in regular decision. With the term ending on December 7th this year, we lose the opportunity to advise Seniors at a critical time.

For the CCO, the opportunity to get more “face time” with Seniors in December both in terms of total days and “quality” days (no finals) will allow us more time to help students craft thoughtful applications and build a comprehensive, well-rounded list of schools. More time in December will afford us the opportunity to engage students who have early admission financial aid issues as well as helping Seniors prepare for financial aid deadlines in regular decision.

Why have first term Senior grades become a bigger issue for schools in the early process in the last few years? The simplest answer is that with the intense competition for a spot at any highly selective college, the admission committees want to make sure that the Senior year grades have improved or remained at the previous level of excellence. This is why many schools now require Senior grades before they will make a decision to admit. Without grades, they have started to automatically defer until the regular decision round.

The new calendar will allow Andover to provide first term grades to early action/early decision schools, and it will also allow us to provide second term grades to schools for the regular decision process in a timely manner. Presently, we need to ask faculty to provide estimated grades for a random assortment of their students at a time when they are very busy (the week before or the first few days back from Thanksgiving). For some departments, it is an awkward time in their class schedule to give an accurate assessment of a student’s work. Although most colleges accept our estimated grades, these grades do not hold the same weight as final grades.

At many (not all) schools, applying early does give one an advantage for admission. Because we do not have Senior fall grades available for early programs, we often counsel students differently than we would if there were. For some of our Seniors who started slowly in ninth grade and are now having a terrific fall term (usually carrying 500 and 600-level courses), the opportunity to show what is statistically the best year for grades is lost. Consequently, they are less competitive without the Senior grades and are unable to take advantage of a slight edge in the early admission process.

The larger concern for having both first and second term grades revolves around access issues. For different demographic groups in our population, the lack of Senior grades to show colleges (first term grades for early programs or two full terms worth of grades in regular decision) hurts their chances at selective colleges and universities (as described above). For many of our students who come to Andover with a “preparation gap,” Senior year grades are essential for demonstrating their true abilities in some of our most difficult courses. This also holds true for our two-year Seniors (there will be almost 40 next year) who currently are only able to show one year of Andover work. It is especially problematic for our postgraduates (usually around 30) and one-year Seniors who are essentially unable to capitalize on their work at Andover in early decision because we have no grades and only one term’s worth of grades for regular decision.

A final access issue has to do with the subtle changes we have been witnessing for the last few years regarding both financial aid packages and the concept of “demonstrated interest.” The past wisdom and strategy for students requiring financial aid was to wait until regular decision so they could compare their financial packages across several schools. Since the economic uncertainty of 2008, we are seeing many schools allotting more comprehensive packages in the early process. These are students who have “demonstrated interest” in the schools, and the schools still have a solid financial aid budget in the early process. For our financial aid students in regular decision, we’ve seen more admitted students with large “gaps” in the financial aid packaging or students placed on waitlists (normally admitted) because they needed too much aid. Allowing Seniors to show comprehensive fall term grades will allow more financial aid candidates to present stronger credentials and potentially receive better aid packages in the early process.

When the idea of three terms of equal length was put forward this fall, the CCO was excited about the opportunities it would provide for us to better work with our students. We think this model will allow our Seniors to make better informed choices about the next four years of their lives. We also believe it will make many of our Seniors more competitive in the admission process.

Sean Logan is the Director of College Counseling.