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Andover Falls Behind Exeter on 2020 Niche School Rankings

S. YANG/The Phillipian

A glance at Niche Reviews between Andover and Exeter.

This year, Andover dropped from first place to third place on Niche’s “2020 Best Private High Schools in America” ranking. While it is currently sitting behind Phillips Exeter Academy in first and St. Mark’s School of Texas in second, Andover held the first place position for the past four years. 

Niche.com analyzes large data sets to assign particular grades to schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. The website then uses these grades to provide its 50 million users with rankings in various categories.

“The 2020 Best Private High Schools ranking is based on rigorous analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education along with test scores, college data, and ratings collected from millions of Niche users. Additional data is also collected from schools directly,” Niche explains on their website. 

According to Niche, the Best Private High School ranking is based 30 percent on composite SAT/ACT scores, 25 percent on top colleges score, 15 percent on college enrollment, 10 percent on culture and diversity, 10 percent on parent/student surveys on overall experience, and 10 percent on the student to teacher ratio. Composite SAT/ACT scores, top colleges, and parent/student surveys are based on self-reports by Niche users. 

Rebecca Dilla, Associate Product Manager and Product Analyst for Niche, worked on the 2020 Best Private High Schools in America ranking project. According to Dilla, movement within the list is normal as schools update their data every year. Dilla believes that schools should not be concerned about small shifts in ranking, as the slight differences between the schools do not typically indicate considerable disparities in quality. 

In an email to The Phillipian, Dilla wrote, “At the very top of the list, the differences between schools are nearly imperceptible. These schools all have excellent test scores and matriculation rates, and much of the class goes on to study at the most elite colleges and universities in the country. Seeing school’s ranking change, especially by only a few places nationally, is not necessarily an indicator that the quality of the school has changed in any truly perceptible way.”

Dilla continued, “Dozens of factors go into a school’s overall ranking, and all schools see changes, positive and negative, in nearly all of them each year. There is no one factor that appears to have caused Andover’s ranking to change. It is simply extremely competitive at the very top of the list; minute changes in the factors for each of the schools can cause a shuffle in the top spots, like we saw this year.” 

Historically, fluctuations in national ranking have not correlated with shifts in Andover’s admit and yield rates, according to Vivien Mallick, Director of Admissions Operations. Mallick has observed that a drop in ranking does not necessarily lead to a change in prospective students’ interest in the school. In 2015, when Andover did not rank first place, the yield rate was still 83 percent, similar to the years where it was ranked first. 

Mallick wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Our admit rate (number of students admitted out of number of students who applied) has fluctuated between 13 and 14 percent for the last 10 years. Similarly, our yield rate (number of students who say yes to our offer of admission) has varied from the high 70s to the low-to-mid 80s over the past 10 years. Andover was rated [first] on Niche.com in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and our yield rates varied from 81 percent to 86 percent in that time.”

According to Mallick, rankings from Niche and similar websites, although they can be helpful, do not provide a complete representation of a school. Mallick said that prospective students and their families will best learn about Andover’s community and culture by visiting for themselves. 

“While we appreciate that some prospective families use rankings and websites for initial research, ultimately students choose Andover because they know they are a great fit for our school. Getting to know a school is an important, thoughtful exploration. Our revisit days are cited as the most important part of the decision-making process. Our current students, as well as our faculty and staff, do a tremendous job of welcoming our newly admitted families over four days every spring and making sure they get a good sense of what it’s like to be part of the Big Blue,” wrote Mallick. 

Currently, Andover holds an overall A+ rating from Niche, individual grades of A+ for  academics, teachers, clubs and activities, and college prep, as well as an A in sports and diversity. According to Linda Carter Griffith, Associate Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness, Andover has and will continue to be an institution that excels in scholastic, athletic, and artistic achievement, as well as a bastion for equity.

“Andover remains an outstanding institution with top notch academics, athletics, arts and residential program with a strong commitment to equity and inclusion,” wrote Griffith in an email to The Phillipian. 

Carolina Weatherall ’21 believes that Andover should not concern itself with its national rankings. Instead, she thinks the school should focus on more concrete issues on campus. 

“Personally, I don’t think that [rankings] should be something that we are worried about or thinking about because we are an amazing school, obviously. I think that in some senses if we are trying to put ourselves out there as though we’re totally the best, it can detract from other areas, which I think would be detrimental. Not being the top-considered school, I don’t think that’s a bad thing because there are many reasons why this could be the case. I feel like Andover is focusing on more things that just being the best on paper,” said Weatherall.