With 303 students including Post-graduates (PGs) and one-year Seniors, the Class of 2020 is the second-smallest Senior class since Andover merged with Abbot Academy in 1973. At the release of the 2019-2020 Directory, there were 305 students in the Class of 2020, but two more students have since left the Class of 2020. The Class of 2010 was the smallest since the merger at 296 students, also including PGs and one-year Seniors.
Beginning with 220 students in their Junior year, the Class of 2020 grew to 292 in their Lower year. Despite gaining 14 new Uppers, the class stayed at 292 because 14 students had left. Another 13 students left the following year: the class grew to a net total of 305, even with the addition of 26 PGs and one-year Seniors.
Since its Junior year, the Class of 2020 has grown by only 85 students. By comparison, the Class of 2010 started with 203 students and grew by 93 students by its Senior year, according to the Directory population and the Registrar.
Rajesh Mundra, Dean of Studies, believes that the small class size of the current Seniors is an anomaly. According to Mundra, he attributed the size of the Senior class to admissions reasons and the school “cap” on a student body of 1150 students.
“I just want to emphasize that I believe this to be an anomaly. I think it’s an interesting story that the Senior class is smaller, and I am not sure that there is much more to the size of the Senior class beyond admissions and how we have over-admitted students in lower grades and we have a cap a number of 1150 students, and so that has put a squeeze on this Senior class,” said Mundra.
According to Jill Thompson, Interim Head of Admissions and Financial Aid, over-enrollment is a factor when considering admission to new students.
However, Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, attributes the small class size to a rise in students and their families opting to go on leave, sometimes entering a different class when they return. According to Elliott, this “reclassifying” process began around the 2016-2017 school year, when the Class of 2020 was in its Junior year.
“I think more and more students are electing to go and leave when they don’t feel well. I think that that is true and families are electing to take that option. In some cases, they are reclassifying. I don’t think there’s been any shift in terms of our discipline policies that is suggesting more and more students are leaving because of discipline,” said Elliott.
According to Elliott, Andover’s awareness about mental well-being and mental health has increased over the years. She emphasized that, despite efforts by the school to destigmatize mental illness, attending Andover while struggling with mental illness can be extremely difficult to cope with.
“I hope we are destigmatizing help-seeking and acknowledging to students and families that Andover is [a] really hard place to be when you don’t feel [mentally] well. And then it’s a really hard place to be what you need to do some work on your health and wellness. And so taking some time to step away and really concentrate on those efforts and coming back has been a path that many of our kids and families have elected to take too, and we don’t want to ever stand in the way of a student’s health and well-being,” said Elliott.
Ash Cohan ’20, one of three class representatives for 2020, believes that the Class of 2020 is smaller because many students have struggled with mental health, and some have elected to leave. In the 2019 State of the Academy (SOTA), 17.39% of students in the Class of 2020 reported having been diagnosed with depression, 21.62% with anxiety, and 16.37% with an eating disorder. 25.56% of the Class of 2020 consider themselves unhappy at Andover.
“Andover provides a lot of really intense stressors, and I think that it just so happened that the students of 2020 were, for whatever reason, prior to Andover or by coming to Andover, really sort of mentally ill. And I think that for all of its benefits and faults, [the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center] treats the symptoms, not the problem. A lot of my friends have left due to mental health reasons, and if not for mental health reasons, sort of from acting out as the result of mental health problems,” said Cohan.
“I think that there are a lot of people who I’m currently friends with who are exhibiting very clear signs that they’re really struggling. And every time I try and talk to them, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that no matter who they reach out to, they’re not going to get the help that they need,” said Cohan.
According to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology[a], the number of 12-17 year olds suffering from major depression between 2005 and 2017 rose from 8.7 percent to 13.2 percent, or a total increase of nearly 52 percent. This national trend of students struggling with mental health problems contributed to Andover’s increased focus on developing skills and providing resources in order to help students, according to Elliott. Although the faculty sense they are giving the same amount of work, the growth of social media and external pressures, such as the increasingly competitive college admissions process, could have an effect on students, according to Elliott.
“[We are] trying to understand why it is that adolescents are struggling as a cohort more right now. There’s lots of speculation around social media, around the smartphone and how that impacts students’ well-being, their ability to mono task, their ability to really focus and pay attention, their ability to shut off the rest of the world and take care of themselves,” said Elliott.
According to Hanna Wu ’20, Co-President of Flagstaff Cluster, many students from the Class of 2020 have left for a variety of reasons, including being asked to withdraw from the school and personal health. Wu also believes that there is a stigma around taking a leave or withdrawing from Andover.
“For kids who leave the school, there’s a little bit of a stigma around it. My French teacher was telling me about how when people leave, a lot of people talk about them in the past tense. For example, my French teacher was saying, ‘Oh, he was so smart. He’s such a good kid.’ But he used the past tense, even though he’s still alive,” said Wu.