Strong Year for Secondary Acceptances Builds Buzz

For the second year running, Shore's secondary school acceptance rate—the percentage of all applications submitted that received acceptances—has remained higher than average, with 66% resulting in a "yes," and only 3% resulting in a denial. "What I'm seeing in these results," says Director of Secondary School Counseling Sander van Otterloo, "is that even the most competitive schools simply find it difficult to say 'no' to Shore kids."

With a larger number of students this year overall in Shore's eighth and ninth grades, those graduating in June 2017 submitted a total of 246 applications to independent secondary schools this season, up nearly 50% from last year's total of 166. Out of this year's total, 162, or 66%, received acceptances.

Given such healthy results, it's not surprising that well over a half of Shore eighth and ninth graders who submitted applications—37 out of 58 students—will be attending a handful of the most respected institutions in the region and in the country, including Phillips Academy, Phillips Exeter Academy, Milton Academy, The Governor's Academy, St. George's School, Brooks School, and Pingree School. At Exeter alone, six Shore applications were accepted, one of the highest numbers our school has ever seen.

All this, marvels van Otterloo, in spite of an admissions picture at independent secondary schools that is only growing more competitive. Rising school costs and increasing need for financial assistance, coupled with the record numbers of applications being received by all top schools, mean that every individual applicant is receiving unprecedented scrutiny. Schools are working harder than ever to balance limited financial assistance budgets with a desire to bring aboard students who've demonstrated the potential to make valuable and diverse contributions on campus.

Still, "schools are developing a particular confidence in Shore graduates," van Otterloo observes. "At a place like Exeter or Milton, time spent around the Harkness table stands out. In our secondary school recommendations, teachers may remark that a student is 'phenomenal around the table,' or they’re 'leaders at the table.' What that means to a secondary school is that a Shore student has spent many hours discussing material in depth, coming up with their own ideas, getting ready to launch into a high school classroom as a leader there, too."
 
Another benefit of time spent around Shore's Harkness tables is that there is nowhere to hide. "Everyone sees everyone else face to face," says van Otterloo. "The end result is that even our quieter students have learned how to be part of a conversation and to be proactive in the classroom about how to get their ideas and their voices heard."

It's not only academics that makes Shore students so desirable in the secondary school world, emphasizes van Otterloo. "This year students with very different talents and interests were accepted at some wonderful schools. It's great to see institutions such as Andover pick up on the broad range of our kids—from music to sports to writing—and understand how special these students are and what they will bring to that school."

"But honestly," van Otterloo continues, "we don't spend a lot of time talking about how many of our kids got into Exeter and Andover. O
ur philosophy is really finding the best fit for every student. To me, that's a school that will challenge the student academically, that will offer them opportunities to pursue their interests, whether it's athletics or the oboe, and that will also allow the student time and space to form friendships, and enjoy being on a beautiful campus with great people."

However, explains van Otterloo, the placement challenge is becoming increasingly complicated, as a growing percentage of families receiving financial assistance—both at Shore and nationwide—apply to elite schools with a yearly pricetag that can nearly double that of Shore's eighth or ninth grade. "One of the big stories this year is that there was a 110% increase in applications to secondary schools among our families on financial assistance," he observes. "And the bottom line is that it's simply more challenging to place financial assistance students. The new reality at secondary schools is that 40% of students are on some form of financial assistance, financial aid dollars are drained more quickly, and the need to rise above the crowd and be a star becomes key." For van Otterloo, however, that's just an opportunity to highlight what's special about each Shore student. "Fortunately, at Shore there’s no shortage of great stories to tell about every single kid," he says. "And as a result, we saw a lot of acceptances with these kids, too."

Family factors beyond finances are increasingly in play, as well. "I talk about balance with kids all the time," van Otterloo says. "But as parents work more and schedules get tighter, the idea of balance is really starting to resonate with the whole family. Shore parents want to find balance not only for their child, but for everyone. They want not only a school where their child can be happy, but also a place that lets them stay connected as parents. It doesn't matter whether the choice is boarding or day school; parents want to stay closer, so they can share in that secondary school experience."

This is one reason the number of Shore students opting for day and "backyard" boarding schools—in northeast Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire—is on the rise. "Families that live on the North Shore have settled here because in many cases their 'compass' points north," observes van Otterloo. "And so it's easy for them to think about making a quick trip to see their child." 

Nonetheless, one of the most popular schools this year for Shore families was in the opposite direction: Milton Academy. "We had 13 students apply to Milton this year," van Otterloo says. "Six were accepted, and five students will enroll there in the fall. That's a marked contrast with the last few years, when we've seen just one or two students enroll. There’s energy around Milton within our community right now," van Otterloo suggests. "I think families recognize that it has a bit of a Shore-like feel to it: there's plenty of rigor and tradition, but you also see great new ideas. It’s a good fit for a lot of Shore families at the moment." Among them are the families of three Shore ninth graders who are heading to Milton. 

"Our placement at the ninth grade level was very strong this year," van Otterloo notes, "including for the handful of new students who joined us just this year for ninth. They've chosen a really interesting mix of schools, too—from the likes of Andover and Milton to parochial day schools and everything in between. It’s nice to see a very diverse group of kids being able to find the right home, whatever that may be."

Reflecting on the uptick in the ninth grade class's size this year—a trend that will continue in 2017-2018—van Otterloo says, "I feel like the buzz about Shore’s ninth grade program—both within the school and outside of it—is very real. It's about how coveted our ninth grade graduates have become. It's the fact that a new student can arrive at Shore, bringing something new to the school and injecting fresh energy into a class that’s been together for years, and do really well from the placement perspective. It's about great institutions that seem to be developing a real sense that the moment Shore kids arrive on campus, they're going to bring a lot of good things with them."
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    • Phillips Exeter Academy

    • Sander van Otterloo with eighth grade students

    • Pingree School

    • Brooks School

    • Milton Academy

    • Phillips Academy

    • School choices, 2017; right-click to view in new window.