I'm an Andover faculty member & serve as an admissions reader. Ask me anything

I have been working at Phillips Academy Andover for five years and have served in various capacities. One role that I fill that I thought you might be interested in is my work with the admissions office – I interview candidates & I read almost one-hundred applications a year and rate the applicants for admission. In turn, as a classroom teacher, coach, advisor, and dorm parent, I know the type of student that ends up at Andover. I’m also close with the faculty and certain members of the administration and could answer questions about the school’s inner workings & where the school is headed.

I don’t have a particularly high opinion of the institution.

What are the things that you typically look for in an Andover applicant?

The Andover applicant pool is extremely competitive, so the school is able to put emphasis on somewhat fringe qualifications as it designs its freshman class. This makes it difficult to describe what we look for, since we basically can find someone who’s extremely qualified academically who also happens to be a great basketball player or oboist or whatever niche demand we’re trying to fill.

If this were a school like Kent or Pomfret, we could implement a policy that any applicant with an SSAT above the 90th percentile will be accepted. At Andover, we can’t do that with any metric. Admitting every student with a score at the 99th percentile would lead to way too many acceptances.

So, what do we look for? Well, race, geographic diversity, legacy, and athletic ability are extremely important to admissions decisions. At least 10% of the student body has parents that went to Andover, maybe as high as 20%, which isn’t true of the applicant pool, so it’s obvious that legacy status is given tremendous weight in the admissions process. Athletes are rated by coaches on a 1-6 scale, and 6-rated athletes are given a serious edge in admissions, especially for niche sports like lacrosse and field hockey. A six rating means immediate varsity starter with potential to be recruited to a DI school, perhaps with a DI offer already in place.

Race and geographic considerations also go a long way. Asian applicants or applicants from NYC with perfect GPAs and SSAT scores at the 99th percentile are extremely common, but that isn’t true for black students or students from Wyoming (or students from poorer neighboring towns like Lawrence), and the school places tremendous value on representing communities beyond NYC or Beijing in the student body. Applicants who have serious accolades from major national or international competitions also receive more serious consideration in the process. Like, if you’re a musician who has performed at Carnegie hall, or you’ve been recognized by congress for something you’ve invented.

Beyond that, it’s basically a lottery system. If you have perfect academics, sterling recommendations, and a handful of good but non-hooked extracurriculars, you’re competing with an enormous body of applicants who you’re basically interchangeable with. Maybe a reader like myself will really love your essay, or your interviewer will emphasize an aspect of your character that makes you seem “kind” or unique and talk you up in their report. But there’s certainly no formula.

Assuming you’re not in the “hooked” classes (athletes, legacy, diversity categories, hooked artist, etc), here’s what would immediately take you out of the running:

  • Anything less than amazing references and straight As.
  • Any sort of disciplinary record.
  • An essay with obvious typos or shallow content. Andover values essays that demonstrate you’re unique/kind/accepting of all identities, we don’t care about how much you like reading or baking.
  • Any evidence that you aren’t committed to antiracism and other DEI initiatives
  • Alarmingly low SSAT scores or a very low score in a specific topic. SSAT actually isn’t given that much weight, unless you’re way below average in the applicant pool (like, below the 75th percentile or way low in a given category). We are directed to read SSAT scores last as we make our evaluation, as they’re considered strictly supplemental information.

Wow! Thank you so much for the detailed response! I had one more question: what do interviews reveal about an applicant that is not shown on his application? From an outsider standpoint, it seems very easy to sound and look nice, especially during an online interview, where the interviewer can’t even go off the student’s body language.

The interview is a chance for the student to prove that on top of being extremely impressive academically, they also have character, kindness, and are articulate.

In the reading process, the interview is often a tie-breaker or a source of red flags, moreso than a source of evidence that an applicant absolutely should be admitted. The positive interview reports usually emphasize qualities like kindness and maturity, or the ability to offer deeper insights about why the applicant is so good at math or cares so much about community service. Certain interviewers will also use the interview to share the student’s unique family structure.

In my experience, though, the interview is more of a way of catching concerning characteristics rather than identifying students who should definitely be admitted. Like, if a student says something insensitive or shows no passion for the thing they wrote all their essays about… this could lower their rating in the reading process. But being very articulate and mature and kind won’t necessarily result in a higher rating by the application reader.


Why don’t you have a particularly high opinion of the institution?


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Andover does great things for most of its students and I have wonderful colleagues. Still, compared to other schools that I’ve taught at, I feel that Andover isn’t as innovative, and simultaneously can’t really agree on the way it should be doing things (this was clearer than ever in this past year). It strikes me as largely coasting off of its prestige and enormous financial resources. It’s extremely large and, perhaps as a result of this, the faculty can’t agree on much; really basic aspects of the school’s program (grading, discipline protocols, schedule) are constantly debated and in flux - there isn’t really a core set of principles that everyone is aligned with, leading to instability and circular debates in the school from year-to-year, which prevents us from innovating in meaningful, big-picture ways. Smaller schools seem to have more of a drive to prove their worth, and often succeed, while Andover’s value seems to mostly come from its name recognition and ability to spend tons of money. I could write more but I doubt my grievances are original or surprising. This is just my perspective, and I think it’s ultimately a great place to be a student or teacher, but I feel it’s not realizing its potential.

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Are you willing to share your thoughts regarding any other well known boarding schools ?

If you were to enroll your children / child in boarding school in the US, which schools would you consider and why ?

Did you attend boarding school as a student ?

Could you share what you think the school should do better?

I would send my kid to Andover if they were prepared to be peers with some of the most intense students in the world. Intense not just academically, but in all aspects of their identity.

There’s plenty of amazing boarding schools. The rankings you see online would do a good job identifying the schools that I also have a high opinion of. This mostly correlates with endowment size.

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“This mostly correlates with endowment size.” = You are preaching to the choir ! The same holds true for college & university rankings regarding rankings & size of institution’s endowment.

The first response is amazing. Bookmarked it.

I also had a question about students who were put on the Waitlist at Andover. What suggestions or advice would you give to these students?

We have been overenrolled the past few years. In other words, we haven’t even considered using the waitlist since so many students are claiming spots in the first round of decisions. I don’t have any insights about how waitlist decisions would go down; it’s hard to predict decisions in the regular cycle, so waitlist is probably done with a Oujia board approach or something.

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Is the acceptance rate for incoming sophomores significantly lower than that of incoming freshmen?

Does Andover take into consideration the difficulty of classes in other countries?

If an applicant’s sibling is a current Andover student, how big is the advantage, suppose he/she has the similar profile as the sibling?
What if the sibling is at another comparable school, would Andover consider the yield rate to put the applicant at a lower priority?

Closing thread pending verification. According to AMA rules on CC, this kind of AMA must be verified. Thanks everyone!

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