Question on "second tier" schools

<p>(FYI, I don't spend all my time obsessing about boarding schools; I'm just addicted to this forum! :-) )</p>

<p>The prevailing advice on this board is to cast a wide net and to consider the so-called second-tier schools. Those of us new to the boarding school world can be a little hazy on where the line is drawn between the "top" tier and "second" tier. Every school we looked at and a few more that we considered had extraordinary facilities and presumably provides a fine education. However, I think the main reason my son started us on this adventure was that he wanted to go to school among really smart kids who care about learning. I have some concern that a high percentage of students at "second-tier" schools may not fall into that category. </p>

<p>My children spend some time at a private elementary school where most of their fellow students could pay the full tuition and will be heading to private high schools, prestigious boarding schools among them. My kids' opinion (which of course may not be accurate) was that almost no one else in their class cared about learning. They refused to consider applying to the private HS that many of their former classmates will attend (unfortunate because it is a fine school). </p>

<p>So what's your take on this? My kids are by no means geniuses, but they are decidedly "gifted" to use the prevailing term. Their love of learning has taken a lot of dings over the years and survived. Now, I don't have any way to gauge the average intelligence or interest in learning of the students attending any school other than average SSAT scores and the like. So what is the experience like for kids with high-90s SSATs, etc., etc., at schools where the average score is in the 60s or 70s? I know it is good for college choice to be at the top of whatever school, but that is not as important to any of us as the experience of spending high school among other kids who love to learn.</p>

<p>I don't think it matters what "tier" the school is supposedly in. At EVERY school including the acronyms you will have some kids who are there for reasons other than having an intense desire to learn every day I.e., perhaps due to parental expectations. But the majority are there because they want to be. The kids who are super eager earners will naturally end up gravitating to one another. In a couple of the classes my kid sat in on during visits last year, she noticed a kid or two being goofy during class... But it was boys at coed schools, in both cases, likely in an attempt to impress the visiting girls. I think that generally, the kids who really want to go to prep school are usually good independent thinkers and learners. The classes are so small and often discussion based, so kids who really don't want to be there likely won't hang in there for long. There is plenty of collaboration, but the serious students will find their way, together and separately, and won't get blown off course or dragged down by kids who goof off. There is plenty of rigor at the hidden gem schools, and plenty of support for kids who struggle occasionally, as well as for those who want to push their academic limits further. My kid was a mostly A student but with an extremely low SSAT, and she is having a great freshman year. Different kids bring different things to the community. We chose her school over more selective schools that admitted her, because it was the right fit.</p>

<p>Here's what I've seen, since I currently teach at a school like this. The kids in the top (and it's not only one or two) are in classes filled with like-minded individuals. The homework pressure and the level of intellectual rigor is for real. I often smile ruefully inside my head thinking of the way my school would get sneered at by kids on CC as being "not worth it" and "less than ideal" when I'm watching the honors kids work their way through a project, when they are passing on social activities on a Friday night because they are excited to start a school project, or when older kids are discussing books they remember reading in English classes the year or two before with the underclassmen who are encountering the book for the first time. These kids are NOT working in coloring books or filling out worksheets, and they aren't just going through the motions to get good grades. The top kids at a second tier school can and do get into Ivy League colleges as well as a host of top 25 LACs and anywhere else fancy you can imagine, but it's not because those around them are weaker; it's because they have genuine intellectual passion and ability. Here, they can apply to work as tutors, setting up office-hours in our library to help fellow students who struggle with writing, science, or math. (there's plenty of faculty help available too, don't worry, but I think the peer-to-peer system is interesting.) It's a good opportunity for them, and I know a lot of student tutors who have learned a lot through the experience.</p>

<p>As teachers, we need to take jobs based on a huge number of factors; where the job openings in our field are in the year we're applying, where our spouses work, and what the salary and benefits are...I don't doubt that Andover has the finest teachers on earth, but that doesn't mean we're filled with the B-Team rejects. I'm currently on the strongest faculty I've ever been on--and I bet my last day school had higher scores than my current boarding school. The high achieving kids get a lot of attention and interest from the faculty here. We go out of our way to make sure that the extra-capable can soar. </p>

<p>A smart kid at a school like this will have plenty of peers who are motivated and inspiring each other to do well--I do overhear conversations among kids who are used to getting the top marks in every subject laughingly name students who continually best them here. The competition for top honors isn't cut-throat, but the most academic kids here are indistinguishable from top kids anywhere. (What we don't have are rare kid geniuses, who I imagine one can encounter at the top schools.) </p>

<p>Kids here want a wide variety of thing from their lives. Some are really hoping to play D1 sports in college. Some dream of going to large state schools. Some have dreams of serving in the military. Some want only Ivy or top-ranked LACs. And yes, there are kids here who really struggle with school and are not intellectually hungry. But the thing I've seen over and over is that there are a lot of kids who care about school and want to do well among the kids who are not the top students. So even if not every kid on the soccer team on dorm floor is an intellectual powerhouse, (and all teenagers complain about too much work and not enough sleep some of the time) what I see at my school is kids who are interested in doing well and trying hard. For some of them, they are coming from public schools where no one was allowed to care about homework unless they were in honors classes. Here on the Second Tier, I see a lot of kids finally allowing themselves to show passion for school. I wouldn't say there is a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism. There is a lot more discussion of YA fiction than of Proust, but they do read books for fun.</p>

<p>We also offer all the good stuff that every boarding school does--the lessons in independence, the leadership opportunities, the diversity, the chance to stretch and try new things, and the world-class guest speakers, traveling performing groups, etc.</p>

<p>The last time I was on the job market, I got to visit a lot of schools. We say "school" but we're really talking about a collection of administrators, faculty, alumni, traditions, staff and students that form the experience. It's so much more than numbers on a page that I'd wager there are noticeable differences in the intellectual culture at different second tier schools even if they all have the same SSAT averages.</p>

<p>If your kids score in the 90s, I would still look at schools where the average is in the 70s. Not all of them will be a fit, but it's likely that some will. Keep in mind also that the admissions cycle keeps cycling (albeit on a lower speed) throughout the spring and summer. Anecdotes aren't evidence, but I do have a current student who was accepted here summer before her junior year with an almost full scholarship. </p>

<p>Wow, that went long. A quiet afternoon on the dorm here, and I've got time to kill. Twinsmama, I am pulling for you and your kids! </p>

2 Likes

<p>^+1000. @albion: Awesome post! </p>

<p>What i70sband said. A great post from a BS insider...</p>

<p>Some family friends of ours have 2 daughters, one go whom is currently at a "2nd tier" school ( that does get mentioned on these boards), and the other of whom graduated from the same school a few years ago. They chose it because they lived close by, and didn't want the girls to board. Both girls are very good students; the older is now at Amherst College ( her first choice, got in ED). Both girls take almost all honors or AP classes (except when not offered). The parents definitely feel like the girls were challenged and had smart students in their class-- but say many of the other kids in the school are much less committed. Therefore, they end up with the same small group of good students in every class. The older one was totally fine with that; the younger "wishes she'd gone to a better school, just to have more serious kids around her." That's one totally anecdotal story, of course-- it's just one issue to consider.</p>

<p>Thanks, all. @Albion, that was exactly what I needed to know. Thank you for taking the time to post. Yes, the intellectual culture is more important; I don't care what kids' standardized test scores are if they really care about learning and are willing to have their narrow little teenage minds blown open -- and if there are teachers who really care about teaching and who will open the windows for them. Not sure about those metaphors...I probably wouldn't do too well in high school English anymore! But luckily I don't have to write an essay now, just cook dinner.</p>

<p>@twinsmama- Works for me! :)</p>

<p>Ditto - well said. </p>

<p>Tier - for some - is often about status and what looks good. But a "top tier" school is not necessarily where a student will thrive or be happy.</p>

<p>The key to determining the best fit schools is to visit a few. My D and husband narrowed the list to five, we then flew to the East Coast and visited them in one grueling long weekend. It became clear that some schools were a better fit than others even though years ago there was pressure to only apply to those at the top of the food chain. My D has since graduated and found the college adjustment to be easier than those of her peers who remained behind at local schools (public and private). We didn't care about "scores" and prestige. We cared about the passion of the students and teachers we met on the campus. The staff at her school really seemed to like working on campus and with the students. It was clear from the moment we stepped in the door - just from some of the bantering we heard in passing. At another school (her original first choice) the atmosphere was a bit cold, sterile and the students were trying hard to "impress" us on why they were top of the food chain. At the end of the day my D dropped them to the bottom of her list.</p>

<p>So if you can afford it - find a cheap ticket and visit the schools and have an interview. Some choices will begin to emerge as preferable. Although I have to tell you that admission percentages are worse than college. And several of our CC families were hit over a number of years with wait lists and multiple years of applications.</p>

<p>So do your best - but do apply broadly if possible to give yourself options. The odds for any family getting a spot these days (full pay or financial aid) is narrowing.</p>

<p>Kids have different learning styles. Some prefer learning through stiff competition with peers that have stronger academic motivation as found in top schools. There are also people who think second tier schools can provide a better chance for top college once they excel there. Some are more mature at an earlier stage and some are slow starters. </p>

<p>I know one kid with very strong qualification who was accepted to one of the top boarding schools, attended there and quit after one year. He wasn't happy, moved to the second tier school and was early-accepted at HYPSM this year. Another kid I know couldn't go to top school because he was a complete lack of academic motivation. He went to the 'third tier' , suddenly 'woke up', moved to top boarding school last year and is flying there. So, there are many factors. </p>

<p>In general, it is true that thee are higher percentage of the kids with strong academic motivation at top schools. But second tier schools do have such kids for various reasons. College matriculation stats support that. </p>

<p>@Albion - You hit the nail right on the head! Moosieboy could've easily held his own applying to all the "top tier" schools, and as an URM student, he would've probably gotten at least one if not more offers. But it so happened that his DREAM school was a small independent school, which has lower SSAT averages than the top tier schools, and he got in with a VERY generous FA award. It's an academically rigorous school, but it also values balance in all areas of life. Since my son is an athlete, a musician, and is actively involved in Mock Trial, a school which provided a higher academic challenge but allowed little time for the things he enjoys the most would probably break his spirit. My feeling is that fit is much more important than having the "prestige" of going to a top-tier school. If one's desire is to go to (or send your child to, in the case of parents) to a school that will challenge the student to do his or her best, there are plenty of non-acronym schools that will do just that. :)</p>

<p>@ Albion .... Thank you so much for reaffirming my gut feelings when I visited these schools.... After seeing numerous Tier 1 schools , I prayed my son would not get into them and we would have to decide ... As I felt the tier 2 schools were the best fit for him... The AO's did great job in my opinion , as he got into the 2 that were the best fit and wait listed at the others. All of the schools have Tier 1 faculty who really care about teenagers and their lives or they would be in a traditional high school setting not in a boarding school setting.</p>

<p>Agree with all of the above...which leads me to think that your kids would very likely find a community of peers who want to learn at that local private high school. Kids who weren't taking things seriously in junior high often come around when college starts to loom. I went to a mid-sized private Catholic school where most of the kids were not honors students--but I met a core group of fun-loving, serious students who remain solid friends today. You don't need an entire school of overachievers to be happy--just enough serious students to fill most of a class is really enough to change the school experience. </p>

<p>
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You don't need an entire school of overachievers to be happy--just enough serious students to fill most of a class is really enough to change the school experience.

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Agreed. Then I think it depends on what type of kid you are working with. If they themselves are over-achievers, they may seek out those like-minded, but if they need the positive influence of a peer group to become an over-achiever, then the majority or overall quality of the peer group matters. This is actually what's happening in many public schools. Only a fraction of kids are highly motivated there. As a result, many kids stay uninspired and feel satisfied by being one of the "above average". (Note: I am not comparing the "second tier" schools with public schools. I don't know which ones are "second tier" or what they are like. Trying to make a general point here)</p>

<p>@classicalmama, The local private HS I mentioned is actually a boarding school that is occasionally mentioned here. I think it would suit my daughter very well, my son not so much (and he has a bias against it). My husband, who has had a lot of professional contact with the school, doesn't think it is "good enough," but then he was sure our son would get into Exeter... :-) But the main reason we didn't look into it this year was that my son, who was leading the charge, really wanted to board. </p>

<p>My kids test at about the same level, but their brains work very differently and their approach to schoolwork differs on gender-typical lines; my son puts in almost no effort (still gets straight As), and my daughter adds effort that isn't necessarily required for her straight As. I would like to see what happens when my son is actually challenged, and I know he wants that too or he wouldn't have started this whole thing. I know my daughter will find a way to challenge herself no matter what, but she does occasionally lament the lack of serious thought/concerns/interests among her peers. In the ideal situation, their classes would be filled with like-minded students.</p>

<p>Anyway, I'm pretty sure that they hurt each other's chances for admission, just by existing. :-) </p>

<p>Thank you all very much for your comments!</p>

<p>I just read Loomis is second tier! It took me by surprise</p>

<p>Benley: Interesting and good point--my husband calls this the "crabs in a bucket syndrome," and the tendency of mediocre students to pull down the potential achievers is the main reason we started looking a boarding school--the handful of potential achievers were not enough to overcome the inertia of the mediocre students. I suspect there are some students who get this benefit when they are admitted to the "overachiever" prep schools. </p>

<p>I think Twinsmama's son would do well in either environment, provided that the school in question offers enough AP equivalent classes (our local school offered none). The rigor of those high school classes, in most cases, is enough to challenge those kids who sat back and got easy A's in junior high. If we had had a local choice with good rigorous classes, we probably would have been happy to have our kid stay put. As a side note, I wouldn't put most college classes taught in the high school on that level. </p>

<p>My niece graduated from Loomis and is in her second year at an Ivy League school. She has said from the very beginning that Loomis was way more challenging than college. Interesting that Loomis is considered second tier. As our daughter/family contemplates which school she will attend next year, the last criteria we would use is which ones are thought of as 2nd tier, and which ones, 1st tier. </p>

<p>@freshlook: But how could she get into an Ivy...she only went to a "second tier" school.</p>

<p>I am one of the anti-tier advocates here, perhaps to a fault. But I see a whole lot of prospectives for whom that (and the related mirage of "prestige") is indeed an important factor. Not just in selecting a school to attend — but also what schools to apply to.</p>

<p>@SevenDad I'm with you. I've known a handful of ppl who were so concerned about tiers and never gave fit a thought. One family had their child accepted into Trinity (NYC) and after three yrs (at the end of 2nd grade) they ended up pulling their child out. The fit was wrong and their child was miserable. Happy to say, they are very happy many years later at the "lower tiered" school. </p>