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ExperienceWith Prep Schools?? (Part 2)

post #1 of 46
Thread Starter 
Guys,
Can someone make life decisions based on the recommendations of an on-line community?
I think so. Just to recap, I'm considering sending my daughter to a New England prep school.
Here's what you all said:
-Most of you recommended her boarding (staying at the school vice being a day student - or going home at night).
-Pick a school that fits the childs personality. A big name doesn't always work.
-Prep schools offer some big advantages - the obvious ones being academic and social.
Here was my impression of the four schools I visited:

DEERFIELD - Very polished. Western Massachusetts. They were very prepared for my daughter.
Campus tour with a recent grad (going to Cornell) and then a 30 minute interview with an admissions counselor. After my daughter's interview, I was invited in for a few questions Pretty much the same format for all the schools. Campus was beautiful. Isolated, yet close to Smith College, Williams, UMASS AMherst, etc. Tough curriculum. Close supervision of kids. Enforced dress code. Some of the kids looked like models. BB shirts and rep ties, you know the drill.

CHOATE:
Located in Wallingford, CT. 15 minutes from Yale?? More urban, Several busy roads criss cross the campus so I was a bit concerned. Facilities first rate. Big emphasis on sports. Tour guide was also a recent graduate but inappropriately dressed (skirt way too short for my 14 year old daughter).
Very strong curriculum and lots of extras available for the kids - study abroad, art, etc.
Admissions officer was very prepared and stylishly dressed. Nice guy who asked good questions.

ST GEORGE'S
Located in Newport, RI. OMG. This campus was incredible. Three-sided view of the ocean and Narragansett Bay. Admissions officer himself gave the tour. Enforced dress code. Smaller school - less then 400 kids. Have a custom 65 foot sail boat that takes the kids tothe Bahamas for study sessions year round. Work/study/sail type thing. Really got a feeling of family and togetherness at this school. Not sure where this schools lands on the prestige school but they just seemed totally focused and into theirkids.. Just had a nice feel to it and my daughter loved it. Great presentation. Dining room right outta Harry Potter Hogwarts School yo.

PHILLIPS EXETER.
Located in Exeter , New Hampshire. Tour guide was a 14 yo girl who kept saying 'um'. Drove me up the wall. Was also swinging her Exeter badge around incessantly. At one point I stopped, bought a bottle of water, and made a cell phone call. Honestly, lost interest. Interview was horrible. Interviewee thought I was European. I'm frickin' American,bro - Hockey Town born and bread. Dude seemed disoriented. Facilities impressive but again with the busy streets running through campus. I heard Andover was worse.

Love to hear anything else you all have to add. I just have to add this . Why is it that these schools are slacking on the dress code? If I am dropping 40 large on a school, my kid better be dressed to the nines. Am I just a fuddy duddy? I think this matters and instills a lot of pride in the kids. Remember Pattons 3rd Army with his soldiers wearing tucked-in ties in the heat of California's high-desert. Now that's an education
post #2 of 46
I would just encourage you to visit as many schools as possible, and once you have a tentative list, informally visit them all again. I think you're at a disadvantage (in terms of choosing the right school for your daughter) because you don't have (and won't get, in just a few months) much insight into each school's personality and what kind of kids go there. Keep in mind when you're judging schools based on their tour guides (and I say this as somebody who had to be a tour guide as my 'school service' for two years) - they're 14 or 15 years old. Imagine if it were your daughter, because next year, it very well may be. You can't hold these kids to some ridiculous standard. As regards to your comments on dress, relatively few schools require dress codes. This is mostly a function of coeducation and competitiveness. The coat-and-tie dress code turns off a lot of prospective students, so a lot of schools have abandoned it to attract more students. The best schools haven't had to do that, so they largely remain coat-and-tie (though there are exceptions). With your own dress, I'd advise you to tone it down - your "BB double breasted SC and researched rep tie" smacks of trying too hard. And just for reference, in terms of academics and "prestige", I think (and I'd be surprised if anybody unbiased felt differently) the schools you visited would rank: 1. Exeter 2. Deerfield 3. Choate 4. St. George's
post #3 of 46
Thread Starter 
-Good advice on re-visiting te schools. We will be going again in the fall to see a few different ones.
-One couple had the same experience that we had at Exeter. They (older East coast types) felt that Exeter was losing its edge. Can't say, but first impressions sure are important.
-I don't think I was trying too hard on the dress. That's how I usually dress (sans rep, of course).
But appearance is important to me and honestly the Deerfield kids looked the best.
I guess I'm just having a hard time reconciling this dress code thing. Deerfield really enforces it. So does St. George's. Thanks tj
post #4 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by HEARTLESS-531 View Post
-One couple had the same experience that we had at Exeter. They (older East coast types) felt that Exeter was losing its edge. Can't say, but first impressions sure are important.

Actually, I think this is a broad trend across the boarding school landscape resulting from intense competition for admission to Ivy league colleges. When my father graduated (from the same school I did) everybody in his class went to an Ivy or near-Ivy (Williams, Amherst, etc.). When I graduated, 30 years later, about 40% of my class went to an Ivy, probably 50-60% if you include 'near' Ivies like Duke, Stanford, et. al. Now, about 15 years later, I think Ivy matriculation is down to about 20%. So if you look at it from my father's perspective, the school has 'lost its edge'. Most of us who went to prep school value it for the experience that it was, but don't see it as the best avenue into a top University anymore (see the other thread).

Quote:
Originally Posted by HEARTLESS-531 View Post
-I don't think I was trying too hard on the dress. That's how I usually dress (sans rep, of course).

Just remember that these visits are, in many ways, the equivalent of a job interview. How the parents do in the interview is almost as important as how the child does. Would you wear a double breasted BB jacket to a job interview? The only people IMHO who can pull that off are over the age of 70 or foreign. Reminds me of the scene in Caddyshack where Danny is invited to the yacht club. I know you want to look your best, but for the sake of the process, stick to a conservative suit.
post #5 of 46
Thread Starter 
I looked at the matriculation to different universities from the prep schools. Now it seems as though they are quoting 5 year statistics.For example, they will say, 'in the last 5 years, our graduates have attended these schools'. 13-Harvard, 18-Cornell, etc. I saw a lot attending Bowdoin, Rutgers, Duke, Villanova, and a boat load to Georgetown. So yeah, I think you're right - Ivy attendance is down. But my real goal is that she get a smokin' hot high school education. If she gets into Yale, great. But Michigan, Smith, Amherst, UPENN - they work too.
post #6 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by HEARTLESS-531 View Post
I looked at the matriculation to different universities from the prep schools. Now it seems as though they are quoting 5 year statistics.For example, they will say, 'in the last 5 years, our graduates have attended these schools'. 13-Harvard, 18-Cornell, etc. I saw a lot attending Bowdoin, Rutgers, Duke, Villanova, and a boat load to Georgetown. So yeah, I think you're right - Ivy attendance is down. But my real goal is that she get a smokin' hot high school education. If she gets into Yale, great. But Michigan, Smith, Amherst, UPENN - they work too.

They've quoted them like that for a long time, and it makes sense because it irons out year-to-year factors. When I was in school, the class before me sent a bunch (maybe 10) kids to Yale, and only three or four to Harvard, but my year, we basically reversed that. And there were often oddballs, where in a particular year, a ton of kids might go to Bowdoin or Middlebury, and you don't want that skewing the overall stats. But the 5 year trend gives a pretty reasonable view.

It's definitely the case that schools that we viewed as quasi-safety material (Bowdoin, Georgetown, NYU) are now first-choice schools for a lot of students.
post #7 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by tj100 View Post
I would just encourage you to visit as many schools as possible, and once you have a tentative list, informally visit them all again. I think you're at a disadvantage (in terms of choosing the right school for your daughter) because you don't have (and won't get, in just a few months) much insight into each school's personality and what kind of kids go there.

Keep in mind when you're judging schools based on their tour guides (and I say this as somebody who had to be a tour guide as my 'school service' for two years) - they're 14 or 15 years old. Imagine if it were your daughter, because next year, it very well may be. You can't hold these kids to some ridiculous standard.

As regards to your comments on dress, relatively few schools require dress codes. This is mostly a function of coeducation and competitiveness. The coat-and-tie dress code turns off a lot of prospective students, so a lot of schools have abandoned it to attract more students. The best schools haven't had to do that, so they largely remain coat-and-tie (though there are exceptions). With your own dress, I'd advise you to tone it down - your "BB double breasted SC and researched rep tie" smacks of trying too hard.

And just for reference, in terms of academics and "prestige", I think (and I'd be surprised if anybody unbiased felt differently) the schools you visited would rank:
1. Exeter
2. Deerfield
3. Choate
4. St. George's

agree with this guy on the ranking part.

As to dress code, when I was in my high school they were definitely enforcing it. Basically dress pants/tie/jacket, or at least the pants can't have pockets all over the places, girl's skirt can't be too short, definitely not showing any middle section etc. though again this was 1998.

As to getting into the best college, you would probably actually have a better shot in being the best in a mediocre public school somewhere in the middle of no where. Your kid will do just fine in those school, but remember how many of her peer would want to go to Ivy League, and how many of them are smart/driven, it will take more for her to get into top just because college admission don't like to select everyone from the same school these days (and probably a good thing).

Of all the school you listed, I visited Deerfield and Choate, preferred Deerfield, though didn't get accepted (my English was crap then, probably still is now). I have been to Exter, but was there to compete (swimming), so my impression of that school was, hum, nice swimming pool

I agree with the visiting more part. Another thing is make sure you get some good feedback from your daughter as well, remember it's part of her journey (though you're paying for it I suppose). Small school has its charm, my was definitely small (though they have doubled since I left in 2001), I think it somehow made everyone closer.

p.s. I am sure all prep school emphasis sport these days, just to what degree (i.e. are they coming out with Olympic swimmer, etc.).
post #8 of 46
As a recent graduate of a New England boarding school, I just want to throw in my two cents. Firstly I think you are making the right decision in choosing to send your daughter to boarding school. Far too often these days boarding school is classed as a place where certain types of parents 'ship off' their kids to get them out of the way for a few years. I know this isn't the case with you and you seem to have your daughters best interest at heart.

I loved boarding school. I made some great friends and the occasional enemy, but all in a healthy way In the beginning it was hard moving away from home, certainly when a lot of my friends were going to other schools but you quickly get over all that when you settle into your new school. It just kept getting better from there.

Of course, boarding school isn't for everyone and considering it is such a big lifestyle change it's important to pick the right one. Probably the reason I loved school was because I sort of got involved in everything if that makes sense? Fortunately I'm quite academic so I enjoyed the actual 'learning' element of school for the most part anyway.... Sport is another great thing in boarding school. I played tonnes of sport and it kept me busy. Basically what I'm getting at is to make sure your daughter is going to enjoy being in school. If she is arty/musical/sporty/etc, pick a school that will take that into account too. At the end of the day, there is no point in her waking up every morning and dreading being there.

Above all so called 'prestige' rankings and even academic rankings, ensure that she is going to be happy there. If she enjoys the school, she'll most likely work hard and get the results anyway.
post #9 of 46
Thread Starter 
Thanks for taking the time with those insightful comments. You're right - in the end the kid has to be comfortable with the school, no matter the level of prestige. That's my major take-home from all the guys who have shared their experiences. I am certainly listening!
post #10 of 46
Just going to say that I think evaluating the current students at these schools on the basis of dress and appearance is completely misdirected. This sort of thing just doesn't matter anymore ever since the Ivy League became meritocratic and all the schools worth going to followed suit.

My family has had a similar experience to tj100. If you look at historical admissions rates going back over generations, HYP weren't really difficult to get into if you were from the right slice - things are completely different now and just having prepped at the right school doesn't get you anywhere.

If I were you, I would think about the following:

Caliber of the fellow students overall (and Exeter is in another class here)
Caliber of the academic opportunities available (st. george's is a step down from the others)
Caliber of the extracurricular opportunities available (Exeter is lower because the academics are just so incredibly demanding)

Personally, I do not like the idea of harkness tables but then again we all went to PA so YMMV.

It is very hard to get into HYP from these schools - frankly, I was very concerned on a personal level for many of my classmates who had a pretty unhealthy obsession with this - often to the point where they no longer enjoyed the experience at all.

The social connections she will forge are going to be great at any of these schools but you have to keep in mind that her personal accomplishments are going to be far more important should she make it into a place like Harvard - no one there really cares about the final clubs and things of that nature anymore. Princeton might be the only exception.

To summarize, I think your approach is overwrought and misguided - especially researching what repp to wear. That being said, the experience these schools provide is, by itself, enough of a reason to go if you can afford it.
post #11 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by exaequo View Post
Caliber of the fellow students overall (and Exeter is in another class here) Caliber of the academic opportunities available (st. george's is a step down from the others) Caliber of the extracurricular opportunities available (Exeter is lower because the academics are just so incredibly demanding)
I agree with pretty much everything you said, except that I don't believe that Exeter (or any particular school, in, for arguments' sake, the Ten Schools) is any more or less academically rigorous than the others. I just, fundamentally, don't understand what could be 'more rigorous' about one than the other. Is the curriculum harder? Is the grading tougher? Are the teachers more demanding? Do more kids flunk out? I have this discussion occasionally with my wife, who went to a school that is very proud of its 'academic rigor' - and I still don't understand what they mean by 'rigor' or how they measure it. At a certain point, high school is high school - how much more complicated can it get? Additionally, for the older generation who thinks kids don't learn the right stuff anymore - my 9th grade english syllabus was identical to my father's.
post #12 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by HEARTLESS-531 View Post
At one point I stopped, bought a bottle of water, and made a cell phone call. Honestly, lost interest. Interview was horrible.

Do bear in mind that student guides are usually asked for input on the applicant they're showing around. And if the parents are seen to be a nightmare, sometimes those comments work their way into the file as well.
post #13 of 46
Relevance of any boarding school has decreased dramatically; suspect they are largely refugee camps for kids from ThirdWorld or the kids of the affluent surgeon/cardiologist from Podunk US

Maybe 15+yrs ago in investment banking (not trading) at Goldman, MS, etc would see lots of kids from elite boarding schools...but, even back then, had lots of public HS kids (from middle-income suburbia) who had managed to enter the usual Harvard or Stanford path to GS, etc...and lots of kids from Dalton, HoraceMann, etc

In more recent yrs, traders have dominated pay and status at GS, etc....a more Darwinian, utilitarian culture full of public HS grads who are H/S, etc alums...and where boarding school attire, mannerisms, etc would draw intense ridicule

These days, many traders and hedgies in Manhattan send their kids to the pvt day schools in city, not away to boarding school, possibly explaining the "self-selection" one sees at boarding schools today

And SiliconValley is dominated by wealthy engineers, not literary/lib arts types...nearly all of the top guys are public HS products, sometimes products of state engineering schools like Berkeley or IL...or college dropouts...so, again, not sure boarding school pedigrees will help one's career (even in the sales/mkg sides of tech cos. where the lib arts types and girls get jobs)

Boarding school "polish", table manners, etc may have been useful in '70s or earlier before quant-intense businesses like trading, hedge funds and tech became the most lucrative industries...rather than old-fashioned sales/marketing, corporate law, industrial "senior management", etc, where one's appearance and relationship and presentation skills may be more useful than quant/analytic skills or substance
post #14 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by sw20 View Post
And SiliconValley is dominated by wealthy engineers, not literary/lib arts types...nearly all of the top guys are public HS products, sometimes products of state engineering schools like Berkeley or IL...or college dropouts...so, again, not sure boarding school pedigrees will help one's career (even in the sales/mkg sides of tech cos. where the lib arts types and girls get jobs)
Like Mark Zuckerberg, Exeter '02? Or Reid Hoffman, Putney '85?
post #15 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by sw20 View Post
Relevance of any boarding school has decreased dramatically; suspect they are largely refugee camps for kids from ThirdWorld or the kids of the affluent surgeon/cardiologist from Podunk US

Maybe 15+yrs ago in investment banking (not trading) at Goldman, MS, etc would see lots of kids from elite boarding schools...but, even back then, had lots of public HS kids (from middle-income suburbia) who had managed to enter the usual Harvard or Stanford path to GS, etc...and lots of kids from Dalton, HoraceMann, etc

In more recent yrs, traders have dominated pay and status at GS, etc....a more Darwinian, utilitarian culture full of public HS grads who are H/S, etc alums...and where boarding school attire, mannerisms, etc would draw intense ridicule

And SiliconValley is dominated by wealthy engineers, not literary/lib arts types...nearly all of the top guys are public HS products, sometimes products of state engineering schools like Berkeley or IL...or college dropouts...so, again, not sure boarding school pedigrees will help one's career (even in the sales/mkg sides of tech cos. where the lib arts types and girls get jobs)

otoh, i'm pretty certain that this post, which seems to value purely earnings and wealth as a measure of an education, success, and life, may be exactly what OP seeks to avoid, since he doesn't seem to care as much about college admissions or even relative prestige of one school vis a vis another. certainly, the "polish" that he seeks to instill in his daughter is not solely because he believes that it will help her climb the corporate ladder.

not that there's anything wrong with either your perspective or his--it's just different. an english major at princeton didn't make that choice just so that he could wow his boss by reciting Blake.

you're certainly correct that prep school isn't the golden ticket that it once was--and some parents who view it as such should rightly be discouraged.
fortunately, that doesn't necessarily seem to be OP's POV.

Nonetheless, I'm not sure that just any old mediocre public high school will give your child a better chance at a top school. Not that I totally disagree, but it's not that simple, and one can't make an unequivocal generalization like that. There are some high schools that go years without sending a kid to a single ivy. Heck, some states probably send a handful, at best.
And while it might seem tempting to say "well these kids from Podunk, USA, are generally dumb and unmotivated and without resources, so if my kid tries hard, she'll be one of the handful top students in the state!", it might not be as easy as it seems. Sure, if s/he can stay motivated despite lack of competition, and go above and beyond what "everyone else is doing", not be complacent with being a valedictorian. But that's a tall order for a 14 year old. No matter how much geographic diversity these schools may seek, supply of "top" students from underrepresented areas (whether slums or South Dakota) still greatly outweigh demand.
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