Fresh Take: More New Students
Above: Graph representing the returning:new ratio of high school students from the past 4 years.
Upon entering the Student Center on the first day of school, most Packer Upper School students greeted their friends in a flood of familiar faces and accepted the beginning of a long nine-month journey. For many Freshmen walking through the packed, narrow hallway connecting to the Student Center, however, new faces seemed to emerge everywhere. Usually, the freshman class is comprised of 60 returning students and 35-40 additions; this change enlivens a very close-knit group of kids, many of whom have known each other for most of their lives. This year, however, is the first time in Packer’s history that newcomers comprise the majority of the freshman class.
The shift from the usual 60:40 ratio to 50:48 is simply incidental, and actually serves as a comfort to new freshmen. New freshman Sam Lobue (‘23) noted that while having “at least half the grade returning allows you to be well-integrated as a new student, having a sea of new kids is a good safety.”
Sheila Bogan, Middle and Upper School Admission Director and Director of Financial Aid, labeled the admissions process as fickle. While it isn’t an “exact science,” however, she and her team have been able to come up with precise calculations to predict numbers that drive the admissions process.
Despite its name, high school admissions is not all about incoming students, but also about the number of students who choose to transfer after middle school. By the fall of eighth grade, the admissions team knows who is taking high school entrance exams (SHSAT, SSAT and ISSE), and Karen Zierath, Upper School Registrar, gets requests to send transcripts. This gives Packer an idea of how many ninth grade applicants they can accept before they start looking.
Usually, around 30 eighth grade students are looking to apply out, but as specialized high schools become increasingly difficult to get into, it becomes challenging to predict whether a student will get in, and then whether they will actually go.
Schools’ acceptance deadlines are all different, meaning that the timeline of acceptance is crucial. Kids applying to boarding schools do not find out until March 10th, kids applying to other private schools do not find out until mid-February, and kids applying to specialized public schools do not find out until the beginning of March. This creates a problem because Packer’s re-enrollment contracts go out in the beginning of February, and admissions notifications must be sent mid-February like all the other private schools. Therefore, when admissions staff sends out notifications to new families for ninth grade, they are unsure of how many spots are available.
To aid in coping with this unpredictability, the Admissions Department looks at factors such as siblings’ and parents’ school choices in considering whether a student will actually leave Packer if they get in elsewhere. The Upper School admissions team works with the Middle School deans and Noah Reinhardt, Head of Middle School, to go over each student that has applied out and predict the probability of them leaving.
From year to year, the number of students leaving has been fairly consistent. With a mix of factors such as slightly more students leaving and a smaller grade to begin with, Packer accepted more students than usual for the class of 2023. Additionally, Packer yielded more students than previous years, meaning that more accepted students actually enrolled than was expected. Usually Packer yields around 45-50% of accepted students, but this year the yield was over 50 percent.
Ms. Bogan is avid about this shift in the balance of new versus returning students not being a bad change at all. With Packer being a K-12 school, “Some kids have been here since they were three and they are ready to do something different, and that’s ok.”
There were some specific factors that made the process this year more unpredictable, such as the specialized public schools not accepting students until spring break, which was after Packer families’ contracts were due. Consequently, Packer ended up losing six new kids who had already signed the contract and deposited, and even one family who missed the deadline of cash back, who is paying half of Packer’s tuition to be at another school. Ms. Bogan, though, knew that this might happen, so she “took more kids on the front end to make up for that.”
This is the first time that the numbers have flipped in this way, and while it is too early to predict whether this will become a pattern, it appears that this year’s freshmen are adjusting to this change and enjoying the influx of new students from all over the city.