Secondary School Placement
A Look at Princeton Academy’s Secondary School Placement Process:
What does the secondary school placement process look like at Princeton Academy?
First and foremost, this process is about finding the right fit for the next four years of our graduates’ lives. We begin the placement conversation and process in the spring of seventh grade with an informational evening together in mid-April. After a brief presentation and discussion, with an emphasis on staying open to all the possibilities, our seventh grade families walk over and attend a gathering of admission representatives from all local secondary schools and some boarding schools in the McPherson Athletic and Convocation Center (MACC) on campus. Four years strong, Princeton Academy’s Secondary School Fair has become a staple for our students and parents. We follow this with a practice SSAT in May, which provides valuable data points with plenty of time to address any issues. Parents are invited to come in and meet with me to discuss initial ideas of an application list, as well as grades and scores, setting our boys up for a productive and interesting summer before eighth grade.
In September of eighth grade, I meet with the boys during selected Life Skills sections, and I invite the parents in for an in-depth look at the process from September through April. During the months that follow, our families hit the road and visit schools for open houses and formal tours/interviews. The boys prepare for the latter by way of our annual mock interview day, affectionately known as Mockbrook Academy, where the eighth grade is given the opportunity to practice interviewing skills in a dress-rehearsal type setting. Wearing their Academy ties and blazers, each boy has three interviews that day with various faculty and staff on campus. The mock interviews are a way for the boys to become comfortable talking about themselves in an interview setting. Students are given honest feedback about how they present themselves, and the boys report back that after this experience they feel prepared and confident for this important aspect of their application process.
Each family has a unique experience of this process, and my job becomes a twofold endeavor. First, the role of the placement director is to make sure that all of the essential, nitty gritty details are taken care of. For example, I manage and monitor all recommendations and make sure they are submitted on time. Second, and this is perhaps most important in my perspective, I want to make sure that our students are learning all that they can by way of this exciting opportunity to evaluate themselves as students and citizens approaching each of the schools they are considering. The direct result, other than finding the right fit for the next four years, is that our boys have a chance to really consider what it is about school that they enjoy most, what inspires them and what is important about their school community.
What is the best piece of advice you could offer parents? Students?
The best two pieces of advice would be the same for both students and parents:
1. Try to stay open to all the possibilities
2. Communicate as a family and with the Secondary School Placement Office often
The search for the right fit for secondary school can be a winding road at times. The educational opportunity described above hinges upon the open, willing participation of students, parents and the placement office. There are, of course, some nervous moments here and there; however, if we all stay on the same page throughout the whole process, the path will reveal itself to all of us. It may seem corny or over the top, but it’s true! The high school search process in itself is a journey of individual self-discovery and reflection at a time the boys are most ready for it. The boys take a great deal of pride in their applications and finding the right fit.
How do you measure successful outcomes? And how does the mission of Princeton Academy and our Sacred Heart Goals work its way into the secondary school process?
I measure the success of our placement process by way of what I see when I visit all of the schools where our graduates attend, and through anecdotes that come my way about Princeton Academy boys. When a graduate has found the right fit, and I can honestly say that the overwhelming majority (almost all, really) do, he is in a community where he thrives and can continue to apply the Sacred Heart Goals, Criteria and our mission to his experience of not only secondary school, but beyond into college and his work life. So, it is not a matter of our numbers and statistics - we are not invested in a certain number of boys at “School X, Y, or Z.” It is what our graduates achieve over their next four years and beyond that marks our success.
The result of all our hard work together is that our eighth graders are arriving to admission offices as “Academy boys,” who have, in their corner, a long line of previous applicants. They enter the process with the advantage of being grouped with the amazing young gentlemen associated with Princeton Academy.
What percentage of eighth graders matriculate to independent day schools, boarding schools and public schools?
Typically, we see about a third of the class considering one or more boarding schools at a distance, and the rest are applying locally. However, of the five boarding schools in New Jersey, four of them are located right here in the Princeton area, so our boys are applying as day students. Of the third that applies to schools outside driving distance, I would approximate that more than half end up matriculating at a boarding school. We always have a number of families considering the wonderful public options in this area as well, often held in consideration alongside the independent schools throughout the process. The number matriculating to public high schools varies from year-to-year, but we always have at least one student planning on it.
Do students explore secondary schools outside of the Princeton area?
Absolutely! I typically see about a third to a half of an eighth grade class interested in visiting boarding schools. Of those, on average about a quarter of a class ends up attending a boarding school. I should also mention that the majority of the local schools that our boys visit and attend as day students are also boarding schools, so I often recommend that our families consider that fact when beginning the process.
How often do you hear from alumni? What is your most memorable impromptu meeting with alumni off campus?
I love to hear from our alums! I hear from them quite frequently, but I would always like to hear more and more often. We do have alums come back to campus often and this past Thanksgiving we had over 60 alumni attend our annual HAWKBowl event. Two great memories come to mind. The first was this past fall when I attended Hun/Peddie day one blustery Saturday afternoon. Within about ten minutes of my arrival, I had been approached (they run right up to me!) by at least ten of our graduates, from soccer players of every level to a student body president. I left the day feeling connected to all of these great guys, who are actively making positive contributions to their next community, while still lovingly tied to Princeton Academy. The second impromptu meeting occurred recently when Headmaster Rik Dugan and I traveled to Lawrenceville to discuss our current applicants. Greeting us at the door, we found four PASH alums (three sophomores and a junior) with big smiles on their faces. After our meeting, walking back to the car, we bumped into three more (two freshmen and a senior) on their way between classes. I wondered how many more we might have seen if we just stayed put! It is truly a joy to keep up with our graduates.
Princeton Academy firmly believes that the most important factor to consider when selecting a secondary school is the fit between the student and the school. Consequently, our placement process is built upon the premise that it is just as important to know oneself as it is to know about potential secondary schools. Just as students each have unique interests, abilities and goals; schools have unique missions, histories and cultures.
As their seventh grade year progresses, students begin to discuss prospective schools and consider what is most important to them. Through guidance from the director of secondary school placement, students begin to contemplate issues such as boarding vs. day, all boys vs. coed, and religiously affiliated vs. non-sectarian. A parent orientation is held in the spring to provide information to parents regarding what to expect during this process. Parents are encouraged to participate in this process as much as possible and are invited to meet with director of secondary school placement to discuss possible secondary school options.
In the eighth grade, students meet individually with the director of secondary school placement to discuss their experiences while visiting schools. In addition, weekly group discussion occurs during Life Skills in eighth grade, when students can share their experiences, work on applications and practice interview techniques. Through continued discussion, students are able to decide upon the schools to which they would like to apply. Students receive various forms of help with this process, ranging from mock interviews to help with application essays. In general, most applications are completed by mid-January and students learn of their acceptance by mid-March. At that time, students again meet with the director of secondary school placement to discuss the various options they now have and make their decisions by mid-April.