There’s no question that this year was a unique one for Brookwood, and the secondary school process was certainly no exception. In addition to adapting to a new schedule, cohorts, deep dives, social distancing, and mask-wearing, our eighth graders and their families were faced with the prospect of applying to secondary schools in a year where the pandemic called all the shots.
The Class of 2021 had to consider secondary schools in a manner unprecedented in our industry. Families were not allowed to visit campuses in person, all interviews were conducted over Zoom, and most communication with schools was virtual which compromised their ability to learn firsthand about the communities and cultures of the schools they were considering. In addition to these changes, the Class of 2021 faced unanticipated competition at schools due to the waiving of the SSAT requirement and deferred enrollment from students who were accepted the prior year but chose to wait a year to enroll. Without the SSAT and without a need to visit a campus to apply, applications to independent schools were made significantly easier, thus many boarding schools in the New England region reported record numbers of applications while having smaller numbers of available spots. Needless to say, the pandemic created conditions that challenged our students unlike any prior year, yet they found ways to overcome and gain entry to an impressive collection of schools throughout the region.
Despite all of the changes brought about by the pandemic, Brookwood families still found ways to navigate the search process allowing them to learn about schools and overcome these suboptimal circumstances. For starters, with campuses closed to outsiders, families were asked to attend multiple webinars, virtual open houses, and countless information sessions. In some cases, families were attending two to three events in the evenings each week, adding to already demanding work and academic schedules. It’s also important to note that since all interviews were conducted online, students had to pivot and prepare to interact with a total stranger in a highly impersonal setting often from the shoulders up. Lastly, students were only able to access coaches, teachers, and students at the schools to which they were applying via email or Zoom meetings, thus these interactions were less personal and far less informative. It was through these altered and limited interactions that families were forced to make these incredibly important and difficult decisions about life after Brookwood.
And then there was the SSAT. Most schools waited until the middle of the fall to declare the test as optional for applications, thus test prep was already fully underway for most students by the time we learned that it wasn’t essential to apply. The SSAT also couldn’t be offered in its typical form at public, local test sites, thus many families were forced to try the newly introduced SSAT-at-Home which was rife with technical complications and frustrating delays. While several families chose to forego the test this year, many others stuck with it, continued test prep, and took the test either at Brookwood or at other less convenient venues. Needless to say, the SSAT presented more obstacles than usual, yet our students persevered and managed these inconveniences with poise and patience.
Cathy and I also adjusted our approach to assisting families through this process. Our counsel and knowledge of the schools were never more in demand than it was this year as families actively sought our advice regarding that which they were unable to see or experience first hand at these schools. We offered additional informational webinars, individual Zoom meetings, and we utilized the Secondary School Database more readily to help families navigate the added complexities of this cycle.
Despite all of these obstacles, the Class of 2021 continued to manage this process with the same flexibility, poise, and dedication that they applied to their work at Brookwood this year.
Even though spots at schools were harder to come by, Brookwood applicants continued to rise above the crowd and obtain acceptances at the same complement of schools that welcomed Brookwood graduates in prior years. Most impressive were the financial award needs met by Brookwood students in a year where competition for these funds was greater than ever due to the increase in applications regionwide. Brookwood had four students as finalists for Pingree’s prestigious Pingree Scholar Award, and several other students were offered generous awards to attend the top schools in the region.
Covid has dealt all of us some curveballs this year, and the secondary school process was no exception. Identifying the right school, whether it be independent or public, that will help build upon the solid foundation that the Brookwood experience offers is a top priority for families in their final year at Brookwood. It’s a credit to this class that they were able to not only navigate the changes to their school environment, they also adapted to an extra challenging secondary school year. The same character, courage, and adaptability that helped them find success this year at Brookwood helped make this complex year a huge success.
We’re all incredibly proud of the achievements of the Class of 2021, and the secondary school process played a huge role. Congratulations to our soon-to-be graduates for tackling this challenging year with such positivity and grace.