St. Paul’s School Dean of Admission Scott Bohan ’94 had a good sense of what to expect heading into the 2020-21 admission season.
“We heard of it nationally and definitely saw it here,” notes Bohan of the heightened interest in independent schools. “Our inquiries, interviews, and other numbers were up, some as much as 20 percent.”
Even with increasing national appetite for independent school enrollment in the wake of the pandemic’s impact on public education, St. Paul’s School clearly demonstrated to prospective families its core values and commitment to residential learning over the past year. To ensure accessibility for all applicants, SPS was the first of the Eight Schools to make testing optional. The School also waived its application fees.
Thanks to a community-wide effort to adapt the boarding school experience to accommodate COVID-19 safety protocols, St. Paul’s was also able to offer in-person classes for most of the academic year. Prospective families saw a resilient community living its mission and continuing forward with a commitment to residential life and academic excellence. Those families also came from a greater number of places than ever before, as virtual visits erased the geographic constraints of traditional travel schedules.
“We generally only travel to major cities, so those residents, or people within driving distance, could hear our presentations,” notes Bohan. “This year, it didn’t matter where you were, or when you had time.”
The School received 1,744 applications from 47 states and 72 countries, up from 53 countries last year. Bohan and his colleagues conducted just shy of 1,800 interviews.
“The hardest part was to balance the excitement of all this new interest with the anxiety that many of these families have never seen this place,” Bohan admits. “We were left to wonder, ‘Are they really going to come?’ ”
Decisions were sent out on March 10 and, in an effort to encourage accepted students to “Say Yes to SPS,” virtual events launched shortly thereafter and provided opportunities for families to connect with administrators, deans, faculty members, coaches, and current students.
“In addition to the School’s incredible resources, the kids and the families are coming here for the people,” Bohan says. “We really wanted to get our people in front of the accepted students, and I think that resonated with families who were looking to get to know this place.”
The efforts of the SPS community were reflected in the final numbers: 153 new students across the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Forms are enrolled for the 2021-22 academic year, with the yield at 72 percent. SPS will welcome 75 new students who identify as “non-white,” a nearly 20 percent increase from 2020. Forty percent of students will receive some form of financial aid in 2021-22, a number that has remained consistent in recent years.
With the work of onboarding new students and their families underway, Bohan and his team are left to ponder how the COVID pandemic has ultimately shaped the future. Does increased interest and virtual engagement represent a new trend in independent school admissions?
“I’m sure we’ll return to the world of revisits, which is something our current students love,” Bohan says, “but there’s also no way we’re moving away from this Zoom outreach. It’s amazingly accessible to families, and creates a wealth of information and connection that wouldn’t exist otherwise.”