Boarding schools nationwide deal with shift in admissions process


Media: Izzy Feldman ’21

Prospective students are still able to tour the school in person despite the challenges that COVID-19 has presented. Photo By Izzy Feldman ’21

COVID-19 has impacted the admissions prospects for boarding schools,  with some schools being affected more severely than others. However, frustration over online school might lead to an uptick in interest in The Hill School’s admissions as Hill distinguishes itself as one of the only schools that offer both in-person learning and welcome prospective families on campus. 

“Private schools are more or less impacted on different levels. Some top-tier schools may be less impacted than others, but the whole picture doesn’t seem rosy,” said Xi Zhang, the founder of Findingschool, a leading private school research platform. In August, the platform surveyed around 100 private schools in the country in regards to the impact of COVID-19 on the schools’ admissions. Around 60% of the schools reported a decrease in interest level, and around 45% of the schools sensed increasing concerns from prospective families. Concerns over schools’ response to the pandemic and the schools’ affordability are on the top of the list. 

“Some schools had a better job at facilitating students in the pandemic, whether with accommodation or online-learning, and prospective families take this into measurement as well,” Xi Zhang said. 

While the novel coronavirus continues to impact schools across the country, Hill officials seem to be moderately optimistic about the school’s admission prospects. 

“I believe COVID-19 will positively impact boarding school applications because our schools have done a very good job of re-opening and keeping students safe. Parents and students are looking for in-person educational experiences, and boarding schools are leading the pack in that area,” Headmaster Zack Lehman said. 

Hill’s Admission Office has been innovative in order to continue to welcome potential families to visit campus in the midst of COVID-19. Several modifications have been implemented to make the process safe for the school and prospective students. The major differences are campus tours and interviews. In normal years, Hill holds a number of admission events, such as open houses, on campus throughout the year. Prospective students are also strongly recommended to schedule a campus tour and interview with one of the admission officers. This year, a large proportion of tours and interviews will be shifted to online. The school is still offering campus tours, but the tours will only be given outside of the buildings. “The tours will be socially distant,” said Assistant Headmaster for Enrollment Management Tom Eccleston, “and the interviews will be conducted outside.” 

Current students’ role in the admission process this year has undergone a major shift. In the past, Hill students were greatly involved in the process by touring prospective families and pairing with prospective students on revisit days. This year, however, tours are given by a member of the admission team or a volunteer faculty member for safety purposes. 

“Students are the biggest selling points,” Eccleston said. “Not having them meet the families in person is one of the impacts [of COVID-19].” While current students are not to meet prospective students in person, they are to meet them online. This year, the Admission Office has assembled a group of students as student ambassadors who are going to have one-on-one conversations with prospective students via social media. 

Hill is one of the few boarding schools that still offer on-campus tours. Peer schools in the Mid-Atlantic Boarding School Group are all closed for visits due to COVID-19. 

“I’m hopeful that we can get back to some sort of normality, sooner than later,” Eccleston said.