Michael Gary is Director of Admissions at Phillips Exeter Academy. He received a B.A. degree from Trinity College (Hartford, CT) and an Ed. M. from Harvard University (Cambridge, MA). Before joining Phillips Exeter, Mr. Gary served as Director of Admissions at The Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ, where he also taught Economics. Prior to that he served as Associate Director of Admissions and Director of Multicultural Affairs at Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT where he also taught and coached. In addition to director of admissions, Mr. Gary is on the Board of Trustees at Pomfret School, on the Board of Fellows at Trinity College and on the Board of SSATB. He is a former board member of TABS. Mr. Gary is the founder of Inner City Lacrosse, an organization bringing lacrosse to inner city children through collegiate player-mentors.
Now that April 10th has past, I am wading through reply forms to find out the reasons families who I knew for sure were coming to Exeter after our revisit days are not. We could not have put on a better student panel, lunch menu, or presentations from teaching colleagues. Our principal had the families captivated and laughing hysterically during his opening remarks. A director couldn’t dream of a better way to get the day started. As the replies are tallied the number one reason given by students as to why they chose another school is because of the advice I give them during my closing remarks.
Research shows parents leave it to their kids to make the final decision as to where to attend secondary school. Knowing this, I am careful about not crossing the line of pressuring impressionable adolescents to choose my school. The educator in me wants to help kids come to their own thoughtful decision through attending classes and meeting their potential future classmates, to help them see themselves in our school community. During my closing remarks, I make a point to share a piece of advice that has served me well in my life when making an important decision. I encourage the admitted scholars to trust their gut. I am a firm believer that my gut knows the answer before my head can figure it out.
On revisit day surveys, families always score my closing remarks high. In fact, some of the written comments from some parents make me sound like the best director in the admissions business because of the piece of advice I give. What’s daunting, however, is that students who I knew for sure were coming to my school ended up choosing another school because that school felt better to them. To add insult to injury, they usually quote me on the reply form when answering the question “Why not Exeter?” A colleague in my office said to me recently, “Michael, why don’t you do an experiment and not give that piece of advice.” Ouch.
Reflecting on whether I am hurting my yield or really helping impressionable young people to thoughtfully weigh their wonderful school options, I am comforted first to know they listen to my advice and that those who select my school are doing so because it feels right as much as it satisfies their academic appetite. Admitted applicants are not only selecting a school but a community, and they should feel every bit as comfortable where they end up attending. As an educator, I believe I have a responsibility to help in finding that most comfortable place, more so than boosting my yield.
But, I also understand why my colleague said what he said. We put an enormous amount of time and money carefully planning multiple revisit days so families will choose us. Revisit days require a lot of work. This makes me wonder whether we should have them at all. Apparently, other directors are thinking the same. A colleague sent an email during the week of revisit days telling how the San Francisco private schools came to an agreement to hold a limited number of revisit days. What I think is ideal is to incentivize families to deposit early and invite them to a post April 10 orientation day, leaving revisit days for families that are truly undecided so we can give them our undivided attention and help them make the most informed decision. If this were the case, revisit days would be fewer, cost less, and be more meaningful.