What You Need to Know: 2020 Trends in Admissions and Education

Dear Friends of McMillan Education,

As January of this new decade has come to a close, Sarah and I and our entire team wanted to take a moment to wish you a 2020 – and decade – filled with educational opportunities that allow your children to grow and thrive as caring and curious citizens of the world. We look forward to contributing to that growth, starting here by advising you on critical educational trends, and by providing you with a synthesis of our college, school and therapeutic program counseling work in 2019.

Let’s start with the College Admissions world. In 2019, the dozen of us here had the privilege of guiding 178 college-bound students from across the US and around the world who will be heading off to over 100 different colleges and universities this fall. In the ever-changing college admissions landscape, we are planning ahead for three big developments that will affect the coming admission cycles: 1) The Department of Justice has recently ruled to allow colleges to continue to recruit students AFTER they have been accepted and committed to a college, either as regular or early decision applicants. We are anticipating that students will experience some level of confusion and pressure to change their minds, but we will encourage students to trust their informed decisions and honor their commitments. We predict colleges will increase their post-acceptance deposits from hundreds to thousands of dollars, consistent with current boarding school practices, in order to dissuade students from shopping around; 2) The University of California system is considering abandoning ACT and SAT tests as application requirements, giving the already burgeoning test optional movement more momentum. This shift confirms what we already see as the most critical factors in our students’ search for the right fit: classroom excellence, extracurricular engagement, and authentic essays. Here are Amy’s and Susanna’s takes on the recent testing upheaval; 3) We see colleges – whether they acknowledge it or not – caring more about “demonstrated interest,” validating our emphasis on our students engaging with their admission reps in meaningful ways and getting onto campuses. For an inside look on colleges’ admissions practices, take a look at our most read college blog of 2019, about what goes on in “an admissions war room.”

Don, Amy, Kim, Jamie and Susanna outside of Holy Cross Admissions

In the 2020s, we predict that the number of college students choosing to transfer will continue to increase in record numbers. Our expertise in the unique features of college transfer work has been responsive to this burgeoning trend that has been fueled by: 1) the lack of college ready skills our adolescents are bringing to college campuses from high school; 2) the growing emotional challenges facing our adolescents and young adults that quickly surface in their new, less-structured college environments; 3) students who decide to transfer because of a lack of effective college counseling in their first try to find the best college fit. Our transfer experts spent a great deal of time in 2019 mastering the new Common Application Transfer Application in order to best serve this growing population. In addition, they have seen it necessary to become skilled and creative planners for students who come to the transfer process with poor college transcripts and/or emotional and behavioral challenges that need to be simultaneously addressed in order to help that student get back on track to a bright future.

In Independent Schools, we predict the trend among most schools to significantly bolster their learning support and mental health counseling resources in 2020 and beyond will continue as more students with learning, emotional and behavioral challenges are choosing to pursue private day and boarding education. As thought leaders in these arenas, Sarah recently presented along with a group of admission and counseling experts to school leaders about the effective therapeutic interventions for struggling students at The Association of Boarding Schools national conference last December; Don spoke at the same TABS conference about admissions offices becoming more nimble in reviewing folders and assessing student needs of the increasingly complex applicant. In 2019 at McMillan Education, we were proud to counsel 137 school candidates, who are destined to over 100 local K-12 independent day schools and junior and secondary boarding schools throughout the country. This group of students represented a wide range of learning abilities and landed at schools offering a wide range of support services. A highlight of last year was the significant increase in the number of students we typically see in our school planning practice outside of the traditional admission cycle, including families seeking placement guidance well into summer. Additionally, a new trend in 2019 was students coming to us as early as September and October seeking mid-year placements, while our overall number of students seeking mid-year placements also saw an increase in 2019. As the independent school demographic continues to shift, we predict the application season will continue to grow into a 12-month continuous season for more and more schools over the course of this new decade. Because we proactively seek to understand school trends from our 30,000 foot view, we have enjoyed being invited to advise school Boards, Heads of School and Admissions Offices. We look forward to continuing to use this knowledge in 2020 to further aid independent schools making their case in a vulnerable market that they are more relevant and necessary than ever to the lives of developing children and adolescents. Sarah recently enjoyed a trip to Virginia where she worked with the Board of Little Keswick, a therapeutic boarding school for adolescent boys, and we also had the privilege of leading a strategic planning session at a retreat for the Board of Trustees at Kimball Union Academy earlier in 2019.

Sarah presents to the board at KUA

Not surprisingly given the epidemic of anxiety and depression in our youth, 2019 was our busiest year helping students in crisis. In fact, we saw double the number of families seeking guidance for students facing emotional, behavioral and learning challenges significant enough to disrupt their educational path and healthy development. Sarah, as a psychologist, oversees our team of therapeutic counselors, consisting of three clinical social workers and two learning specialists. Sarah and her team are regularly traveling around the country to visit the world’s premier wilderness therapy, therapeutic boarding school, residential treatment centers and young adult transitional programs to which they refer students with a wide range of emotional, behavioral and learning challenges. We expect the 2020s to see continued growth in programs designed to help students in crisis and our staff is committed to maintaining our cutting edge knowledge of the industry and our relationships with the top clinical teams in the country. Given the increase in demand for our crisis planning services, our new decade starts with a wonderful new colleague, Kelly McAdams, whom we’ve known for many years in her roles as independent school counselor, therapist, and private behavioral healthcare admissions expert.

Kelly McAdams, MSW, LICSW

Meanwhile, in the 2020s we will continue our commitment to community. In 2019 we made a concerted effort as a group to cut back our carbon footprint enormously. We served three sets of special students on a pro bono basis by: 1) providing college planning to Boston public school students involved in the BUILD Boston program through our McMillan Scholars Program; 2) assisting the exceptional 8th grade students of color at Beacon Academy as they prepared to attend top independent day and boarding schools in the region; 3) continuing to offer counseling to military veterans as they return to civilian life – so point any vets you know our way. We also continued to support those who have suffered the invisible wounds of war, as well as our own McMillan Education family members who have served, through our participation in the Walk/Run Homebase, a Fenway Park annual event.

One blessing of running a larger consultancy is the ability to invest in our team’s professional development, which includes extensive travel and research. Our 2020 travel schedule will include receptions and talks in several states, countries and local communities. Let us know if you are interested in helping out as an ambassador or host in the Boston area or beyond! Internationally, we’ll be making our regular trips to see our families and visit schools in Montreal, Bermuda, Brazil, Switzerland, London and Paris – and beyond. Our therapeutic team is also embarking this winter and spring on an ambitious site visit and conference schedule, including Southern California, Oregon and Asheville, NC. And we’ll visit, as usual, dozens of schools and colleges, including many in DC, NY, and Colorado this year.

Don and Sarah present in Geneva

Finally, we recently highlighted the opening of our office in Farmington, Connecticut, managed by Brendon Welker. School and College admissions officers: we love having you visit us here in Boston, but also feel free to drop by and say hi to Brendon!

Here’s to a healthy decade ahead for your children – and our students. Our firm turns 65 this year, but we remain young at heart.

Best in Education,
Don & Sarah and the entire McMillan Education team

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