As colleges and universities across the nation modified their academic and testing requirements, many boarding schools, including Deerfield Academy, followed suit. The Deerfield Admissions Committee has made amends to their selection process this year by changing the way interviews and student led tours are run as well as deciding to go test-optional.
Deerfield’s decision to go test-optional has been the result of many considerations. As access to standardized testing for the 2020-21 application season may be very difficult for some students due to COVID-19, Deerfield is not penalizing students without test scores during the selection process. According to Deerfield’s website, the Admissions Office “will continue to evaluate each application using a holistic approach that considers students’ achievements and successes in relation to their individual opportunities and challenges.”
For those who do have access to standardized testing, Deerfield recommends students submit any SSAT, ISEE, SAT, or ACT scores taken after September 1, 2019. International students who have attended non-English speaking schools for at least three years are still required to submit TOEFL or IELTS exam results.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Charles Davis shares that admissions officers are having difficulty calibrating students based on the different sets of data without the standardized tests. Decisions between two different approaches to the selection process are still being made, briefly outlined by either separating students with and without test scores into different pools, or considering all candidates equally from the start and later evaluating further with the extra addition of test scores.
Davis explained, “The natural concern is that we are always prone to exercising our biases, and we want to cut those down and be as objective as possible, so if someone were to not submit their test, we need clarity on if the reason is because of their circumstance or because their scores weren’t good enough.”
The interviewing and touring process has also seen significant changes this year. To schedule an interview, applicants must fill out a Request for Information Form to be recorded in the Deerfield admissions database. Before the interview, candidates and families are highly encouraged to attend a 30 minute Zoom information session, with a Q&A with an Admissions Officer and a virtual tour of the campus led by a student Tour Guide. The virtual tour was recorded with a 360 degree revolving camera over the summer by Director of Admissions Amanda Bohnsack.
Head Tour Guide Katrina Csaky ’21 said that it is difficult to gauge students’ interest in Deerfield via the Zoom tours. “I think it’s hard to tell because from my experience, there’s some students who are there alone, some who are with their parents, and some whose cameras are completely turned off,” she explained. “Because of that, I really can’t tell how the applicants feel with the limited interactions. Some students are still clearly interested, but it’s much harder to assess. Now, we no longer do assessment forms or give students the booklets with our emails.”
Csaky mentioned that “touring” many families at once on Zoom does have its merits, as it cuts down on physical barriers such as people talking over one another, students being left behind, or unpredictable weather. However, she explained that the in-person connection is still somewhat lacking when students cannot get an actual feel for the campus, traditions, or student life.
After tours, applicants are required to attend a forty minute interview, which has become a more heavily weighted component of the admissions process this year. Coaches and teachers meet with students via Zoom. However, despite its convenience, this new interviewing system has displayed disadvantages.
Associate Director of Admissions Jose Briones said, “Deerfield is very humanistic; we want to meet people, form new connections, and have good conversations… Because of our lacking human touch piece, I do admit that it is a little more impersonal, but we are still trying our best to make it more personal and communicative with the info sessions and the tours. And there are definitely hindrances but we are working around it.”
Over the past year, Deerfield has rearranged their structure of the admissions committee into specific “themes.” After splitting the pools by grade and gender, one committee focuses on considering students from granting organizations, one designated to athletes, another for siblings and legacies, a fourth for academics, and a finally an entirely separate pool of “generalists.”
Both Davis and Briones expressed their concerns about the “yield” numbers for the 2021 school year. Yield is an important factor for Deerfield in assessing other needs such as housing arrangements and academic scheduling.
“Deerfield has done well in the last year with yield, but with COVID, it is now an extra worry, leading us to project a little more and change our selection requirements. We mainly want students to fit well here to enjoy and succeed at Deerfield,” Briones said.
Once students are accepted into Deerfield, the last concern lies on the future of Spring Revisit Day—a very important day for students still making decisions. Davis confirmed that no visitors will be coming to campus during recruiting season or in December when students are on break. As of now, Spring Revisits are still planned, though they may be moved to March break.
Overall, the admissions team still works on the basis of the same values and ideals of respecting any student regardless of their circumstances and backgrounds and acknowledging one’s talents. The unusual circumstances of many applicants this year have pushed the selection committee to consider aspects of the application process in different ways. As Davis puts it, the admissions committee is currently executing “interesting calibrations.”