March 15th – Beware the Ides of March

Boarding schools are under threat ...

Boarding schools are under threat from extreme market forces, and today even more so with the reality of a global pandemic caused by COVID-19. We hear of individuals one or two pay checks away from personal hardship. Yet some independent schools are not too far away from such a scenario.This is a perfect storm caused by a diminishing middle class, an over- reliance on international enrolment in this era of globalization, and now a global pandemic.

Independent schools are not immune to COVID-19. Government fiscal packages will not be available to private schools, and they must find ways to inoculate themselves from the possible serious side effects: e.g. falling enrolment as travel diminishes, requests for fee refunds in the event of school closures, falling wealth and affordability indexes meaning even fewer families inquiring, let alone attending, boarding schools.

Scholarships and bursaries must be a priority for fund raising staff at independent schools in order to close the ever widening affordability gap. Swimming pools can wait!

‘March Madness’ in the private school circuit is well under way with decisions being conveyed to students who are slam dunking with joy or slumping to the floor in disappointment upon receiving application decisions. Independent schools are great options for families; they need to keep their fans!

My clients comprise new Canadians in Vancouver, and Hong Kong families fleeing the uncertainties there. They revere top level education. I visited Hong Kong twice this past year and it is heartbreaking to see the hardships people there are facing now on multiple fronts. I also visited administrators and schools in the United Kingdom and the United States.

As of March 15th, my client results this admissions season are as follows:

St. George’s School - Vancouver
Mulgrave School - Vancouver

United States:
Waverly School, Pasadena, California
Philips Exeter Academy Summer Program, New Hampshire

United Kingdom:
City of London Freemen’s School

Wait - List:
The Hockaday School, Dallas Texas
The Hun School of Princeton, New Jersey

I wish these students congratulations! Life’s a pretty resilient thing. As are students and schools!



Broadening School Horizons

The Centre of London: Trafalgar Square.

Westminster School – close to Trafalgar Square and the ISC office – is a leading Public school in London, founded 14th century. Famous alumni include Sir Christopher Wren and A.A. Milne

One of the oldest schools in Wales – founded 1608. Cowbridge Grammar School. Most famous alumnus is Sir Anthony Hopkins

Cardiff and Vale College. The largest college in Wales: 30,000 students. With the Principal Mrs. Kay Martin. (Full disclosure she is a family member – very proud of Kay!)

Independent Schools Council regulatory body. ISC boarding and day schools educate more than 500,000 children in the UK.

Broadening School Horizons

With the spectre of uncertainty for Asian students being placed in US or Canadian schools, I took a trip to Britain in August to take a look at a range of schools there.


The admissions concerns in Canada can be seen in the latest worrying statistics and statement from ICEF:
“Nearly four in ten applicants for Canadian study permits (39%) have been rejected in the first five months of this year. This compares to an overall rejection rate of roughly 28% in all of 2014.Visa officers may deny a study permit application if there are any issues with the student’s medical exam or finances, or if they conclude the student does not have a legitimate study plan for Canada.”


While this is mostly a factor for university applicants, in the boarding school world we are experiencing similar concerns and are carefully monitoring student visa rejections. Toronto-based immigration lawyer Andrew Carvajal has explained that “ an immigration officer may simply conclude that the applicant does not have a legitimate study plan for Canada, and may be using the study permit route as a way to quickly and legally enter the country.”


As a consultant it is my responsibility to have detailed knowledge for students, families and educational institutions around the world. With my clients, I work on a detailed educational plan so that there is a coherent student profile to present to visa officers at consulates for Canada, the US or the UK when accepted at a school.


My trip to Britain saw me have a brief chat with one of the leaders at the Independent Schools Council in London. The staff were very busy tabulating and analyzing the national A Level results the day I was there. These examination results are the major element in university acceptances. The UK has experienced a 25% increase in university acceptances from Asia this year.


Last week the Labour Party conference approved a motion to abolish UK private schools - the schools which generally have the best examination results!  This revolutionary measure will never come to place surely - but more uncertainty! Think Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, Winchester gone! The history, the talent and the striving for excellence that these private schools (called Public schools in the UK) are world-renowned for are at  risk at the ballot box. I dropped by Westminster School for which I have great memories when working closely with them on the Shawnigan Centennial. They had, unsurprisingly, just achieved a 98 per cent success rate in the A level exams.


The world is getting smaller and families are researching multiple markets for the best schools.



“We Must All Help Each Other To Succeed, Rather Than Put Each Other To The Test To Fail.” Marylyn Rosenthal

Well, it’s been quite a week of mixed emotions. Mid-March is the witching hour of first wave admission decisions for US boarding schools, and for leading day schools in major cities.

Along with my client families, I have been on tenterhooks awaiting school decisions. After years of chairing admission committees, and distributing the results, it is humbling now experiencing the nervousness felt on the other side of the equation. The loss of control over the process is tempered by knowing you have done everything you can do as a consultant to help students succeed. That is what it is all about.

In mid-March I am delighted to have helped students gain the following acceptances:


Connecticut: Ethel Walker School

Massachusetts: Berkshire School
Miss Hall’s School


California: Harker School, San Jose
Stratford School, Palo Alto

Canada: Two applicants to Canadian boarding schools on rolling admissions are awaiting decisions.

Now, on to the next season – which begins today! Many students may have been disappointed with the choices they have been left with. Other families are just beginning to look for next September as they have realized they want a positive change for their children.

So, research and choices have to be made in an encapsulated time. IECA consultants are ready to help. Feel free to call us.

Consultant as Advocate

We are approaching decision time for applicants to independent schools. The consultant and family school research, student visits, coaching, testing and interviews are all done. Now the wait is on. Most schools will be announcing their first round of decisions by mid March.

Admissions staff are reading and assessing applicant folders right now. With the increasing popularity of independent schools, the pressure to achieve the right mix and fit of successful applicants intensifies. I found reading the applicant files to be a joy in discovering each student’s uniqueness. The pressure came from rendering the decision when the competition was overwhelming.

When I was admissions director, I was always looking for talent. As an admissions associate at Choate Rosemary Hall School said to me in November on my visit there, “ We are looking for smart plus.”

The “ plus” is personal for the student, yet must fit the programs and values of the desired school. Both must mesh and fit. The great independent schools enroll a well-rounded class with multiple talents in evidence. Schools want star soccer players to star saxophonists. If they go together in one student – great – but that is very difficult to achieve, so they try to encapsulate excellence as a whole in a class.

At this period in late February, the educational consultant will be nearly as anxious as the family. Did he/she recommend the right school fit for the student? Did the consultant provide enough advice prior to the visits to help the student shine and stand out? Finally, did the consultant advocate clearly and effectively for the student with the admissions office?

March decisions will tell the story. Stay tuned. Stay calm. I wish the very best results to all applicants, particularly my clients of course!