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‘Students should be comfortable with failure’

Posted on Monday, October 8, 2018

Jim Ventre, a US-based educationist, talks to Rajlakshmi Ghosh about need-blind admission policy to aid the less privileged and the need for holistic development to prepare children for college

Phillips Academy Andover (‘Andover’ for short), a reputed residential secondary school located in Andover, Massachusetts, US, could have been just another elite school catering to the educational needs of wealthy families. But the school’s mission goes well beyond that, removing financial need as an obstacle to the admission process. “As part of the school’s need-blind policy, we select students whose families cannot pay their full tuition fees (US$56,000 per year) but have the merit to make it through. Assessment for scholarships is based on family income with 48% receiving financial aid,” says Jim Ventre, dean of Admission and Financial Aid, on a recent visit to India to familiarise Indian students with the school’s ideology and admission process. The school even goes so far as to pay for students’ weekly allowance, athletic equipment, warm clothing and travel (which also includes parent’s/guardian’s campus visits).


What makes Andover with its 1,150 students stand out is also its diverse learning community (11.5% are international students from 49 countries) where sharing of different ideologies are reinforced throughout the school’s four-year grades (from IX to XII) and a postgraduate year for those inclined to gain the benefits of an additional year of high school before transitioning to college.


Talking to Education Times about the recent trends in academia, Ventre feels it is important to make students understand the concept of “responsible” digital citizenship where they learn to manage their curriculum online and navigate effective social media. He adds, “Our digital society has created a generation of non-readers which makes it imperative for educators to create determined readers who can sit in one place for about an hour and read uninterrupted.” 


On the need for interdisciplinary education, Ventre feels pairing Engineering with History, or Computer Science with Statistics will help students gain self-confidence and make them more productive in any learning environment. The courses in his own school (around 300 of them and 150 electives) cover a wide gamut with even a programme on empathy, balance and inclusion to address students’ social and emotional needs at age-appropriate levels.


Through the school’s on-campus innovation centre, the Tang Institute, students and faculty are encouraged to collaborate on creative projects, travelling and working together often in underserved communities. “Our faculty and students have developed a course based on the growth mindset through problem-solving and the conviction that innovation occurs through challenge and failure,” adds Ventre. He also feels students should be taught self-advocacy where they are comfortable with failure and ask for help if required. As for inculcating leadership skills, Ventre says students should learn “to be excited about an idea which comes from someone else since leadership is not just about positions in athletics and clubs.”

Criteria for admission
Ventre affirms students with optimism, curiosity and a passion for learning are selected. While the school (from grades IX-XII) does not have a threshold of scores, those who are appropriate for its programmes are strong academically and need to present letters of recommendation from teachers, personal essays and standardised SSAT (Secondary School of Admission Test) scores. SAT scores is a key pre-requisite for grade XII and the additional postgraduate year. Students seeking financial aid can do so through the school’s website at


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