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Oakes's Corner

The Ranking

By Oakes Hunnewell, Ed.M., CEP

Last month, my business partner, Chris Overbye, and I travelled to China. We went to Beijing and Shanghai and even ventured up to a less known city in the north called Shenyang. These cities are big. There really is no comparison between them and cities in the US in terms of size. We went to China to gauge the interest in attending boarding schools, colleges and universities in the US and to explore related business opportunities. For years, Chinese students have flocked to the US to attend graduate programs. Recently, the interest has also come from students seeking both a high school and undergraduate education.

During our travels, we discovered that the Chinese take hospitality very seriously. They are extremely passionate about their responsibilities as hosts. We were housed in luxurious hotels, fed delicious food and never felt as though we were outsiders. We also found out how competitive the Chinese educational system is. From an early age, students are exposed to a level of pressure that is rarely seen in the US. English is taught from elementary school on. In fact, we were told that there are more English speaking Chinese than there are Americans who speak English. The competition is fierce and only the very top students are admitted to the five or six universities that will prepare them to become leaders of industry or government. As a result, some of these very strong students are not admitted. There are too many of them for too few available spots. So, they look to attend the best schools and universities they can find abroad. To do so, they follow the “ranking”. For universities, they refer to US News and World Report. For boarding schools, they have generated a ranking of their own. The list is based on standardized testing.

While over there, Chris and I spoke to many families. They are very passionate about their children. With the one child policy (one child per family), parents are extremely in tuned to their needs. They put all their effort into making sure that their child has everything necessary to be successful. To ensure this, they refer to the “ranking”. To them, it is a system of measurement that is clear and straight forward. It is a system they are comfortable with. Everything in China is ranked. Students are ranked according to weekly and monthly exams; employers rank their employees according to performance; people always know where they stand. The ranking is also a safe way for them to choose universities without having adequate knowledge of them. One student, we were told, simply opened US News and World Report and applied to the top fifty universities. He filled out all the applications and supplements and sent them in. Mission accomplished…he was accepted to one!

 It was interesting to note that Chinese educational consultants struggle with the influence of the “ranking” much like we do in the US. They would prefer the “ranking” disappear so that they may perform their roles as educational consultants without being tied down. They try to get their families to focus less on the ranking and more on the individual programs themselves. Inevitably the conversation always returns to the “ranking”. Though their battle is on a different scale, our challenge is the same.

School of the Month

Walnut Hill School for the Arts-


Walnut Hill School for the Arts, is an independent boarding school situated in Natick, MA about fifteen miles west of Boston. Walking on campus is an experience. The first time I did, I immediately notice the expressions on the students’ faces . Each one of them was giddy with excitement. Imagine a school filled with students who, not only choose to be there but, in some cases, had to persuade their parents to send them there. They chose a place where they could be themselves and practice their art without interruption or fear of being marginalized. How many people can say the same thing about their own educational experience. The amount of energy and electricity running through the school is felt by all who visit. Walking around, listening to all the sounds coming from the different building and seeing students busily hurrying to their next period, instrument or script in hand, is inspiring.

Students attend Walnut Hill to pursue their passion in the arts while following a rigorous college prep academic curriculum. The best way to describe the school is to picture a traditional boarding school that offers classes in the morning and early afternoon followed by sports and extra-curricular activities, and replacing the sports with the arts. Walnut Hill offers concentrations in Music, Theater, Ballet, Visual Arts and Writing. Each student admitted to Walnut Hill is also admitted into one of these disciplines.

Throughout the year, the public is treated to a variety of performances including classical music by the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by world renowned maestro, Benjamin Zander, the Walnut Hill Ballet production of the Nutcracker, as well as a long list of theater productions and art exhibits.

Students who graduate from Walnut Hill attend a diverse list of colleges and universities including Ivy Leagues, liberal arts colleges and technical institutions. Much like a talented and skilled athlete would, some will choose to train for a career in the arts.

For more information on Walnut Hill, please contact Lorie Komlyn, Dean of Admission. She can be reached at 508-650-5020. I am also available to answer any questions you may have.

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