What is the greatest measure of success in the Yeshiva League?  To students, it may be the number of varsity sports banners on the gym walls; to parents, college admissions; and to administrators, the percentage of the graduating class who spend a gap year in Israel. However, all agree that the size of the incoming Freshman class, and even moreso, the number of applicants each school turns away, is the most scalable measure of desirability for a private high school.

As of March 5, 2019, the class of 2023 will consist of ninety students— forty-nine girls and forty-one boys—reaching this year’s goal, according to Ms. Shara Lipson, Director of Admissions.  Frisch’s incoming class will number 200 and SAR targets a freshman class size between 130-150 each year. To explain Ramaz’s numbers, which, traditionally, are less than or near 100, Dean of Faculty Ms. Miriam Krupka said “We are committed to a smaller group. We want to be authentic for who we are.” Out of the ninety students, forty-seven will be continuing on from the Ramaz Middle School and forty-three will be coming from 20 different feeder schools in the extended tri state area. In terms of the retention rate, also considered a indicator of a school’s health, nine current Ramaz Middle Schoolers will be leaving for other high schools: three to non-Yeshiva schools, two to SAR, and four to attend Frisch.

To maximize the applicant pool, the admissions office participated in multiple new marketing strategies to attract students, including a campaign consisting of monthly postcards that were sent out to prospective families and Ramaz families beginning in August of 2018 and culminating after the Open House in November. Each postcard displayed a photo featuring both academic and non-academic activities from classroom learning to as students learning in the classroom, the G.O. selling apparel, after schools art activities, and sport games. Ms. Lipson said,  “We were going to highlight what we do best: our small classes, faculty, being in the middle of New York City, how diverse we are as a school, how we are a yeshiva and we are Orthodox but how you can question and challenge here and be part of a thriving community.”

Another change this year was a new format for school’s keynote recruitment event. Rather than hosting only one Open House for both current and prospective families,  Ramaz Middle School families were invited to a targeted presentation held prior to the Open House that focused on the newness of the high school and its offerings rather than the more general event for all prospective students. The traditional Saturday night Open House, held on November 10, 2018, was open to all students but only to the parents of prospective outside the Ramaz system. Its purpose was “displaying our school and educating families that are not familiar with our values,” explained Ms. Lipson.

For the first time, Ramaz faculty also participated in a Student and Parent Education Series. Faculty from Ramaz Upper School visited Middle Schools across the tristate area to teach classes to prospective students and familiarize them with the teaching style at Ramaz and help inform their high school decision. This initiative was further extended by Rabbi Stochel, Ms. Krupka and Rabbi Slomnicki, who each visited both schools and communities to educate prospective Ramaz families and students. The administration also visited the Ramaz Middle School and spent the day meeting with small groups of students to share information and get them excited about their future experience at Ramaz.

Ms. Krupka said,  “We have tried to focus in on discussions that take place in the classroom, challenging thinking, coming at academics from an analytical perspective, that the classroom is an exciting place, warmth of community.” Additionally, the administration also reached out to alumni of Ramaz with pre-high school aged children with the goal of recruiting from within the community as well.

The Ramaz marketing strategy has been to emphasize its small class sizes, the close bonds between its students and teachers, and the individual attention that students each  receives from the administration. Part of this initiative has been executed through the new advisory system that the freshman received this year. Instead of being paired with only teachers as their advisors for the first three years of high school, which was the case in prior gardes, this year, each incoming Freshman received guidance from an administrator as well throughout their first year of high school. Rabbi Stochel, Head of Upper School, explained that “new students and their families feel very positive in their acclimation to Ramaz when they have direct access to the most senior and experienced educators in the building.”

Rabbi Stochel explained that “one of the signs of the successful admissions process was that even families who declined to enroll with us felt the need to write long letters of gratitude for the manner in which they were welcomed and received during the process.” The letters, he said, were filled with appreciation to the personal attention that each family received during the admissions process, expressing sentiments such as: “we deeply appreciated the beautiful handwritten letter from Rabbi Stochel and the thoughtful phone call from Ms. Krupka” or “you were so helpful and showed us such warmth and hospitality” and “Although our child did not decide to join Ramaz, we have four younger children that we hope will be able to have the opportunity to be interviewed and spend time at Ramaz.”  Others commented more specifically on how impressed they were by the open house. An alumni said, “Coming back after so many years, I was reminded why Ramaz always had a special place in my heart. It was apparent how much the teachers and administrators care and are there for the students.”

As rising Freshman made their choices on where they want to spend their next four years, the marketing strategies, judging by the increased in class size over the year before, seemingly worked. For many middle schoolers coming from the Ramaz, the choice was simple. One eighth grader, Sophie Schwartz, looked at other schools but ultimately decided to attend Ramaz.  “I chose Ramaz because my siblings go there and it’s in the city,” said Sophie Schwartz, a current Middle School eighth grader. “In the beginning I wanted to apply to Frisch and SAR, but then when I went to my half day at Ramaz I changed my mind.”

Other students strongly considered competitors. Ramaz Middle School student Hannah Tambor said “I was considering both Ramaz and SAR. The main factor that went into choosing Ramaz was probably my friends, the idea of leaving them was very hard. I also felt a connection to Ramaz because of the community and the familiarity.”  For other middle schoolers, the education is a very attractive part of Ramaz. Joey Doft, an eighth grader at Ramaz Middle School, said, “I heard it was the best school educationally and had some of the best teachers.” He is also “looking forward to meeting new kids joining our grade and having more freedom to choose what I want to do and focus on in school.”

Sophia Ohayon, currently at Park East Middle School, will be attending Ramaz Upper School next year. She said, “I was debating between Ramaz and SAR, but after coming for my half day, I felt the warmth and love and I genuinely enjoyed learning with such great teachers. I especially loved the history class [because of] the way it was taught and the way the students were engaged.”

Other students, who did not feel comfortable sharing their names, decided against Ramaz “mostly for academic or social reasons.” What is clear from the 2019 admissions cycle, is that students and parents are considering their options more carefully than ever, closely evaluating the merits and drawback of each option. Hopefully, the competition can only benefit everyone.