The private school admissions process can seem intimidating and arduous to some families. However, with some planning and these helpful tips, you and your child can navigate it successfully. No sleepless nights are necessary!
Submit applications well before the stated deadline
While many schools post an application deadline on their websites, you will find that completing your application earlier will afford you the best chance at making convenient interview and assessment appointments and to schedule any required standardized testing. It also doesn’t hurt to show interest early in the admissions cycle!
Applications generally have several sections. Sometimes, just completing the first section, the biographical section (which is easiest to complete), will let the school know you are serious about applying and depending on the school, may allow you to schedule the appointments you need before completing the remaining sections. Read the admissions section of the school’s website carefully to make sure you are aware of all deadlines and to familiarize yourself with each school’s unique application process. If you are applying multiple children, keep in mind that the deadlines and processes may differ depending on the grade.
Assemble the necessary paperwork
The private school application typically requires teacher recommendations, transcripts, parent statements, and for older students, essays and standardized test results. These components of the application are important so you will want to have your child take his or her time in choosing or creating a writing sample that is a good representation of their work. Ask teachers informally if they would be willing to complete a teacher recommendation form for your child before officially requesting it from them.
Don’t stress about standardized testing
Most schools will tell you that extensive prepping for standardized testing is unnecessary. Test scores are just one component of the application and schools view these scores in the context of transcripts and teacher recommendations. Admissions committees are looking to see that there is consistency among the various components of the application and use all the information provided to gain a more complete profile of the student’s abilities.
Prep your child for the classroom visit and interview
Children of all ages will naturally experience some type of anxiety during this process. They will be dealing with adults asking them questions, spending time in classrooms in unfamiliar schools with unfamiliar teachers, and socializing with other students they have never met. Under the best circumstances, even with the friendliest classmates and most welcoming teachers, the classroom visit is not easy for most children. However, with preparation and perhaps even a role-play session with a parent, any nervousness about this part of the application can be minimized.
- Classroom visit: Let your child know that the school they will be visiting will be similar in some ways to the school they currently attend. You can ask them to participate in the process and be observant about what those differences are. Encourage your child to raise his or her hand and answer questions and generally engage in all classroom activities.
- Student Interview: The interview is usually conducted by admissions staff or a faculty member and is usually a brief and casual one-on-one conversation with your child. The purpose is to find out some information about them and to assess basic verbal and interpersonal communication skills. Make sure your child knows that he or she should speak when spoken to. It’s difficult for the interviewer to gather the information needed when the student does not answer questions or only offers one-word answers. If your child is outgoing and comfortable with adults, they will probably shine during their interview. However, if your child is more introverted and shy in new situations, he or she may benefit from a little coaching from an adult beforehand to illustrate what is expected.
Be honest in your parent interview
You know your child best. Go ahead and describe all of your child’s wonderful attributes, but do not hesitate to include the personality characteristics or behaviors that concern you as well. Listen carefully to the interviewer’s response to any concerns. Ask specific questions and use the interview as one more tool to evaluate whether this private school will be the right fit for your child.
Go beyond parent tours and attend school events
The campus tour is a great way to get a complete snapshot of the school on a typical day. However, attending events such as open houses, community events, athletic competitions, performances, and events hosted by current families could provide another frame of reference about the school community. It’s best to ask the school’s admissions team about upcoming events and if you decide to attend, let them know in advance.
Apply for financial aid if you need it
Do not be reluctant to reveal your need for tuition assistance out of fear it will hurt your child’s chances for admission. Schools are looking for socioeconomic diversity in their student populations and will use their financial aid dollars to achieve it.
Be prepared for the “decision”
The weeks and days leading up to the notification date can be an emotional time for both parents and children. Prepare your child for the excitement and the possible disappointment that the decision may bring. It may be helpful to explain if age-appropriate, that the decision may not be the straightforward acceptance or denial that they are expecting. Schools may put your child on a waitlist or on a financial aid waitlist. Both of these waitlist designations have a good chance of becoming acceptances once the school gets a feel for its numbers. It may help your child’s chances to move from “waitlist” to “accepted” to express your continued and enthusiastic (if genuine!) interest in your child attending.
Select the school that best fits your child
If you are in the happy position of choosing from a number of acceptances, remember that the “top” school on your original hit list may not be the “top” school for your child now. Your child’s interests may have changed since you first began your research, or your impressions of your top private school may have changed as you got to learn more about them and the other schools you visited.
Focus on the academic environment that will best fit your child’s personality and that which will spark their interest and intellect rather than simply thinking of the school’s reputation, ranking, or facilities. You are choosing the place that your child will be for many years to come but remember that they will change as they mature and grow. The child they are in preschool is not the child they will be in middle school or high school. Pick the school that is right for them now, not for who you think they might become in five to ten years from now.
What makes a top private school truly great is not just their statistics or their facilities but the community of educators, families, and children who thrive there. Get to know the parents, students, teachers, and administrative team. Volunteer for the Parents Association, attend events and make the most of your experience. Take advantage of all that is offered. Being part of a wonderful school that is the right fit for your child is a very rewarding experience that will remain with your family for a lifetime.
About the author: Lori Adelsberg is an Admissions Associate at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, New York. During her 14 years in this role, she has worked with over a thousand families and has had the pleasure of getting to know many wonderful children and their parents as they go through the admissions process. Lori is married with two children.