help from an expert - applying to independent k-12 schools
The Independent School Process: Where to start?
If you are considering applying to an independent school for your child(ren), now is the time to begin! I advise my clients that it’s never too soon to start gathering information about potential schools.
Here are a few straightforward organizational tips to help you manage the admission process and ensure that you find the right school for your entire family.
1. Create a List
Start a rough draft list of schools you would like to explore. Chose a variety of schools and consider differences such as coed vs. single sex, urban vs. suburban, traditional vs. progressive, etc. All of these factors will play a role in a school’s character.
2. Start to Explore
Over the course of the pandemic, schools have had to rethink how to attract and engage students. A majority of schools now offer some type of virtual campus tour with messaging from the head of school and students. Take advantage of these virtual offerings; they are a great way to dip your feet into a place to see how it feels for you and your child.
3. Take Notes
Keep a running list of questions for each school--jot them down as they pop into your head. Although some will be answered throughout your explorations, it is always a good idea to have real questions to ask members of the Admission staff.
4. Make A Calendar
As you narrow down the schools you would like to delve into more deeply, pay attention to the Admission page of their websites and note the dates for open houses and tours. Record deadlines for applications, interviews, testing and student visits. Missing any of these important dates will certainly impact your application. However, schools are aware that families move or are otherwise affected by last minute scenarios. If you are a late applicant because you fall into one of those categories, fear not.
5. Visit Schools in Person
Though the school tour may be optional, nothing gives you the feeling for a school like seeing a place in person. The tour is also a wonderful way for you to meet the admission staff (the people making the decisions about your child). You want them to know you--for all the right reasons! Dress as though you are headed to an important job interview and follow their rules (i.e., don’t bring younger siblings!). Take mental notes and remember to ask the questions you wrote down earlier in the process.
Almost all schools offer a fall open house where teachers are available to answer questions and children are often invited. An open house is an excellent opportunity to view the school in a new light and to view your child in their potential new environment. I highly recommend attending an open house in addition to a tour.
The process in this step varies a great deal depending on your child’s age, the type of school to which you are applying, and your geographic location. Some schools may still require a paper application, while others offer an online option. Preschools often require a “playdate” for potential students, while middle school applicants typically attend a student visit day that includes an interview.
Middle school and high school applicants are very often required to sit for a standardized test (which requires scheduling and possibly some practice). Almost all schools require teacher recommendations from a student’s previous school. Parochial schools often have religious requirements and their own admission assessment.
Written statements from parents, students or both are a large portion of most applications and should receive thoughtful consideration and plenty of time. Write a rough draft and proofread it--including for grammar and spelling. Let your child’s and your personalities shine while keeping responses truthful and positive. Remember that this piece may be read by a variety of individuals who participate in making admission decisions.
This is the hardest part! After putting forth your best efforts, you and your child must wait for the admission committee to sort through and review all of the applications.
Schools will notify families of admission decisions either on a set calendar date or on a rolling basis. Notification letters are typically emailed to families, though some schools still use old-fashioned snail mail. Once you receive letters from all of the schools to which you applied, weigh the pros and cons of each. How do your family’s values align with each institution? Did one school stand head-and-shoulders above the others, or are you still unsure which school is best for your child? Schools will typically hold Revisit days for families to answer exactly these questions. Go back and look at the schools through a different lens.
You may have anywhere from 2 weeks to a month to notify a school whether or not you plan to attend (in the form of a signed contract and monetary deposit). You should also call the other schools to thank them and politely decline their offers.
If the notification letter you receive from your top choice isn’t an acceptance letter, do not yet fret! Call the school and express your disappointment while also letting them know that you would love to remain on a waitlist should a spot become available. It may sound obvious, but schools want families who want to be there (and who are a good fit for the school)!
The application process can feel daunting when you are standing at the forefront, but by taking the time to research each school on your list and narrowing it down to only the schools at which your child will thrive, you will vastly improve your chance of acceptance--and of having a happy and successful child in the long run.
Lindsey Valente is an educational consultant in the greater Boston area working with families and students applying to preschool through Grade 12. Previously, Lindsey worked in independent school admissions in Chicago and New York City, and has independent school experience in Dallas, London, and Boston. She has served on the boards of two independent schools and is an associate member of the International Educational Consultant Association. Lindsey lives outside of Boston with her husband and three children.