1. Not Observing the Deadlines
Deadlines are set for a reason. The admissions staff has hundreds of applications to process. If you miss the deadlines, it may not be a big deal to you. But it does send a signal to the admissions staff. Most likely the wrong signal.
Missing deadlines due to unforseen circumstances happens. If that happens to you, then call immediately that you realize you will not be able to meet the deadlines. People will be much more accommodating when you alert them before, not after, the fact.
2. Not Giving the Recommendation Forms Out in Time
Parents forget that teachers frequently have recommendation forms for several students to complete. Handing a recommendation form to a teacher a week before it's due is thoughtless.
Since these recommendations have to be mailed via snail mail, be sure to affix the correct postage to the return envelope. Teachers appreciate that sort of thoughtfulness and consideration. Don't ask to see what the teacher has written about your child. That is confidential.
3. Not Preparing for the Admissions Tests
Most private schools use standardized admissions tests. There are dozens of ways your child can practice for the test using texts, CDs and online resources. While a poor test score isn't necessarily the end of the world, schools do use the test scores as one more way of comparing your child with all the other applicants. If the school only has 100 places and 300 applicants, it makes sense that they will select the candidates who offer the best of everything.
That's why your child needs to start practicing at least 6 months before the actual test date. Set aside a weekend morning (tests always take place in the morning) and have her work a practice test under test conditions. That means no interruptions or distractions such as iPods, TV, etc. If you insist that she do this a couple of times, she will be as cool as a cucumber on the test date. Remember: everybody gets nervous. Especially young people in unfamiliar surroundings and under stressful conditions.
4. Being Late for the Admissions Interview
It sounds so obvious, but being late for your admissions interview really can get things off on the wrong foot. Think about it: the admissions staffers have scheduled dozens of meetings like yours throughout the day. While they are pretty clever at juggling schedules and moving things around, it is never easy to do. Something unforseen like a flat tire or sudden illness can change your plans. The admissions staff will understand that. What they won't understand is if you don't call immediately and advise them of your late or non-arrival.
If you are one of those people who simply cannot arrive on time for any appointment, then you need to tell yourself that the appointment is actually 30 minutes earlier than it actually is. If your admissions interview is scheduled for 2 p.m., then arrive at 1:30 p.m. You and your child can sit, relax, read a magazine, visit the powder room and so on. Just don't be late. If you can see that you will arrive late, call.
5. Not Selecting a Safe School
Many parents assume that their child will get into Andover or Exeter. It's nice to be so confident. But the harsh reality is that competitive schools are precisely that - competitive. And Andover and Exeter are examples of two schools which are very competitive indeed.
That's why you need to apply to three categories of schools: schools which are a reach, schools which you are fairly certain she can get into and schools which are safe schools or ones you can bet the ranch she will be accepted at. The underlying selection criteria you will use must remain the same: you want your child to get into a school which fits as closely as possible with your requirements. Otherwise you will have an unhappy child on your hands.
If you don't have at least one safe school on your short list, you will not only have an unhappy child but you will be very frustrated yourself. Why? Because you will have to scramble to find a place at the last minute. That's doable, of course, but who needs that kind of aggravation.
Robert Knox Kennedy is a consultant who has written over 500 articles on private schools.