Getting into Private School

Here we cover the private school admissions process from the application to the interview. Get information on how admissions works, when and how to apply, and tips on preparing for testing and interviewing. Learn what you should look for on a school visit and questions you should ask during the interview.
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Many schools require a statement from the applicant's parents. After all, you probably know your child better than anybody. The school also wants to know what your concerns and educational objectives are. The goal here is to make sure that everybody's expectations are the same. For example, if you want your son to play on a varsity hockey team and the school offers limited hockey time, you need to deal with that before you decide to send your son to that school. Perhaps your daughter finds math challenging. You will want to point that out so that the school can discuss how it might deal with that concern.
 
Here are some examples of the sort of questions schools will ask:

From McCallie School
 
  • What do you hope your child will accomplish at McCallie?
  • From what activities does your child derive self-confidence?
  • What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses? (Please comment on social characteristics: e.g., self-reliance, sense of humor, ability to mix, shyness, assertiveness, etc.)
  • Include any particular concerns of which the school should be aware: e.g., Has your child experienced any difficult challenges or personal setbacks in recent years? Are there any medical conditions of which we should be aware?
  • Has your child had any psychological or educational testing?
  • Does your child regularly take any prescription medication?
  • Does your child's health limit or interfere with the normal performance of everyday activities, including class work, athletics, or other duties?
  • Please make any additional comments about your child which you feel may be helpful to us.
 

From
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Standardized admissions tests are part of the drill in most private school admissions offices. Why is that? Because the school needs to know what you know and don't know academically.

The SSAT and ISEE are the two most commonly used admissions tests. They measure your language and math skills. How do the admissions offices use the test scores which the testing organizations send them? Largely for comparison purposes. For example, if a school has an applicant pool with an average verbal score of 600 and yours is 700, you will be at the top of the list in that one aspect of all the factors the school looks at. Conversely, if your quantative score is 550 and the pool average is 750, you will be at or near the bottom of the list in that comparison.

Bear in mind that the admissions office looks at many things when it reviews your application. If teacher recommendations corroborate the test score results, that is a very strong plus or minus for you. For example, if you scored well in the verbal section of the SSAT and your teacher writes glowing comments about your language arts skills, that will improve your chances significantly. The reverse is also true. A poor quantitative score combined with a weak or vague reference from your math teacher ("Johnny has challenges with his math lessons.") won't help your case.

Many factors come into play when it comes to standardized tests. The most
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Admissions tests in private schools are supposed to measure your child's aptitude and readiness for the work in a serious private prep school. They are merely one tool for assessing a child's progress to date. Some children have learned their lessons well. Some children take tests well. Other children have deficiencies in certain skill areas. Still others do not test well.
 
Long-term Test Preparation
 
In a perfect world every child would master all the skills necessary to succeed academically. But children learn differently. Their teachers teach the same material differently. The school expects certain results in certain subject areas. That's why a standardized admissions test is a critical part of most private school admissions requirements.
 
If you can take the long term approach to admissions test preparation, it certainly is the ideal. But you need to start a few years out from the actual admissions test itself. Here's what to do: monitor your child's progress carefully. Identify any deficiencies and remediate them. Hire tutors if necessary. Create and maintain a climate for academic success. Set expectations accordingly.
 
Then about eighteen months before the admissions test date purchase the test preparation materials which are so widely available. Read about the test your child will be taking. Understand what is required. Then have your child take at least 2 practice tests six months before the actual test date. That will give you enough time to tweak any parts of the test which require extra attention.
 
The Crash Course
 
Last minute cramming can pay
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When you and your child visit schools that you are seriously interested in, you will also have an appointment with the admissions staff. Depending on the school, you might even meet with a dean or perhaps the head of school. Obviously when you meet with these people, you will be trying to put your best foot forward. However you will be in unfamiliar surroundings. So, my advice is simply to relax. Stay calm. Above all don't let your nerves get the better of you. Follow these tips for a successful admissions interview.
 
1. Don't draw attention to any minor learning issues.
 
I am not for a minute advocating that you cover anything up. Nor I am suggesting that you dissemble. What I am reminding you of is the fact that admissions staff are professionals. They have reviewed hundreds, even thousands of applications over the years. They know how to interpret test scores and transcripts. So let the test scores and academic records speak for themselves. Blurting out that your son has a slight learning difficulty is not going to enhance your chances of his getting in to some schools. It will not matter much in others. On the other hand if he has been diagnosed with dyslexia or ADD or some other learning difficulty, then you need to be applying to a school which has qualified staff and programs in place to address those learning issues. But your son's B grade in mathematics or his lack of prowess in fine arts
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Many applicants live at great distances from the schools which they would like to visit. If you live in Asia or Europe, for example, it is not always financially or logistically possible to visit schools in person. What alternatives exist for those situations? Actually several. Off campus school visits come in a couple of flavors.
 
Admisisons Staff Visits Overseas
 
Many private schools send their admissions staff overseas to major cities in countries where they have a substantial applicant pool. Ask for details of visits in your area. While you will have to rely on the school's video and web presentations of its school life and activities, at least you will have a live person to whom you can pose questions. If English is not your first language, this meeting with school officials will give you a deadline to meet. After all, you are planning to attend school in a country where English is the instructional language used in most classes. You will be expected to have your interview in English.
 
Interviews With Local Alumni
 
Just like many universities and colleges do, private schools also will arrange an interview with an alumnus or alumna who lives in your local area. This is a quite common practice for meeting candidates who live here in the United States. Remember that most schools are looking for qualified candidates who may not have considered applying because of financial constraints. If you cannot afford to pay the school fees, chances are that you cannot afford to travel to the
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Getting into Private School

How Admissions Works

The private school admissions process can be competitive. Explore the process, compile your profile and submit your application with help from our tips and tools. Explore the challenges of getting into private school and the most common mistakes made during the admission process.

Applications

An in depth look at the private school application process. From teacher recommendations to the acceptance letter, we'll explore some of the most crucial aspects of applying to private school. Learn more about when and how to apply, why the deadlines are important and what to do when your child is accepted.

Test Preparation

Standardized tests are a large part of the admission process at many private schools. Here you'll find information on the most commonly used exams and how to prepare for them. Explore the tests, what the scores mean, and how the schools will use them.

School Visits and Interviews

School visits and interviews are an integral part of applying to private school. Learn why it's important to visit and what to do if that is not possible. Explore school visit options like open houses and shadowing. Get valuable tips on a successful interview and learn what questions you should be asking.