First Choice Letters and Personal Letters of Recommendation

Updated September 22, 2016 |
First Choice Letters and Personal Letters of Recommendation
Getting your child into a competitive school is a tough assignment. Don't let the many challenges overwhelm you. There is a simple solution.

The competition for places at some private schools is intense. When a school receives hundreds of applications for a hundred available seats, that indicates a very competitive admissions situation. If your child is applying to a competitive school, what do you do to ensure success? The school admissions staff isn't going to be much help. Indeed more often than note, it will be sphinx-like about letting you know whether your kid stands a chance or not. Money is not an issue. You can afford the fees and all the extras. This school would be ideal for your daughter because you know that the school does an excellent job of getting its graduates into the best colleges and universities. You and your daughter were both impressed with the facilities, programs and the general feel of the campus when you visited. The admissions staff were professional but warm and friendly, as was everyone else you encountered during your visit.

 

So, what do you do? Do you push? Do you flaunt your wealth? Do you try to impress with your social pedigree? What about sending the school a first-choice letter? Will that help? Do you have the CEO of a Fortune 100 company write the school on your daughter's behalf? Do personal recommendation letters help? For the answers to these questions, you need to look at the private school admissions process and understand how it works.
 
Understand the Admissions Process
 
Admissions to any private school seems like an arcane process. But it actually isn't all that mysterious. After all, the staff knows who they want to admit based on a list of criteria which they have in place at the moment. Market conditions have an effect on those decisions. If they have four applicants for every place available, they will be selective. Why wouldn't they be? The school has a reputation to uphold. So it makes sense to them to offer places to young people who can do the work and also fit into the community.
 
An applicant's profile is a critical part of the admissions process. The admissions staff can see the academic progress by interpreting the transcripts. They can get a feel for how well she performs in core subjects by reading the teacher recommendations. Those facts and figures give them an outline of who your daughter is. The interview and their admissions testing flesh out that profile. At this point, it's all about fit.
 

The admissions staff meets to review the applicants who have passed muster on the first cut. Will a B in English be a deal breaker? Not necessarily. If a member of the admissions staff feels that the child has potential, has the right attitude and truly wants to succeed, that will more than offset minor deficiencies.
 
So, what's the real trick to getting into that highly competitive school? The answer is deceptively simple: offer everything they are looking for and more. How will you know what they are looking for? You won't. Unless you are the Admissions Director's spouse, at which point your child would be a shoo-in anyway.

Hire an educational consultant.

Hiring an educational consultant will also help you get your child into a highly competitive school. This is not a pitch for educational consultants. It is just common sense.  Educational consultants know their schools. They make it their business to visit schools. They know the admissions staff. They know what the current climate is at each of the schools in their portfolio. I know this to be true from my own experience. Long before I began writing about private schools, we decided to send our daughters to boarding school. We thought that we were pretty savvy about the private school admissions process. After all, we thought that all there was to it was to identify a couple of schools we liked, visit them, and apply. It never occurred to us that schools might be competitive or that they might not think our daughters were a good fit. Our eldest daughter got into a good school, but she only had one acceptance out of the three schools to which she had applied. We left nothing to chance with our second daughter. We hired a consultant. The late Hugh Silk knew his schools. Long before email and the internet, he knew precisely who to call or write. And he did. This time, we had three schools out of three send us acceptance letters.


 
Not using an educational consultant for such an important matter as getting your daughter into a good private school is rather like writing your own will. Of course, you can write your own will. But at some point, you will need to run it by your trusted legal team to make sure that you have it right. Same thing with choosing a school. Just like your will, there is a lot riding on getting your daughter into the right school. Her happiness is at stake. You certainly don't want a miserable child, do you?

Keep your decision and feelings to yourself. 

So, when it comes to first choice letters, keep them to yourself. Express your interest in the school with sincerity. At the same time be sure to keep other options open. You are the customer. The school understands that. The admissions staff knows that you will compare schools. That is to be expected. The same thing applies to the personal letter of recommendation. If a good, well-connected friend chooses to write a personal letter of recommendation for your child, let her do so quietly on her own. The school will most likely be impressed more if you don't mention it.

In the end, expect your child's chances of getting into a highly competitive school to be a lot slimmer than if she applies to a less competitive school. Carefully review your reasons for wanting her to attend a highly competitive school. Ask yourself if she wouldn't receive an excellent education based on your requirements and her needs at a less competitive school.  The answer to that question may surprise you.

Questions? Contact me via Twitter @privateschl


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