Getting into a private school is a time-consuming process. There are many details to keep your eyes on. In particular you need to keep your eyes on the calendar and all the deadlines set by the various admissions departments of the schools to which you are applying. Most of the time you will be applying to two or three schools depending on the grade level your child will be entering. This further complicates the process because you will most likely end up watching three or more sets of deadlines. The best advice which I can offer as you deal with applying to schools is to begin the process as early as you can. Do not put things off until the last minute.
With the objective of helping you prioritize all those deadlines let's look at the most important ones.
The admissions fixed deadline
What I mean by a fixed admissions deadline is that your child's application must be submitted and completed by a date certain. Most private schools have their fixed admissions deadlines occurring on January 31. Some schools position their admissions deadlines a week or two earlier. The issue with fixed admissions deadlines is that you simply do not want to miss them. This is particularly true when you are applying to a selective school which was far more applications than it has places for. If your application is submitted after the fixed deadline, it will more than likely be placed in a pile with the other late applications. These might surface if the yield or number of acceptances falls short of the number of places. Honestly that happens rarely in schools with historically selective or highly selective admissions. This short video explains how private school admissions work.
The rolling admissions deadline
Rolling admissions deadlines are more elastic because there is no fixed deadline. However, you do have to be careful to begin the application process as soon as you can. Doing so will enable you to submit your completed application as early as you can. Then you will have an answer by the end of October or November leaving you some breathing room if you need to apply to a school or schools with fixed admissions deadlines.
The standardized test deadlines
Most private schools are going to require some form of standardized testing as part of their admission requirements. At the high school level most schools will want your child to take the SSAT or the ISEE depending on which test the schools use. Here's where it gets a bit tricky. If you are applying to a private school which has a fixed admissions deadline, your child will need to take the standardized admissions test in October, November or December before the January deadline. The SSAT test year runs from August 1 to July 31.
Schools which require the ISEE will explain where and when the test will take place. With both the SSAT and the ISEE register as early as you can. Do not wait until the last minute. Here are some tips for the SSAT.
These standardized test deadlines serve another purpose for you and your child. That is test preparation. Even if your child is a whiz at taking standardized tests, make sure that she does at least three practice tests in the months and weeks before the actual test. The last practice test should be administered by you to closely resemble the actual test conditions including timing. With this kind of advance preparation your child will be confident and relaxed on the day of the actual test. This should ensure the best possible test results.
The financial aid deadline
If you need financial aid, this deadline is a target you must hit with a bulls eye. Most private schools use the PFS or Parents Financial Statement offered by the School and Student Services arm of the National Association of Independent Schools. http://sssbynais.org/parents/ You will need to begin work on the PFS in the early fall before the application deadline. The reason why this deadline is so important is that most schools have a finite pool of money budgeted for financial aid. Once that has been allocated, there is usually no more money for financial aid. The documentation including W-2's and your tax returns cannot be assembled at the last minute. Begin the process as soon as you can in early fall.
Deadlines for transcripts
There is no specific deadline for obtaining transcripts from your child's current school. But since your child's application file will not be complete until the schools receive those certified transcripts, I recommend that you request those documents as early in the fall as possible. Copies of your child's report cards are not the same as a certified transcript. That document must be prepared by your child's current school, certified and then mailed to the schools to which you are applying. If you delay requesting this until the last minute if you are applying to a school with a fixed admissions deadline, you run the risk of missing the deadline.
Deadlines for teacher recommendations
What we discussed in the previous paragraph regarding transcripts applies to the teacher recommendations. The schools to which you are applying will give you teacher recommendation forms. These typically come with an envelope addressed to the school's admissions office. They take a few minutes to fill out. Be respectful of your child's teachers' time and schedules. Give them the teacher recommendation forms as early in the fall as you can. Don't forget to put a stamp on the envelopes. That is the thoughtful thing to do. And, no, you may not see nor may you ask about what the teachers wrote about your child.
Deadlines for school visits
As with transcripts and teacher recommendation forms, there is no specific deadline for visiting schools. How you arrange school visits is entirely up to you. The reality, however, is that visiting three boarding schools, for example, is time-consuming, both for you and for the schools. Once again start arranging those visits well in advance. Spring and summer are usually good times to visit schools. Visiting between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not a good time to visit schools. Yes, exceptions can be and are made; however, remember that the holidays are an extremely busy time for most schools. Plan your visit accordingly.
Deadlines are set for a reason. Respect those reasons even if you do not agree with them or understand them. Admissions offices in most private schools need to manage their work flow. Processing hundreds of applications is time-consuming. When you submit your materials before the deadlines you have time to prepare the documents thoroughly and completely. Your child's admissions folder is a portrait of who she is and what she has accomplished so far. It is also full of clues as to her potential as well as answers to that important question, namely, can she handle the work at the school which you both want her to attend.
If you have questions, feel free to tweet me. My Twitter address is @privateschl