Play the Hand You Have Been Dealt

Play the Hand You Have Been Dealt
Card games such as bridge and solitaire with multiple decks of cards fascinate me. I have learned to play the hand dealt me. So must we all when applying to private school.

No, this is not an article about card games. But the reality is that getting your child into private school requires a similar mindset. You must play the hand which you have been dealt. The admissions staff will review the facts in your child's dossier. Not the "might have been" or the "wish they were". As you prepare your child's applications for private school, pay attention to the areas listed below. If you are just starting to think about private school as an option, then focus on these four areas of your child's profile with the goal of presenting her in the best possible light when it comes time apply to private school.


Since the school needs to know whether your child can do the academic work, it is very important that her academic transcripts and teacher recommendations address her mastery of core subjects such as English and mathematics. Transcripts, teacher recommendations, and test scores ideally should indicate the same thing: that your child can handle the academic work at the schools to which you are applying. An occasional lower grade is OK as long as the transcripts and teacher comments indicate that the issue which caused the low grade in the first place has been dealt with and remediated.

This video offers an overview of life at Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.

Deficiencies? Less than stellar test scores? A score of C in math? That's why the interview is so important. The admissions staff will note your explanations on the file. They will take them into consideration. For example, let's say your child missed several weeks or even months of school due to a chronic illness or some other unavoidable situation. What you did to get her back up to speed speaks volumes about the kind of parent you are. That's important to the school. Private schools believe in a partnership of three: the school, you, and your child. When all parties are in synch, great things can be achieved.

Poor admissions test scores? Why were they poor? What did you do about it? You see, ignoring the hand you have been dealt is not the right course of action here. Recognizing that you have limitations and coping with those limitations is the key. The sooner the better. Some children do not test well. That's why admissions testing is just one of several components in your child's admissions folder which help create a picture of her and what she has done and what she is capable of doing.

Did you enrich your child's academic work in any way? For instance, did you take trips to historic sites or send her to a robotics camp? Keep track of those 'extras' as they attest to your seriousness about enriching her education.

Finally, set expectations and outcomes correctly. If getting her into an Ivy League college is your dream - and hopefully hers - then you need to discuss that objective thoroughly with your educational consultant and with the schools she suggests are the best fit for that purpose. That can be a tough hand to play. Trying to get your child into a hyper-competitive private school is a challenge in a different category. For example, Exeter received 2,325 applications and offered 435 places in the spring of 2014. Yes, hyper-competitive schools are superb institutions. But the truth is that your child will probably do very well in a less competitive school. It is the fit that trumps just about every other consideration.

Personal Growth

Is your hand a little weak here? Your child's personal growth is often obvious to others before it is obvious to you. For example, the child who is withdrawn because her mother died cannot be left just to cope on her own. If you have decided that private school is your best option for drawing her out of her shell and rebuilding her life, you need to be honest with the school. And you will need to work with the school to provide counseling and other ongoing support. When you are honest with the school and lay out all the facts, you will get a better outcome and a happy child. Your child's education requires that partnership of three which private schools value so highly.

This video offers a look at Chatham Hall, Chatham, Virginia.

This is another reason why I shall repeat my oft-stated recommendation that you hire an educational consultant. She will know which school or schools will best meet your specific requirements. Not just academic requirements but all your requirements.

Private schools are devoted to developing the whole child. The more the school understands what you need and what your child needs, the better the fit will be. The school wants your child to be happy as much as you want her to be happy. The school knows the personality and other traits which will fit into its community. In a small and close-knit school community like a private school, these are important considerations. Your child cannot hide or escape notice in a private school regardless of whether it is a residential or day school. Her happiness means that she will quickly become a successful and happy member of the school community.

One of the after-effects of attending private school is a strong network of classmates. Think of it like Facebook friends except much more targeted. Socialization and participation in a private school are important both in the classroom and outside. These activities will drive your child's growth. It is very satisfying to watch it happen.


Is athletics his strong suit? It doesn't matter whether he has a badminton racquet or a hockey stick in his hand, he's just a superb all-around athlete? That's great. I hope you have all the necessary documentation to support that claim. Participation in local, state, and regional teams and events will be looked upon favorably. So will solid letters of recommendation from coaches and trainers. Is concern for his safety your weak suit? Be upfront with the school. I think that you will find that every aspect of its athletic program is staffed and supervised by experienced professionals. Your child's safety is always the school's primary concern. Not simply winning a game.


Schools value applicants who are really good at playing instruments or singing. They understand that artistic endeavors build confidence, character, and leadership. Those artistic activities mesh with most schools' objectives and mission of developing the whole child.

This video offers a look at the Westminster School, Simsbury, Connecticut.

If your child is musically gifted, ask your educational consultant to focus on schools that offer above-average music programs. I always like to think of the talents which a child exhibits in her middle school years as veins of precious gold. I want to mine those veins and see where it takes us. Perhaps she will turn out to be the next Maria Callas. Who knows? But you won't know unless she is under the watchful eyes and ears of a really competent musician teacher.

By now you can see the point of this little essay: when it comes time to file your applications with schools, you must play the hand you are dealt. There will be scant room for bluffing. If you do bluff, those experienced admissions staffers will spot it in a nano-second. So, start as early as you can. Educating a child requires thousands of small steps headed in the same direction.

Never forget that you as her parent are in control. You are playing the hand. Adroitly. Thoughtfully. Wisely. However, be careful not to overplay the hand. You don't want things to be too perfect. She will win the prize. When she does, you will have the sublime satisfaction of knowing that you played your hand well. That's what we parents do.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @privateschoolreview

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