The private school admissions process can be quite long and taxing. Applicants and their parents must tour schools, go on interviews, take admissions tests, and fill out applications. During the entire process, applicants and their parents often wonder what admissions committees are actually looking for. Do they really read and review everything? Though each school is different, there are some major criteria that admissions committees want to see in successful applicants.
Academic and Intellectual Interests
For admission to the older grades (middle school and high school), private school admissions committees will, of course, look at the applicant's grades, but they also consider other elements of academic success and academic potential. Application sections including teacher recommendations, the student's own essay, and ISEE or SSAT scores are all also considered in the final admission decisions. These components combined help the admission committee determine what the academic strengths of a student are, and where the student may need some extra assistance, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many private schools are interested in knowing where a student needs extra assistance in order to transform the learning experience. Private schools are known for helping students perform to their fullest potential.
For younger students who are applying to pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, the schools may look at ERB tests, which are modified intelligence tests. Teacher recommendations are also very important for the younger students, as well as what students are like during their school visits. Admission officers may observe your child in the classroom, or ask teachers for reports on how your child behaved and if he or she was able to get along with other students.
In addition to the application materials mentioned above, the admissions committee is also looking for evidence that the applicant is genuinely interested in learning, reading, and other intellectual pursuits. In the interview, they may ask your child about what she reads or what she likes to study in school. The answer is not as important as the genuine interest your child shows in learning - inside and outside of school. If your child has a compelling interest, he or she should be prepared to speak about it in the interview and to explain why it means something to her. Applicants to the older grades in high school or in the postgraduate year should show that they have taken advanced coursework in an area of interest, if available to them, and that they are committed to taking this kind of classwork at their new school.
In the instance that a student is underperforming at his or her current school, explanations of why are always helpful, as well as information about what the candidate needs to excel. Being able to articulate where a learning environment is lacking is helpful to admission committees. If your child is in this position, you may consider asking to reclassify your child, meaning repeat a grade. At a private school, this is a common request, as the often rigorous academics at these schools can be challenging for students who are underprepared. If reclassification isn't right, you might also inquire about academic support programs, where students work closely with a qualified educator who can help him or her learn how to capitalize on strengths and develop coping mechanisms and strategies for areas where they aren't as strong.
Applicants to older grades should show interest in an activity outside of the classroom, whether it's sports, music, drama, publications, or another activity. They should research what the options to participate in this activity are at the school they are applying to, and they should be prepared to speak about this interest in the interview and how they will further it. It's also okay to be unsure about what the student wants to try, as a private school is a great way to get involved in new activities and sports. But students will be expected to get involved in something other than the traditional academics, so desire to be a part of a team or group is crucial.
This does not mean that you should run out and sign your child up for every activity under the sun. In fact, some private schools are wary of candidates who are over-involved and over-scheduled. Will they be able to handle the rigors of private school? Will they be constantly late for school, leave early, or take excessive time off because of other commitments?
Character and Maturity
Schools are looking for students who are going to be positive members of the community. Admission committees want students who are open-minded, curious, and caring. Private schools often pride themselves on having supportive, inclusive communities, and they want students who will contribute. Boarding schools are particularly looking for a high level of independence or desire to become more independent, as students are expected to be responsible for themselves at school. Maturity comes into play when students can articulate a desire to improve, grow, and be involved at school. This is important for admission committees to see. If your child doesn't want to be at the school, they typically don't want the child, either.
In addition, admissions committees may look for evidence of the student's having participated in public service, but this isn't a requirement for most schools. The committee also looks at the teacher comments to make sure the applicant is the type of student who works well with other students and teachers. Students can also show maturity through holding positions of leadership at their current schools or by leading extracurricular activities, sports teams, or community service programs.
Fit With the School
Admissions committees look for students who are a good fit. They want to accept kids who will do well at the school and who will find it easy to fit in with the school culture. For example, they are more likely to accept applicants who know about the school, its mission, its classes, and its offerings. They are less likely to accept a student who doesn't know much about the school or who isn't interested in the school's mission. For example, if the school is a single-sex school, the admissions committee is looking for students who are knowledgeable about single-sex schools are who are interested in having this type of education.
Some schools are more likely to accept applicants who already have siblings at the school, as these applicants and their families already know a lot about the school and are committed to the school. An educational consultant can help the applicant and his or her family understand which schools might fit the student best, or applicants can look over schools during the tour and interview to get a better sense of whether the school is right for them.
Little did you know that you, the parent, can actually have an impact on your child's candidacy at a private school. Many schools will interview the parents, as they want to get to know you also. Are you going to be involved in your child's education, and be a partner with the school? Will you be supportive of your student, but also supportive in terms of enforcing the expectations of the school? Some schools have denied students who are perfectly qualified to attend, but whose parents are concerning. Over-involved parents, parents who feel entitled or, on the flip side, parents who are removed and not supportive of their children can be negative influences on the school community. Teachers have demanding jobs already, and parents who may pose a concern for the school by being needy or demanding can result in a student not being accepted.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, but it does to many. Private schools do not want a perfect mold of the ideal student. They want real students who bring with them a wealth of interests, perspectives, opinions, and cultures. Private schools want people who are involved, real, authentic. If your child's application and interview are too perfect, it could raise a red flag that makes the committee question if the child is truly the individual being presented to the school.
Don't script or coach your child to be perfect, and don't hide facts about your child or your family that could affect his or her ability to be successful in school. If you know your child struggles in an area, don't hide it. In fact, many private schools offer programs aimed at supporting students' areas in need of assistance, so being open and honest can benefit you and help you find the right school for your child. Presenting a false representation of your child could result in the school being unable to serve his or her needs, meaning that the child is at a disadvantage. Plus, it could mean that the offer of acceptance would be rescinded for the coming year, or worse, the child may be asked to leave before the end of the current school year and you may have to forfeit your tuition payments and possibly pay the remainder of tuition for the year. Honesty is always the best policy here.