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Your Guide to Applying to Independent Schools

Posted by Laura Burgess on Sep 8, 2016 2:52:47 PM


Education rights activist Malala Yousafzai tells us that, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” School is a fundamental aspect of a child’s life, and each child’s life holds the undeniable potential to impact the world. Most parents approach high school without realizing there is a choice when considering how to maximize their child’s potential. It is the recognition of this innate potential that drives the school choice movement. Before the “choice” is made, an objective school search should be undertaken. That search might include boarding schools, day schools, parochial schools, charter schools as well as taking a critical look at your hometown public school. In this post, we offer an outline and our words of wisdom on how to approach the process in hopes that it may feel more accessible.

Information Gathering: Present-Late Autumn

The beginning of the process is an exciting time because so many possibilities lie ahead and your only commitment is to doing the process thoroughly. Request school materials and scour websites. Craft a set of criteria against which you will evaluate the information you receive. Each family will have different criteria and questions, and that is what ultimately makes our schools so magical; families who all started in such different places, with different criteria, found their way to making contributions to the same school community. As a place to start, you might consider:

  • What are the must-haves for any secondary school in terms of programs and opportunities?
  • What level of academic challenge is appropriate, and which schools provide it?
  • What are the values most important to your family that you will want to see reflected in your school of choice? What will you look for to evaluate this?

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to listen to your own instincts and those of your child. It is important to consider the source of your information, whether it is the internet or word of mouth. While word of mouth is a great way to open process to new considerations, in the end, your instincts and your child’s should be the ones that guide you most.

Share impressions and ask questions. Your child’s instincts will surprise you!

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Visiting: Late Autumn-Early Winter

Planning school visits sounds like a big investment, and it is. But it is an investment with tremendous potential returns. Plan enough time to visit schools of interest without feeling rushed and also explore the surrounding area.

Visit with an open heart and mind. Be prepared to be wowed by a school you think will be a “safety” and likewise, to be disappointed by a school you expect to love. Decide what is most important and evaluate each school using the same set of criteria. Write everything down – impressions, unique programs, reactions to the tour, campus vibe, sense of community - before you forget!

Admissions Offices expect your visit will inspire you to continue the process. Most students who graduate from boarding school say they would do it all over again because there were tons of activities and opportunities they just didn’t have time to take advantage of. Likewise, a campus visit and tour is just the beginning of your research into any one school. Just as we don’t evaluate applicants by the interview alone, the visit should be just one part of your evaluative process.

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Early Winter: Applications

A few things to keep in mind as you complete the applications:

Great matches between schools and families happen when students present themselves honestly. Fully disclosing any challenges your child might face will help the right school provide the best support and partnership. Choosing not to disclose a learning difference could lead to serious challenges for your child, for you, and for their school.

It is your responsibility to keep track of the pieces of your application. We recommend using a common application service which allows you to see if it has been uploaded properly and subsequently downloaded by the school. You can always give us a call to confirm, but it is important not to anticipate reminders.

Only submit applications to schools that your child would be happy to attend if it were the only school to which he or she were admitted. On the flip side, don’t allow your child to apply to a school that you aren’t comfortable with should they be admitted, that can lead to an unfortunate situation. This may mean you do not apply to every school you visited. What better proof of the value of those campus visits.

Have a discussion about that moment of final choice at this early stage of the process. Who will have final say? What factor, if any, will rise to the top in importance? What if parents and children disagree, or if one parent disagrees strongly? Sorting out these aspects early on can prevent frustration at the critical stage.

Plan a schedule to complete the applications prior to the holiday season so that your child can relax and focus on school, family, and activities after a busy fall.

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Late Winter: Waiting

As admission officers, we experience a wide range of emotions when we read applications! We’re inspired, awed, moved to tears, and made to laugh until our sides ache. As nerve wracking as it is to imagine, trust that people who love their schools and care deeply about kids are thoughtfully evaluating everything you have submitted. While we are reading applications, you can still be evaluating our schools. Re-read your notes from your visits. Follow schools on social media and compare what you see. Attend a sporting event or drama production. Stay up to date on news from the various schools through their website.

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March 10th 
Decision Day

On March 10th, most boarding schools share news of their decisions with all applicants. Most schools offer acceptances, wait list, or denials. For families applying for financial aid, it can sometimes be less straightforward. For example, a student may be offered admission but not financial aid. Some tips to manage emotion, expectations, and outcomes of the decision day:

  • Find out what time and by what method admissions decisions will be released from the various schools to which you have applied
  • Plan a time to sit down as a family, in the evening, to receive and review decisions together rather than letting your child read their email at school. This will protect your child from any potentially uncomfortably situation that might arise…and, hopefully, allow you to share in a celebratory moment together.
  • Communicate with your child’s interviewer if you are uncertain about any aspect of the decision


Spring: Revisits and Enrollment Decisions!

Now, the fun begins! While it may be tempting to QUICKLY accept an offer from the most competitive school to which your child was accepted, you should take the opportunity to revisit schools. You don’t need to revisit every school, but you should plan to visit several for comparison. Visiting schools without the pressure of the process is a different experience. The revisit process is another investment that will have a tremendous return.


Post April 10th: Decide, and Celebrate!

Welcome to the family! Now it’s time to celebrate. Join parent networks, attend events, read newsletters, and of course, stock up on gear! Your whole family, but most importantly your child, has a tremendously exciting journey ahead.

Topics: Tabor Academy, Admissions