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December/January 2008

Getting In
Inside the Private School Admissions Process


For parents moving into a new area and considering an independent school for their child for the first time, the admissions process can seem both daunting and confusing. Where do you begin? How does it work? What needs to happen when? While each school’s procedure may vary, understanding some of the common steps will make the admissions process less stressful.

Before you get fully involved, just remember one thing—many children could be vying for the same spot as your child, and the commitment a family makes toward fulfilling the requirements of a school’s admissions process can serve as a genuine indicator of their desire to commit fully to the school itself. This means that if you make an appointment for an open house, keep it, and be thorough and on time with all paperwork. When an admissions director is sifting through tens or hundreds of applications, it’s often the little things that can make a big difference regarding whether your child is accepted.

The only way to truly know whether a school is a right fit for your child is through research. Before you start filling out applications, try to learn everything you can about the schools in which you are interested. Search Web sites, call admissions offices, and try to talk to parents who already have children enrolled in the school.

Rusty Slider, vice president for admissions at Woodward Academy in College Park, recommends that parents answer two questions before applying to a school: What is the likelihood that it’s a good academic match for your child, and considering who your child is—how they think, feel, act and respond—what is the likelihood that he or she will be happy in that environment? “Schools have personalities as much as children do,” says Slider. “To find the best fit, you need to match your child’s personality with that of the school.”

While some schools prefer to have an application from you before you visit, it is very important to try to schedule a time as soon as possible when you and your child can visit the school, whether it be on a group tour or at an open house. When you visit, ask the questions that are pertinent to you and your family, and pay attention to your child’s reaction to the school. After a hands-on visit, it will be much easier to evaluate whether the school could be a possible fit.

At this point, you should have narrowed down potential schools to three or four. When filling out the application, be absolutely truthful and complete about your child’s academic performance and conduct at his or her former school—if relocation is not the only reason for leaving another school, then you should disclose that information. There are usually some open-ended questions on the applications as well, so think carefully about your answers—your well-thought-out comments could help your child stand out. A recommendation from a current teacher is also usually required.

Also, if a school offers financial aid and you feel your family might be a candidate for it, it is at this time that you provide adequate documentation of family financial resources, as aid is given on a “demonstrated need” basis.  

While some schools administer their own testing, two common assessment tests schools use to evaluate potential students are the Joint Admissions Testing Program (JATP), used to evaluate children in grades kindergarten through five, and the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT), primarily for students in grades six through 12. The JATP is an aptitude test designed to measure the candidate’s ability to learn and is administered on a one-to-one basis by an approved, licensed psychologist. It is up to you to make an appointment with the psychologist for the evaluation. Early contact is strongly recommended to ensure an appointment. Afterward, the student’s test results will be sent directly to schools of your choice.

If you have an older child, the SSAT ( may be required for admission. It is again your responsibility to register your child for a test date. Results are released to schools about two weeks after the test.

After the applications are in, each school should contact you about setting up an appointment time for an interview, which allows administrators and faculty to get to know your child better. Also, many schools organize small-group observation times that allow your child to interact with their potential peers. This is an excellent way to see first-hand whether your child would fit in within this particular school environment, so if the admissions office does not require an observation time, then ask whether one can be set up.

In early April, schools usually will send out their acceptance, wait-list and denial letters. If a school has accepted your child, you usually have about two weeks to accept or decline the invitation. If your child is wait-listed by a top choice, then be sure to let the school know that you continue to be seriously interested. Simply make a call or send an e-mail, as admissions directors may interpret silence from a wait-listed family as disinterest.

Once your child has been accepted into a school that reflects his or her personality and goals, it is now time to become part of the school’s community. Some schools offer programs in which new families are paired with a current family so that there is a parent resource to contact during the summer and the first year of school, which is particularly helpful to those moving into a new area. Schools may also hold summer events for parents and children to help them get familiar with the school before the new year begins. The Trinity School in Atlanta and The Heritage School in Newnan both host ice cream socials in the summer. Be sure to find out what programs are offered so that you can participate and get to know your child’s new school.

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