Making the Transition From Public to Private School for Middle and High School

Viewpoint Upper School
Viewpoint School, Calabasas, K-12

If your child is currently in a public school, but you’re thinking of applying to private school for middle or high school, here are tips to help you get started. Please note, we used the term “private schools” but many L.A. schools are called “independent” schools. The difference is that independent schools are non-profit and private schools are for-profit or may be run by a church or religious organization.

Getting started might seem a bit overwhelming, but if you approach the application process in an organized, step-by-step manner, you will be ahead of the game when it comes time to tour your first school!

Plan ahead. You will need to apply to private school one year before your child enters the school. So, if you are applying for 9th grade for 2018, you will start the process in September of 2017 or when your child is entering 8th grade.

Research schools you want to visit. You can go to the Los Angeles Independent Schools  to find a list of independent schools, but you may also want to look at Catholic schools that are run by the L.A. Archdiocese and we have a list of schools in Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los AngelesIf you’re wondering why there isn’t just one big list, it’s because there are different types of schools that are not all governed by the same organizations.

Pay attention to deadlines. Each school has its own deadline various steps during the application process, but you can generally expect the following:

  1. Tour of schools (September-December)
  2. Written application (September-December)
  3. Parent interview (if required, October-February)
  4. ISEE Test is the Independent School Entrance Exam. Here is a great explanation of the ISEE test by Matt Steiner of Compass Prep. The ISEE is required for grades 5-12 at most private schools. Catholic schools have their own entrance exam called the HSPT. Because the ISEE has a high degree of difficulty, many families hire test preparation companies to help their kids prepare for the exam. Here are a few excellent options: Academic Achievers, Compass Prep, Learning Encounters and Team Tutors  The ISEE is administered from September-April. You should pay attention to school deadlines because the January ISEE may be too late for some schools.
  5. Child visiting/testing day (October-February)
  6. Transcripts, teacher recommendations (See school websites)
  7. Open houses, sports events, other school events (September-March)
  8. Notification of decisions (all LAAIS Schools notify on the same day in March. See school websites)
  9. Note: Deadlines are final and you must meet all deadlines. Schools do not make exceptions for late applications or other missed admissions deadlines!
Turning Point School, Culver City, Preschool-8th
Turning Point School, Culver City, Preschool-8th

Apply to At Least 3 Schools. No matter what grade you’re applying for, you should apply to enough schools that you maximize your child’s chances of getting in. Many schools receive far more applications than spots available, so you should consider applying to at least 3 or more schools.

Follow the school’s application rules. Even if the school’s admissions process seems cumbersome or just annoying, follow the rules. Pay attention to deadlines, avoid calling the admissions office numerous times to ask questions that could be answered by looking on the website, show up on time for interviews, be nice to everyone and that includes the people at the front desk, security, the tour guides, etc.

Be Familiar With Types of Private Schools. Determine the type of school you think will be best for your child (See our 7 part series about progressive or traditional educational philosophies here. Just like public magnet and charter schools, private schools differ in their mission and educational philosophy. Some private schools are a blend of educational philosophies, so it will be up to you to figure out the best fit for your child.

Tuition is expensive! Some of the top private high schools cost between $35,000-$38,000/year. Tuition typically goes up 4% per year. 

Apply For Financial Aid If You Can’t Pay Full Tuition. Financial aid is available and is based on family need. It’s not merit-based. It is a separate application process from the admissions process. Some schools will offer admission to a family irrespective of their financial aid needs. Other schools do consider a family’s need for financial aid and it may impact the admissions decision. But, if you cannot afford the full tuition, apply for financial aid!

Contacts/Connections Help, But Aren’t Necessary. You don’t need to know somebody at the school to get your child in! It can help, but it isn’t necessary, especially if you are a public school family and haven’t established those connections. Private schools understand that it is not the job of public schools to help your child get into private school.

Extra-curricular activities matter to private schools. Make sure to include your kid’s sports, music, theater activities. If they don’t have significant activities, look at the activities each private school offers. Would your child really like to get involved in the school newspaper or yearbook? Tell the school that! Let them know that’s one of the reasons you’re applying.

The Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs is a non-profit that functions like a school placement organization for minority families. Check out their services!

Educational Consultants. If you need help navigating the admissions process, educational consultants offer everything from one-time consultations to full-service packages. Sometimes, having an expert help you develop a list of schools and giving you advice about the admissions process or reviewing your written application can make a big difference in helping the process go smoothly.

Senator Kamala Harris speaks to seniors at Wildwood High School in West Los Angeles.
Senator Kamala Harris speaks to seniors at Wildwood Upper School in West Los Angeles.

Navigating the “Gap” year between end of public elementary and start of private middle schools. One of the biggest challenges families face is the fact that public elementary schools are K-5 and private elementary schools are K-6. So, the public schools end one year before private schools end. There are also private schools that are 7-12 so that presents a challenge too. You’ll need to consider where your child go during the “gap” year that is the result of schools not aligning. There are several options we’ll discuss below.

1. Understand the points of entry. Private schools accept the majority of students for kindergarten, 6th grade, 7th grade and 9th These are the grades when the most spots are open and accepting applications. Some schools will accept applications for other i.e. 3rd grade or 10th grade, but it depends of whether there are spots available. To inquire, call the admissions director to ask. You’ll need to call the admissions director one year before your child would enroll.

2. Consider a K-6 School for 6th Grade. You can also consider applying to K-6 schools for 6th.  Openings will depend on whether families have left the school, but it happens! You will need to contact each school. There’s no other way to find out if they will accept an application for 6th grade. So, roll up your sleeves and, when you’re ready, start contacting schools. They will require ISEE test scores in most cases. The drawback to this approach is if your child attends 5th grade at public school, 6th grade at a K-6 and then 7th grade at a different private school, that’s 3 separate schools in 3 years, a lot of transitions for the family. But, it happens ever year and it’s one way to solve the problem of the gap between end of public school and start of the 7-12 private schools.

3. Apply to private middle schools for grades 6-8 with the intent to apply out for 9th grade. This can be a good option and many of the K-8 schools expect applications for 6th and 7th grades from public school families.

4. Enroll in your local public middle school or a magnet or charter for 6th grade

5. Apply to private schools that accept students for 6th grade. Here’s a partial list (in alphabetical order):

  • Archer School For Girls
  • Berkeley Hall
  • Buckley
  • Calvary Christian
  • Chaminade Middle and High School School
  • Crossroads
  • Geffen Academy at UCLA
  • New Roads
  • Notre Dame Academy Middle School
  • Pilgrim School
  • Rolling Hills Prepratory
  • Sierra Canyon
  • Turning Point
  • Westside Neighborhood School
  • Wildwood
  • Willows
  • Viewpoint
  • Wesley

See Beyond The Brochure’s School Profiles for detailed profiles of selected schools.

Pilgrim School, Los Angeles, Preschool-12th
Pilgrim School, Los Angeles, Preschool-12th

Questions arise about how parents can find out which are the “good” private schools or the “best” private schools. Public schools use the API to rank schools, but private/independent schools don’t use that measurement. Because private schools aren’t required to test students the same way public schools are, you will need to look at factors such as college placement, student/teacher ratio, teacher qualifications, AP and honors classes offered, size of the school, number of classes per grade, discipline policy, diversity of student and teacher population, standardized testing, location of the school, accreditation, head of school qualifications, campus facilities, security, extracurricular activities like sports, music and art that are offered and other factors that will contribute to your child’s education.

Attending events about the admissions process can also be helpful. We keep up with these events and post on Beyond The Brochure’s Facebook Page.

There are 3 types of admissions letters: Acceptance, wait-list and declined admission.

Finally, we’ve written about L.A. private school admissions on this blog since 2010, so there are lots of posts in the archives. Take some time to browse. Don’t let all the steps of the process intimidate or deter you. If you want to apply, do it! L.A. private schools want students from public schools! We’ve also written Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. The book is intended for parents apply to elementary school, but many of the admissions steps in the process are the same for middle and high school. The big difference is that for elementary school, the parents and the child are considered important during the process. For middle and high school, the child becomes more significant and the parents are not as central to to process. This is because older kids have grades, teacher recommendations, test scores, interviews, extracurricular activities so the school can evaluate a kid based on these factors.


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Things You Can Do To Get Ready For Fall Admissions


Inside the multi-age K-1 classroom
Inside the multi-age K-1 classroom at Sequoyah School, Pasadena

Hi Friends!

Happy Summer! Hope you’re enjoying our hot summer here in L.A. We just returned from my son’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas where it hit 113 degrees. That’s just too hot! I posted the team’s photo on Beyond The Brochure’s Facebook page.

If you’re reading this post, you are probably anticipating the fall admissions season. Before then, there are a few important things you can do to get ready for the hectic time when you’re touring schools, writing applications, attending parent interviews and all the other activities that surround the admissions process.

1. Do The Drive. If you know a few schools where you plan to apply, drive to and from the school during morning drop off and afternoon pickup. Can you do this drive every day? Can your child be in the car comfortably for the duration of the drive? Could you find a carpool? Is the school near your work or your home? Is there a bus? If you will have two kids at different schools, how would the logistics of that work? What about before and/or after school sports or activities? The school’s distance from your home and/or office can be a huge factor when considering schools in Los Angeles, due to the enormous size of our city.

2. Make A List of Schools. If you aren’t familiar with the schools your child will be eligible to apply for, compile a list now. If you’re planning to apply for kindergarten, but you only know of two schools, find more options. There is a list of LA and Pasadena area schools in our book, Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. Also, CAIS has a list of all the independent schools in the Los Angeles area. You can also talk to friends, acquaintances, colleagues and anybody who might be familiar with school options. The more people you talk to, the more you learn. People tend to be very open to talking about schools here in L.A. Sort of like real-estate and home prices. It’s a constant topic of conversation. We’ve also profiled selected schools here.

3. Get organized. Grab a big 3-ring binder notebook from Target and create tab sections for each school. Then, for each school, create sections for every step of the process: tours (your notes from tours), parent interviews, etc. If you’re more comfortable with digital organization, find the best option i.e. Google documents, iPhone Notes, Evernote or whatever you like best. Another tip: create an email folder for school admissions and keep all correspondence from schools in that folder. The main thing here is to keep every piece of paper the school sends you, either a hard copy or a scan of it. The amount of paper and organization required for the admissions process can’t be underestimated. Calling the school because you’ve lost a document can–and should–be avoided.

4. Cost of Private School. Check out our post on L.A. private school tuition and the extra expenses that aren’t covered by tuition. This is an easy way to cross schools off the list if they don’t fit your family’s budget.

5. Extra Help. If you are considering hiring an educational consultant, here’s a list of experts to guide you through the process.

If you can tackle these manageable tasks, you’ll be ready to tour schools in September!


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The BIG WEEK, The BIG DAY: L.A. Private School Admissions

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This is the BIG WEEK. Finally after months of waiting, schools will notify parents about elementary school admissions decisions on Friday, March 18. If you applied for secondary school, or if you applied to Pasadena schools, you most likely found out yesterday.  Friday is the BIG DAY for L.A., you been waiting for since you first started the admissions process in September. The Los Angeles Times called it “Black Friday” because it sets off so much panic among parents.

I’ve been there. I know what its like to open the schools’ emails or to log on to Ravenna. I’ve felt the exhilaration of the acceptance letters and the letdown and distress of a wait-list letter (in our case, it was an email that was most likely a polite “no”). I found out that doors shut, making room for other doors to open. I learned the harsh reality that people lie during this process. Friends don’t come through for you the way you’d hoped. School administrators think they can tell you where your kid should go to school, despite your objections.

After going through kindergarten admissions and middle school admissions processes, I’ve experienced some bumps and bruises along the way. With my two kids now at Viewpoint School and previously at The Willows School, I’ve lived the ups and downs of L.A. admissions. If you received the news you wanted, congratulations! If you don’t get the decisions you hoped for, you may need to pivot and quickly develop another plan to pursue. You’ll need to set aside your ego, your pride and maybe even a few friendships–I certainly did. Focus on your kid and what’s best for him or her. Contact the schools where your child was wait-listed to see if they might have a spot, making sure you tell them you’ll accept it if offered. If you got an acceptance from your second or third choice school, don’t let it slip away: put down the deposit, then see what happens with your first choice school if your kid was wait-listed there. I fully acknowledge all of this seems crazy-complicated. What I’ve learned, however, is that somehow it all works out. Everyone finds a school that works for their kid, even if it isn’t the one they expected. You’d be surprised how this happens every year. If you find yourself without a school, keep an open mind, expand your options if needed, reconsider schools you may have initially thought might not work, contact an educational consultant, look for “hidden gem” schools, forget about the “popular” schools because this isn’t a popularity contest, inquire about whether a school will accept a late application–some do.  There are options, you just have to find them.

Here’s a link to one of our most popular posts: Types of Admissions Decisions: Accepted, Wait-Listed or Shut-Out 

Good luck! Christina


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Who Gets In? Who Doesn’t? Some Observations About L.A. Private Schools…


Photo: Flickr by Giulio Molo
Photo: Flickr by Giulio Molo

If someone had asked me who gets into the most competitive L.A. private schools before I went through the admissions process, I would have probably said, “celebrities!” Now that I’ve been immersed in the private school world for the past 9 years as a mom and 5 years as a writer on the subject, I know that’s just part of the short answer–and really not the most important part. Celebrities, while highly coveted by some schools, are avoided by others, considered too high maintenance and disruptive to a school environment. And, there aren’t nearly enough celebrities to explain the cutthroat private school admissions process in L.A. So, what else is going on that causes some kids to get in everywhere and others to be declined admission? As my co-authors and I have said before, it’s about your family–your child and you. Especially when you’re applying for kindergarten.

Here are 3 categories to attempt to explain who gets in and who doesn’t. A family usually has one or more factors in a category working for/against their application:


  • Gets in everywhere 
    • Family has a prominent last name (Disney, Annenberg, Spielberg) and/or a large trust fund
    • Kid scores very well on kindergarten entrance tests
    • Family adds ethnic diversity without needing financial aid
    • Kid is extremely bright, articulate and the kind of kid who appeals to every admissions director (think of a mini Barack Obama)
    • Kid has a unique ability in music, art, math or some other area
    • Very high ISEE scores for middle and high school (8 and 9)


  • Gets into some, but not all schools (this is most families who apply)
    • Parents are well connected at one or two schools, but not all the schools where they apply
    • Follows the “rules” of the admissions process
    • Has a similar family profile to a lot of other families, making it more competitive for their kid
    • Kid attends a “feeder” preschool to a certain private elementary school
    • Kid has been tested as highly gifted
    • Extremely bright kid from disadvantaged background
    • Good ISEE scores for middle and high school (5 and 6)
    • Family is philosophically at odds with some of the schools where they apply
    • Admissions director has a strong preference for a certain type of family/kid


  • Does not get in anywhere
    • Family only applied to one very competitive school
    • Needs financial aid, but didn’t apply for it
    • Parents (or sometimes kid) seem very difficult and demanding
    • Kid has undisclosed behavior or other issues
    • Family is “outsider” applying only to “country club” schools
    • A negative recommendation from preschool director
    • Family appears to prefer public school
    • Family/kid does not have support of head of school for middle and high school admissions
    • Very low ISEE scores for middle or high school (scores of 1 and 2)
    • A contentious divorce or custody battle that isn’t adequately explained (or resolved)
    • Admissions director doesn’t think the kid will succeed at their school (academic or social reasons)


There’s nothing scientific about the categories above. These are simply my observations after 9 years of being a mom at two private schools and 5 years of writing about the topic and talking to tons of parents, admissions directors, heads of schools, educational consultants and preschool directors.


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