The countdown begins for notifications from L.A. and Pasadena private schools. Schools will notify families on March 10 and 17th. I remember applying for kindergarten, then DK, then 7th and 4th grades. Each time was stressful. Developmental Kindergarten was less stressful since my son was a sibling at Willows. As we waited, it was tempting to second-guess decisions we’d made along the way. Then, I’d think STOP. It’s done. My friends and I were on the phone non-stop. The stakes seem so high, especially when you start to imagine the worst possible outcome. Yet, over the years, I’ve seen that most families will have a school to attend. It may not be your first choice, but once your kid is accepted, it becomes “your kid’s school” and that’s a great feeling.
Our family has received acceptance letters, wait-list letters and we’re had to withdraw an application when our parent interview went south. If your family gets even one acceptance letter, congratulations! Two or more is an abundance of riches. If not, here’s what I’ve learned as a parent who has been through the process multiple times and as someone who writes about admissions: your kid (like mine) may not get into the school you think is the best school, the perfect school, the school where your family needs to be, the school where “everyone else” is going. If that happens, it can feel like a harsh blow. After all, you did everything right and yet…a wait-list or “no” letter. What!?! Frenemies are getting in and that makes it feel even worse. The most obnoxious family at your school posts their acceptance letter on Facebook. You feel like crying. You start crying. After a time, you stop crying and call a close friend, preferably someone who doesn’t live in L.A. You vent and rage as she listens. It helps. You feel better. It’s also helpful to remember that sometimes things happen during the admissions process that are completely out of your control. Maybe you don’t have the support of your head of school (that was our situation leaving Willows for 7th grade, which has a middle school or maybe your kid barely made the age cutoff date and schools want older kids). Now what?
So what can you do? After gulping your favorite alcoholic beverage and taking some time to process it, come up with a plan to move forward. For secondary school, you’ll have to tell your kid it’s not personal, this rejection. If you have options, focus on what’s great about where he/she did get in. Don’t do anything you’ll regret like stalking the admissions office or firing off a nasty email to your preschool director or head of school. Think those thoughts if you want, but remain professional. Trust me on this one! Instead, focus on options to move forward. Maybe that means figuring out a plan for a school where your kid has been wait-listed (see below for helpful posts). Perhaps you should think about submitting a late application at a school where you didn’t apply. This may require the help of an educational consultant to get your calls returned, but it can be well worth it. Cold calling can work, but sometimes a consultant will know which schools have that one open spot that could belong to you.
My kids are now at Viewpoint in 7th and 10th and I couldn’t have asked for a better school for them both!
Friday, March 10, 2017 Email notifications can be sent at 5pm on Friday, March 10, 2017 Replies will be due on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 Grades K-8: Notification can be sent on Friday, March 17, 2017 Email notifications can be sent starting at 5pm on Friday, March 17, 2017 Replies will be due on Monday, March 27, 201
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
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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It’s been an eternity (or so it seems) and finally, the admissions letters will soon arrive by regular mail or email. All over town, parents will be either (1) celebrating (2) trying to figure out what their wait-list letters really mean or (3) freaking out because their kid didn’t get in anyplace. It’s admissions day in L.A.
If you’re like me and you’ve been through the admissions process twice for two kids (DK, K, 4th and 7th grades), you’ll probably be familiar with at least two of the three scenarios above. My kids have been accepted and wait-listed, with one application that never got to the finish line after a terrible parent interview (more about that in the book…it caught us by surprise and there was no way our kid was getting into that school!).
First, let’s talk about the good news. Acceptance letters! Oh, joy! Now you can break out the champagne, call the school and tell them your family will accept. You’ll fork over the deposit and carefully analyze the admissions packet from what is now your kid’s school. Your kid has a school! Maybe you got two or three acceptances and you have lots of choices. Weigh them carefully, the pros and cons of each. Perhaps in a neurotic moment of ego-driven self-doubt, you’ll regret you didn’t apply to even more schools, including that amazing, constantly talked about oh-so-fabulous-school, just to get the letter and turn them down. After all, their tour was lame, the moms are mean-girls who wear Chanel and you’d enjoy the satisfaction…oh, never mind. All of this is pure happiness.
Now to the wait-list. Yes, I’ve received several, one in particular that I felt panicky about. Actually it was an email and it came at 12 noon on Saturday. Wait-list. Wait. List. To try to get a spot off the wait-list or not. To be or not to be? That was the question and this day seemed truly Shakespearean after a long process middle school process. Barry and I decided not to pursue the wait-list for our daughter, since that would have meant keeping our son at Willows, something we had decided very late during the admissions process would a mistake for various reasons. If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door. Instead, we focused on getting both kids into Viewpoint. And we did it.
It went something like this. We submitted a late application to Viewpoint (late being the Monday after admissions letters were sent out). We didn’t talk to the Willows about it, since experience told us that would be pointless. It turned out to be the right move at the perfect time. The kids got in. Maybe at sometime in the future in a galaxy far, far away, I’ll spill the details of what I think happened to cause my kid to end up on the wait-list. But, for now, you just need to know that I’ve had the experience of opening one of those emails and I know what it feels like. It’s a very uncertain feeling, but it isn’t always a “no” and a few kids at almost all the private elementary schools get in every year after first being wait-listed. Wait-lists move around. When one family declines a spot, the school looks to the wait-list to fill that spot. There are some schools, however, with very high acceptance rates so wait-lists spots are fewer. Sometimes, these are schools with lots of faculty kids, legacy families or siblings applying who are pretty much guaranteed to accept spots when offered. Parents often ask if they should turn down a spot at one school and linger on the wait-list at another. No! Send in your non-refundable deposit to the school where your kid has been accepted. It’s not a good idea to mention to that school you’re hoping to get a wait-list spot elsewhere. If a wait-list spot opens up, you’ll lose the deposit (it can be $2000-$5000, depending on the grade level, but that’s the reality). That is all just part of the L.A. admissions process.
If you find your family without a school, create another plan. A new plan that discards all mention of rejection letters. Don’t blame yourself and definitely don”t obsess over what went wrong. It could have been sometime entirely out of your control. Instead, focus on creating new options. Talk to your preschool director. Some of them have near-magical powers within their carefully cultivated relationships with admissions directors. Send him/her to public school for a year until you can re-apply. Call an educational consultant who knows how to work a wait-list to get a spot and who may also know which schools will take late applications. These might not have been your first choice options, but they can end up working out better than you’d expect. You’ll need to be open minded, patient and flexible, not exactly the qualities the admissions process brings out in parents.
We all want the very best education for our kids. Good luck! –Christina
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The roller coaster of applying to Los Angeles private elementary schools is not just hype. From the moment you decide to tour schools to the day decision letters arrive, you can confront such an array of emotions that by the end of March you find yourself at times not caring about the outcome anymore.
I was amazed to face intense fears, doubts, financial concerns and consternation of friends and family (who believe children will do fine in public school and cannot fathom spending so much money on Kindergarten). I figured I had until college applications for all of that. Sure, there had been fear and doubt over potty training, pacifier use and the typical parental dilemmas, but this felt like the first significant decision that could affect my daughter’s path for years to come.
A year ago January I heard about a private school with a pre-K program one week before the application deadline. Hoping I could get my daughter accepted before the Kindergarten rush, I applied without looking at any other schools. When she was accepted, I panicked and declined after realizing how much more research I wanted to do.
I had no idea what other schools looked like or what they offered and I certainly wasn’t well versed in all things private school. I didn’t realize that I would have to pay our following year’s deposit before hearing back from other schools to which we may have wanted to apply. I didn’t realize that private schools might not want to accept a child who already has a “spot” at another private school. I didn’t realize that almost every other school I visited would diminish the “wow” factor I had experienced at this first school. At the end of the day, what I did realize was that I needed to learn how to do “the dance.”
Applying to– and getting accepted at– L.A. private schools is in fact a well-orchestrated dance. There may be multiple partners on the dance floor with your family such as your preschool director, preschool teachers, each head of school and/or admissions director (oftentimes one in the same) and influential friends with ties to that school. In addition, there are ways to enhance your dancing like how involved you are in your child’s preschool, how powerful a career you or your spouse possess and how much wealth or influence the school perceives your family as having.
This past fall after copious research, I was ready to tour schools. I looked at schools big, tiny, progressive, artsy, highly academic, “old school/old money”, religious, one where the kids play sports in the parking lot, and ones that have every state-of-the-art facility possible. You name it, I looked at it. I felt I knew which would be a good fit for my daughter, but for comparison’s sake I wanted to see even those I felt would not suit her. This proved to be invaluable confirmation of the philosophy and environment in which I wanted my daughter.
Our family applied to three private schools. I told my husband that I only wanted to submit applications to schools we truly felt would be a good match for our daughter and our family. I did not want to apply to a large number of schools, simply to increase our chances of getting accepted.
I spent days anguishing on application answers and nights tormenting my poor husband on re-writes. We parsed every word, second-guessed each thought process, and tried to imagine what the ADs would think of how we approached our daughter’s strengths and weaknesses. Each school asked slightly different questions and there was no use trying to copy and paste. Reaching my breaking point I shut down, telling my husband the answers were as good as they were going to get.
The interviews caused the most tension between us. Not only was I concerned about my own appearance and answers, but also I found myself scrutinizing my husband’s choice of attire and worrying about what he might say. These interviews ranged from down-to-earth conversations about college football and potty training to a “family interview” where my daughter on her own drew a lovely picture and wrote each of our names before handing it to the AD as a gift.
Our last interview was the most bizarre with multiple conflicting remarks and unusual questions such as the last, “Would you like your daughter to be considered for admission?” I wanted to love this school because it was very close to our home and seemed in line with what we wanted for our daughter. However, with each interaction its appeal diminished and with our interview, any desire to enroll her disappeared.
The day acceptance e-mails and letters were arriving found us sitting in a restaurant refreshing e-mail on our phones. Exactly at noon our first e-mail acceptance appeared. Tears immediately flowed as my husband and I became choked up over our daughter’s accomplishment. Several minutes later another acceptance arrived via our Inbox. A few more hugs and we were beaming with pride. Pride over our daughter, who of course we think is exceptional, and I actually allowed myself a small moment of joy over any part I may have played in her success.
When we returned home our mailbox was stuffed with two large envelopes and one small. We were waitlisted by the school that had lost all attractiveness. In fact, they did not accept any family from our preschool save one sibling and even our preschool director was confused and disappointed. Multiple families had similar, peculiar experiences and interviews. We have since heard that any family who did not communicate to the school that it was their #1 choice was either waitlisted or declined. I feel confident that I could have gotten my daughter admitted. However, recognizing that this school was not our first choice, I did not utilize every resource, did not indicate it was our first choice and intentionally fell short of saying those five necessary words: If accepted, we will enroll. I can live with that.
In my heart I knew which school I wanted my daughter to attend. I could picture her on this campus, thriving and spreading her wings. With each visit I found myself wanting to volunteer or work there due to the uplifting and positive environment. The combination of a beautiful setting, state-of-the-art facilities, strong academic reputation, solid administration and so many opportunities was tremendous. Think again, though, if you concluded that our choice was straightforward.
In spite of all that, we struggled until the deadline over which school to choose. One was an easier commute and more likely to have families living closer to us. The other had better facilities for sports, science and the like. The former seemed more laid back and was several thousand dollars less. The latter had an impressive, well-rounded curriculum with a strong academic reputation.
In the end, we decided on the latter school. Asking ourselves “If money was no object where would we send her?” we had our answer. Nonetheless, for us money is a consideration. We are not a wealthy, prominent family. However, we are willing to do whatever we can to give our daughter an opportunity to receive the best education.
We had no letters of recommendation. We had no friends who attended these schools to put in a good word. At our preschool I have been a room parent, past co-chair of both the Fundraising and Silent Auction committees and am currently a board member of our parent association. Not one application asked about my husband or me and I chose to answer their questions without inserting self-accolades. In our interviews no one inquired about our preschool involvement, what we could bring to their school or if we intended to volunteer or donate money. Still, many private schools do put great emphasis on these details and as part of the dance moves I learned, I was prepared for all of the above should they have occurred. This is all to say that while I learned the formal dance steps, sometimes all it takes is a little rhythm and your own style.
Audrey Young has a background in Healthcare Compliance where she performed detailed research and analysis. She is a native of Los Angeles and attended public schools and universities. Her private school admission experience set in motion a desire to help guide parents through this process and ease any confusion, fear and anxiety. She is launching an admission consulting business, The Admission Team, and will be available to families applying for the 2013-14 school year and beyond. Audrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her daughter will be attending Kindergarten at Viewpoint School in September.
* Update: Since this post was written, many schools now notify families by email or use the Ravenna system for parents to log in to find out the school’s admissions decision.
Here’s a round-up of our some of most popular posts on selecting a school if your child is admitted, what to do if you child is wait-listed, being denied admission and hiring an educational consultant to help get your child off the wait-list. Please note that Porcha Dodson, Beyond The Brochure co-author tells us that schools only use email to send good news acceptance letters. Most schools don’t send wait-list or declined admission emails. Also, we’ve head from several sources that PS#1 Elementary School’s admissions director Andrea Roth, resigned this week.