Here’s another insightful, honest post from our friend Barbara Cameron. This time she writes about the thorny issue of waiting for admissions letters. Then, there’s the rose at the end of the journey…if things go well. We’re wishing all of you the very best of luck as you wait for letters and find out results!–Christina and Anne
We wait for an online purchase to arrive. We wait in traffic. We wait for our Double Cappuccino extra froth at Starbucks (where I recently saw a woman flip out on the barista because she waited “three minutes and it was all wrong” when she received it). We wait for news from an oncologist about ourselves, or a loved one or a friend when all wrong takes on an entirely different meaning. We wait for our babies to be born.
And then, of course, we sometimes wait for acceptance letters from L.A. private schools to hear where our children will get their education. It is easy to say, “Keep it in perspective, it isn’t a life or death matter,” because it is not. However, seriously hard work, time and effort have gone into this process more times than not. Our children’s education matters a great deal. Expectations are high, and fear can creep in, so how do we handle it?
I had a friend who drove around her neighborhood trying to track down the mailman the day the letters were due to arrive, which some might judge extreme, but if you knew her, you would laugh. That is her. She laughs now. Getting a little crazy is okay if that’s what you do. The Los Angeles Times famously coined the term “Black Friday” to describe this day.
For each family dynamic, there is a valid answer to how do we wait for this news. My crazy, I tended to play the waiting down, quell the anxiety by telling myself whatever happens it happens the way it is meant to happen. Whatever works; it’s a trick of the mind. I created options so I could remain faithful to my mantra. Some families are clear about their few choices and bet on that. These days, parents frantically check their email or log onto sites which schools posts acceptances. Check your email’s junk mail folder too because I’ve heard that’s where some of these admissions emails end up.
I guess the one real thing to take away: in many ways, it is a crapshoot. It’s a roll of the dice no matter that you may have the odds in your favor. The best way to prepare yourself and your children, is to ready them to handle whatever happens, which means you as a parent must control it. Lead by example.
We waited before kindergarten, were accepted to The Willows, our first choice, wait-listed at PS1,got rejected from The Center for Early Education, and, well, case in point, I can’t even remember the rest now. Of course, I signed the contract for The Willows instantly. As for high school, we did as we were told because we needed financial aid; we threw our net wide. Seven schools, applications, interviews, tours! Seven letters to await. Crapshoot: one school we thought he had a good chance, a no-go. The school we thought was out of his league was a yes, and wait-listed at one he liked very much. Fairly last minute, my son did a shadow day at Arête and fell in love with it. They accepted him; two very different schools. I remember conversations with family and friends, what to do? On the last day to decide, driving to work, debating which would be best for him, after receiving generous financial aid from both, I just made a decision, knowing we can never, in the end, know the answer to that question. Arête, I still believe, was the best choice!
Maybe all of this means remembering that we are always in the process of waiting for something; waiting is hard. Traffic can make us late to an important meeting. If we crave and look forward to our morning caffeine, waiting for it might seem impossible if the line is long. Some news we think will change our lives, and some possibly will; some may not, although we feel (as the Cappuccino women felt) it will.
Maybe teach your kids, the degree of importance varies, but waiting is a part of life. It never stops. The outcome of hard work, whatever it may be, is a part of life. Whatever happens, we deal with it and move on. There is no other choice. How we handle what we receive after the wait is– and will– become a part of who we are.
Barbara Cameron is the 2012 winner of the American Literary Review nonfiction contest, judged by Alice Elliot Dark, and her winning essay, “Hawk Blood,” was published in the journal. It was republished in the Colorado Review as an editor’s pick. Her essay, “In Avalon, She Fell,” was a finalist in a 2017 literary contest, judged by Abigail Thomas. She has studied with Mary Gaitskill and with Tom Jenks, founder and co-editor of Narrative. Barbara is a graduate of Barnard College, a former restaurant server and now manager, a single mom by choice and a resident of Los Angeles. You can read Barbara’s most recent essay about Financial Aid on Beyond The Brochure and her creative nonfiction in Angels Flight Literary West.
Sandy Eiges of L.A. School Scout and a friend of Beyond The Brochure, writes about the angst that comes with waiting for secondary school admissions letters. A lot of this advice is relevant for elementary school admissions too. And then, there’s the letters themselves. Read on…Good luck to everyone–Christina
With many of you waiting to hear about high school acceptances on Friday, and boarding school acceptances on Saturday, anxiety is running high. And that’s just the parents!
Yes, many of you seem to have forgotten that the results coming out this weekend aren’t actually about you. Your children are the ones affected, and the focus really should be on them. There are several possible scenarios that come to mind:
Scenario #1: S/he got in everywhere! Congratulations, that’s a terrific result. So, are you going with the “name” school, or are you going with the school that’s really the perfect fit? Who makes this decision? This is the time for a great parenting moment. But hey, in this competitive climate, congratulations! Really terrific outcome. And really, really rare.
Scenario #2: S/he got in to one school, not your top choice – or his! This is still an occasion for celebration. The question is, are you going to wait for the school that waitlisted you, or are you going to love the school that loves you? Always a hard choice. Here it is worth remembering that there is an acceptance on the table. If you applied there, it must have been a school you were considering, right?
Scenario #3: S/he got in to a couple of schools, but not to the school she had her heart set on. Not even a waitlist there, just a flat-out no. Is there any hope that she could still get in there? No, and please don’t hold any hope out to your beleaguered child. Just because their best friend got in doesn’t mean it’s the right school for her. This is the time to realize that with two school acceptances, there’s a choice! That’s a time to celebrate – many scenarios do not include a choice at all. And by embracing reality, you are modeling the kind of decision-making that your child will be able to use when it’s time for them to apply to college.
Scenario #4: Your son did not get into his top choice school and was waitlisted at the other school. Wait – did you just say, “the other school?” You just let him apply to two schools? And he’s not what anyone would call an A student? You didn’t heed my advice to apply to at least FOUR schools? This is not an ideal situation. If your tendency is to get combative when it seems that no one appreciates your child, you have my sympathy. But railing at the world – in front of your child – is not a good parenting moment. And while you can wait to move up that waitlist, this might be the time to get proactive and see if he can still apply anywhere else.
Scenario #5: Your child did not get in anywhere. No yeses, no waitlists. Just plain no. This is the toughest scenario of all. What happened here? It seems like something went terribly wrong. Did you apply to schools that were realistic for your student? This might be the time to get real. Talk to their school and see if they can shed any light on the situation. As with scenario #4, this is not the time to yell and scream, this is the time to get out there and see what is possible and give your child the love they deserve. This is much harder on them than it is on you.
If you are not already one of my families, and you need to discuss your child’s high school acceptance outcome, I am offering one-time meetings next week. Please contact me at sandy@LAschoolscout.com.
L.A. School Scout is now scheduling consultations for school placement in 2019, be it preschool, Kindergarten or middle school, high school or even boarding school. For more information about our services please contact sandy@LAschoolscout.com.
Sandy Eiges, M.S.W.
L.A. School Scout
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.
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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I remember distinctly the day it all began. I was standing outside after a preschool fundraising meeting with several other moms, and the conversation turned to private elementary school tours. The first thing I felt was a pit in my stomach. Was I behind the ball, again? We had waited until very late in the game to find a preschool for our son. I was in denial about the fact that he was even old enough for school, and truly in the dark about how competitive preschools were on the Westside. So, at that moment, one and a half years before my son would start kindergarten, I told myself that there was no way we would be behind the ball on this one. And so it began…
I started touring schools in February of 2011. The first step was learning about all of the different types of schools out there. Where there good public options? What are these private schools like? I toured them all, privates, charters, magnets, and parochial. I knew nothing about educational philosophies, progressive vs. traditional, charter vs. magnet, or anything about the entire process. I soon found myself creating files, Google doc. spreadsheets, and making calendars to hang on the fridge to keep track of all the tour dates and appointments.
It soon became clear to me that the lottery process of the public charter and magnet options was too random – too much to be left to chance, the luck of the draw. And then when I started to tour the private schools, I couldn’t believe how beautiful some of these schools were, how progressive they were in their philosophies, and how much they had to offer. Most seemed to have two full time teachers in each class. A low teacher to student ratio always appealed to me. I knew that this type of education was something I wanted for my boy, and it became quickly clear that only a handful of publics might offer something similar, IF you were lucky enough to have your child’s name drawn out of their lottery fishbowl.
As the process unfolded, my poor husband didn’t know what hit him. Of course he was on board with getting our son into a great school, but really? Tours, applications, parent interviews, and “playdates” for every school? The process consumed me for over a year. My husband was starting to tune out when I would bring up something about school in almost every single conversation we had. I on the other hand loved it. There was nothing I was more passionate about, nothing I was more committed to, nothing I wanted to think about or work towards more.
I found myself answering questions on written applications for the first time that I had never really thought about, like “what do you want in an education for your child?” Or “why is this school the right school for your son? And, “How would you like to be involved in our community?” I really had no idea! I just wanted a good education for him and a safe environment. Little did I even know what a “good” education meant, really. Our own education about elementary school education began.
Applying To Five Schools
We decided to apply to five private schools. Anything less than that seemed too risky. I had read about how competitive it was to get into a good private elementary school, and how slim the chances are of getting accepted. We only had acquaintances at a few of the schools. We did not have connections, we are not in the industry, and we are not a family with deep pockets. In fact, we were applying for financial aid. I knew that this made our chances of getting in even worse, as the possibility of getting accepted AND getting aid would be slim. This was all a real long shot.
We kept public school options in the picture, applying to several charters and a magnet school, but drew abysmal numbers in all of their lotteries. This was completely surreal. (Really, you are drawing my son’s name out of a hat to determine his chance at a decent education??).
The entire application process was more work than I ever imagined. Just keeping track of parent interview dates, school “playdates”, and school events was an organizational challenge, and my husband and I both work full time jobs! Now we literally had a third full time job.
The first parent interview was easy – a flowing and interesting conversation that gave us confidence for what was to follow. The next interview was uncomfortable, forced, and formal. Wow, I guess we blew it? “Oh well, we were ourselves,” I thought, although it was a slightly uncomfortable feeling, like a job interview where you feel like you didn’t nail it. I never felt like we needed to pretend to be something we weren’t, or that we needed to over-prepare. If they didn’t like us, or think our son was great, then this school was not for us! I truly felt that throughout the process. I never really stressed about how we “performed” as much as I stressed about the numbers (this many families applying for this few spots?) I stressed that it seemed like an inside game, and that we really didn’t know families that went to these schools. I stressed that we didn’t have any specific talents, connections, or wealth to bring to the school. We are what you might call a “normal” family. Not wealthy, not connected, not Ivy-League educated… just your average family with two working parents and one beloved little boy.
I approached the whole thing like it was the project of my life. For better or worse, I am a research fanatic and over-think just about all major things in my life (one might say obsess about). Getting married, buying a house, having a child. This felt like the biggest so far – a crucially important move that could forever shape my son’s future. I read Beyond The Brochure, the book and the blog religiously, posting comments and questions whenever I needed advice or just needed to be heard. My friends and family could only help so much. Nobody knew what I was going through except the other moms from school, and we all relied on each other heavily for emotional support and to keep the faith. I found my mom friends to be invaluable during the process, and although we were essentially competing for some of the same spots, we were all super supportive of each other. All of the good mojo, advice, information, and comfort we were providing each other would pay off for all of us! And it did. I kept my local wine shop in business too.
My Son’s Visiting Day
The playdates or visiting days were the next big stressor. My son has always struggled a bit with separation, and I thought for sure that one of the visits would end in screams and tears. He even told me before one that he did not want to go and that he would “scream the whole time.” Awesomely ironic, I thought. Luckily they all went flawlessly and his threats were idle. Besides, if a school doesn’t understand that kids have meltdowns and bad days, and that the whole thing is just strange to them, then we don’t want to go there anyway! That took the pressure off for me.
Leaving Nothing To Chance
After the interviews and visits, we really started to feel the vibe of each school. It was becoming apparent that some felt more comfortable than others, that some continued to impress us more, and some didn’t feel quite as right for our family. Our favorites were rising to the top. I diligently wrote thank you notes to the admissions directors and after every event we attended (my budget for thank you cards skyrocketed!). I asked acquaintances we barely knew to put in a word for us, which was slightly uncomfortable at first, but what did we have to lose? I had to get over my fear of rejection quickly.
We were really uncomfortable with the whole “first choice” thing. Did we really need to pick one and tell them those words? (YOU are our first choice!) My husband and I had different top three lists (mine based more on gut feeling and reputation, his more on commute and school administration). This was so hard, the thought of picking a top choice and communicating that to the school. This was something I agonized over incessantly towards the end. We decided to not tell any school they were our top choice specifically, but to sincerely express our strong interest to each. How confusing!! (I told friends I felt like a serial dater who cannot commit!)
Our Financial Aid Applications
The financial aid piece was another huge part of the puzzle. For us, an offer of enrollment without aid would be no offer at all. The paperwork required was extensive and detailed. Each school had different forms and a slightly different deadline for submission. If you are applying for aid, start early by putting together a budget – how much comes in and how much goes out. You will have to submit this to the school, and it is not necessarily something that is easy to pull together overnight (including the documentation they require).
As the March 23rd “D-day” loomed, I started to feel remarkably calm. There came a point where we had done all that we could do, and fate would handle the rest. Besides, I had read time and time again, being waitlisted is not a death sentence to entry, right? I DID stalk the postman and check my e-mail incessantly that Friday and Saturday.
Getting Our Admissions Letters
The first e-mail arrived early Saturday morning. Wow, it was a letter of acceptance from a highly coveted Westside school – the one where we thought the parent interview as a disaster! What a surprise! Then, the next one rolled in… offer #2 from one of our top choices. This was unexpected. Really, we got into more than one?
When the mail finally arrived at noon, we could not believe our eyes when we saw four large envelopes and one small one. We got into four out of the five schools to which we applied! YES! We did! As we opened each envelope, we started to read the details…. “We are happy to welcome you to Wildwood! However, due to X, Y, and Z, we are unable to offer you financial aid at this time…”
A Financial Aid Twist
Four offers… but only ONE accompanied by an offer of AID. This was something I NEVER expected. If they didn’t have aid to give, and we applied for it, why wouldn’t they just send us a rejection letter? Hmmmm, we started to think…. Is this a test? Do some families apply for aid, don’t get it, and then come up with the money some other way? We concluded that this must be the case. But for us, there was no plan B to finance this deal.
My gut to apply to five schools was solid. I knew that the combination of getting in, AND getting in with aid would be tough. I had heard that the number of families applying for aid was on the rise because of the economy, and at the same time, there were fewer funds available for aid because of the economy.
Making A Very Important Phone Call
For a moment, we thought, well that’s it! The ONE school that offered us aid is the one that chose us. And we really liked this school! But it was not one of our top choices. After thinking about it and talking to friends and family, we thought, why not call and see if this is negotiable? Is the rejection of aid a done deal? Or is this something that can be revisited? Discussed?
I contacted the school that I just could not turn my back on. The one that in the end, really felt like my top choice. I had a wonderful conversation with the school director, and the door was open. We thought this school was an amazing choice for our son and absolutely loved it from day one, but without financial assistance, it was impossibility. Monday was the deadline. We had one great school that offered us aid, and my number one choice couldn’t let us know until Monday afternoon. This was insane! I was literally working from home that day, waiting for the call. Was I driving a deposit check over to school A, or to school B?
The call came at 1:30 p.m.. Our top choice school was able to revisit the situation and offer us aid! It was an amount that made it feasible for our family (albeit still a big stretch!). I took a deep breath, got in the car, and drove a check over to my son’s new school. I was shaking filling out some of the paperwork…. I couldn’t believe this was finally happening! Was this for real? The school we ultimately chose and that my son will be attending this fall, was a school that seemed like the ultimate long shot in the beginning. We are thrilled with the outcome and still in disbelief that not only is the search over, but we got our little boy into that amazing school.
And now, a new chapter begins.
“Emily Summers” is a Westside mom who will have a son attending a popular Santa Monica private school in September.
* names and identifying characteristics have been changed due to the sensitivity of financial aid.