How’s The Kid’s Resume? Admissions Director Q+A

Hugh Gallagher Essay


I consider myself occasionally sane when it comes to parenting. I don’t wildly over book my kids, or expect them to be proficient in coding by third grade, nor do I ask them to study Chinese on the weekends, so I don’t think of myself as someone prone to resume padding, but I’ve done it. The reality is that middle and high school applications give you large spaces in which they expect you to write down your child’s extracurricular activities and awards. It’s a painful process if you’ve got nothing, so even the best of us have turned walking the dog into “community service.”

There are a lot of blank spaces on those applications to fill in and if your child doesn’t play an instrument, hates sports and hasn’t saved the needy lately, you may have a problem that a last minute visit to a homeless shelter and a day in computer camp won’t fix it. My older children had enough real things to muddle through. So far my son has baseball. If you know you plan to send your kid to private school, then you need to think about this earlier than you might like to, not in order to do resume building, but to genuinely help your child start to identify his or her interests.

I sat down with an admissions veteran who has 25 years of experience at at prestigious private schools (in L.A. and other cities) to ask about the importance of extracurriculars.–Alice


Alice: Thank you for taking the time to educate us on what admissions directors like yourself think about the importance of an applicant’s extracurricular activities.

Admissions Director: If the child is an academic match for the school but you have five spaces and fifty students who would be academically great… That’s when you start looking at the extracurriculars… at who is the violinist and whose the swimmer.

Alice: How much detail are you looking for?

 Admissions Director : I would not go into great detail on an application about each specific kind of activity.   Use bullet points and be brief. The thicker the file, the more questions I will ask. Why do you need this resume and two DVDs that show a choir performance? When you supplement, make it really relevant. Frankly I don’t have time to watch the whole thing (choir performance) anyway.

Alice: What do you think when you see few or no outside interests?

Admissions Director: That depends on the child’s age. A student who is younger might not really know what their passions or interests are yet and that’s okay. You wouldn’t expect a middle school child to have already identified all their interests.

Alice: Is there a good number?

Admissions Director: There or four… That might show they have already developed a few interests, things that speak to them already.

Alice: How do you separate a kid’s real interests from the parent’s resume padding?

Admissions Director: In an interview you can tell what a child is truly passionate about or truly loves. If you ask about Chinese and their eyes glaze over, that might not be their true interest. Then you talk soccer, and they get excited, our team did this and that. When they have details and are excited to talk about it, you know it’s real. Especially as you’re going into seventh or ninth grade… they are much more communicative than third graders are.

Alice: Is all lost for the kid with nothing on the resume?

Admissions Director: Not necessarily. Sometimes you meet a kid with no big identifiable interests and think that maybe the school can be the spark that ignites that kid who hasn’t found him/herself yet.  But that depends on everything else in the file. If every teacher says great student. and a pleasure to teach, then that’s still interesting.   Resumes are tie- breakers in a way. First you look at the student academically and whether he/she will be a good fit for the school, then the resume is the gravy.

Alice: Are you focused on class building?

Admissions Director: When I put classes together, I read all the folders first and focus on getting to know the individual child and family. But, there is a time after you’ve somewhat put the class together, that you think, “What am I covering here?” Do we have diversity, the artists, the sports kids?   You want to make sure you have a mixture and a rich environment for other students.

Alice: Thank you for your time!


This is just what I suspected. The reality is that schools like Harvard-Westlake, Viewpoint, Brentwood, etc. are all trying to build classes. For them that means they need a wide variety of kids with different interests. They’ve hired a drama teacher and someone to teach Chinese so they need to look for kids who will audition for plays and study language. And they need to field their teams. The admission director can no more accept a hundred kids who want to play football than they can take thirty kids who play the piano. They have to have tennis players, soccer and field hockey players and the whole rest of the orchestra.

It’s like the old Kennedy quote… ask not… what the school can do for your kid, but what your kid will do for the school.


Mother of three, Alice attended east coast private schools as a child and has been in the private school world as a parent for nearly twenty years. Her kids attended Mirman for elementary, then Harvard-Westlake and Brentwood for high school, with one still to go. She is a writer working in film, TV and for various magazines such as Family Fun, Wondertime, Glamour and Brides. 


 Don’t miss a thing! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook for events, articles, blog posts and more! 

Independent School Alliance For Minority Affairs: Interview With Keishia Gu, Exec. Director

Keishia Gu

The Independent School Alliance For Minority Affairs (ISA) recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. What an accomplishment! The organization started with just a small group of committed school administrators, led by Margo Long, the head of Oakwood Elementary School. I like to think of the ISA as a full service educational consulting organization for minority families. The 30th anniversary gala event was held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. In addition to 54 heads of school who were recognized for their contributions to the organization, it was a star-studded event that raised $650K to fund ISA programs. In the spirit of the event, Beyond The Brochure contributed $500 to help fund admissions fees for ISA families. Jessica Alba presented an award to Brian Lee (The Honest Company, LegalZoom), who bid generously on live auction items. Lisa Loeb sang and I spotted John Legend too!  Jeffery Campbell, an ISA board member and his wife, Jennifer Fox, were gracious hosts who invited me to join them at the event. The kids who have benefitted from ISA admissions services were incredibly poised and articulate. They are students at Archer, Harvard-Westlake, Viewpoint and many more schools. I met Keishia Gu, ISA’s Executive Director, an articulate and accomplished leader who I know we can count on to ensure there is a steady growth of diverse families in L.A. independent (private) schools. Here’s my interview with Keishia:


1. You have a very impressive resume! Can you talk a bit about your background and what brought you to ISA?

Thank you!!!! I grew up as a nomad, and therefore I have a unique perspective on education and schools. My father is a retired Colonel in the US Air Force, and as a result of being a military brat, I attended 16 schools from K-12. From my personal experience, I learned that not all schools, curriculum, or teachers were created equally. I attended some great schools, and I attended my share of “poor performing” schools, but didn’t have the sophistication to understand educational inequity. But I always knew that I would go into education because of the impact “school” had on my life. I started my career at my alma mater, Georgetown University–and served as the Assistant Director of Admissions with a particular emphasis on multicultural recruitment. I moved on to graduate school at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education where I focused on education reform and policy. Bob Riddle, the Head of Crossroads for Arts & Sciences, gave me my first job in California at Crossroads where I did a seven year stint as an Academic Dean, English teacher, and college counselor. In 2010, in order to reach back to the communities who I felt needed my college planning expertise the most, I joined the award-winning KIPP LA Schools, and worked as the Director of the KIPP Through College program. I’m grateful to Lee Miller at Cal West Educators, who personally called me about the opportunity at the Independent School Alliance. I believe I was ultimately selected because of my experience in recruitment and admissions, working with families of color, knowledge of independent schools, and business acumen. I had the right background and new vision to lead this organization into its next incredible phase of growth. Personally, it is my life’s work to provide children with the opportunity to attend a school that best matches their passions and personality, so I feel like I’m helping all of the “little Keishia’s” of the world.


2. Who are the families ISA serves?

The Independent School Alliance (ISA) works to inform families of color across Los Angeles about the option of independent school education. Our families self-identify as African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American, and Multiracial/Multiethnic.

ISA Gala

3. How do you help families find the right independent school in L.A. given the extremely competitive admissions process at many of the top schools.

At ISA, we understand that choosing the right school is by far one of the most important decisions that one can make for their child. We work with our families to help demystify the complexity of applying to independent school. We offer workshops and resources on educational philosophies, so that our parents understand the mission and vision of our 54 unique member schools. With our program, parents learn the differences between progressive, developmental, project-based, constructivist, and traditional approaches to education. Additionally, as parents consider their options, we perform an initial vetting of the children in order to understand the best fit for the child’s strengths, personality, and learning style. When our member schools receive an application from ISA, they can know and trust that we have worked hard to ensure that it’s a good match for all parties involved. Finally, we take the stress out of the paperwork because ISA families complete ONE common application and one financial assistance application, which is honored by all of our member schools. We also offer fee waivers for the ISEE, FAST, and SSS–making the cost of applying to independent school substantially lower than if families applied without the support of ISA. To see a complete list of schools where ISA helps families get in, click here.


4. If a family wants to handle the admissions process on their own, but has a few questions, can the ISA help?

We are a small and mighty nonprofit, and have the resources and staffing to support the 150 -200 families who are a part of our program each year. We’re happy to take a call or walk-in consultation for a few people each year who are not formally a part of our program. But for the most part we reserve our program, advice, and expertise for those who are working with us directly.


5. Do ISA families have to demonstrate a need for financial aid?

No, actually, we are very proud to work with families of varying degrees of socioeconomic status. Many of our families may be considered low-to-moderate income, but a reasonable percentage of our families are able to pay 50% to 90% of their tuition fees. We provide information regarding budgeting and financial planning for independent school education, and we will work with our families to identify schools that are within the range of what they are able and willing to contribute.


For more information, visit,


Don’t miss a thing! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook

Photo collage: Candi Schreuders

Interview With Jaime Nissenbaum, Educational Consultant Extraordinaire

We’ve received questions from several of our readers recently about the role educational consultants can play in helping families get into top LA private elementary schools.

I thought it might be useful to interview one of LA’s top educational consultants, Jamie Bakal of Jamie Bakal Consulting. Jamie is the co-founder of LA School Mates, an educator and a graduate of Oakwood School. For fall 2010, 26/27 of Jamie’s clients have been accepted at their top choice schools!

Here is my interview with Jamie:

1. Who are your typical clients?

I have a wide variety of clients. Some of my clients are families with two working parents who just struggle to find the time to sort through the private school maze. Some of my clients are families who just aren’t familiar with all of the independent schools in Los Angeles and want to know what their options are. Some of my clients are families who want more individualized attention than their preschools can offer and want some hand-holding through the process.

2. What services to you provide to your clients?

My services are completely individualized to meet each clients needs. Just like the independent schools in Los Angeles, my services are not one size fits all. I usually start with a general consultation with the parents to find out who they think their child is and what they are looking for in an education for their child. Based on that consultation, I come up with a list of schools that I think would be a good fit for the child and the family and create an individualized tour chart. Some families feel that the consultation was enough information to get them started and proceed on their own. Other families would like help through the whole process in which case I manage their schedules of tours, applications, and interviews, I help them with their applications, I prepare parents for their interviews, and I spend time with the child to make sure the chosen schools for each family are the best fit for the child. In the best case scenario, come March when letters go out, families have options and I help them choose the best fit for the child and for the family.

3. What are your fees?

There are two different fee structures. If families work with me hourly (meaning they only need an initial consultation or they want to call me for questions as needed), I charge $350/hour. If I am managing the entire process for a family, I charge a flat rate of $5000 (regardless of how early a client hires me).

4. What do private elementary schools look for in a family and how can you help schools get to know your clients?

While each school may be looking for something a little different, overall, they are all looking for good, inclusive families who make their children’s education a priority. They want families who are going to be involved and they are looking for children who are going to be successful at their school. I think many families get caught up in wanting to send their child to a “popular” school but lose sight of finding a school where their child will thrive. I provide additional insight to admissions directors for the families with whom I work.

5. What do you think are the biggest mistakes parents make during the application process?

There are many mistakes parents make during this process. Many families apply to schools that are not a good fit for their child. Just because parents like a school, doesn’t mean it is the best environment for their child. Parents also like to tell every school that they are their first choice hoping that they will increase their odds of getting in. The admissions directors do talk. And if they find out you have made every school your “first choice,” it will likely result in the family not getting in anywhere. Parents also apply to too many schools. I tell all of my clients to think of each school this way…if this were the only school you got in to, would you and your child be happy there? If the answer is no, then don’t apply. Lastly, make sure that the schools to which you apply are at least similar philosophically. Schools want to know that you believe in what they have to offer and if you are applying to very progressive schools as well as very traditional schools, the admissions directors might think that you either don’t understand what their school is all about or you are just applying to increase your odds as you don’t know what it is you want.

6. Have any of your clients been accepted from wait-lists?

Generally speaking, most of my clients get in to their top choice. That being said, I do have some clients that get wait-listed. It depends on the year and the school, but I would say about 75% of my clients that are wait-listed at a top choice end up getting in.

7.Can you tell us a few of the schools where you have helped place your clients?

I have placed clients at Archer, Berkeley Hall, Brawerman, Brentwood, Buckley, Campbell Hall, Carlthorp, The Center for Early Education, Crossroads, Curtis, Echo Horizon, Harvard Westlake, Hollywood School House, John Thomas Dye, Laurence, Los Encinos, New Roads, The Oaks, Oakwood, PS#1, Temple Israel, UCLA Lab School, Village, Westland, Wildwood, and The Willows.

8. Does hiring an educational consultant “guarantee” acceptance to a private elementary school?

Absolutely not. In fact, I have clients sign a contract that explicitly states that I cannot guarantee placement at a school. That being said, my clients do very well because I set them on a path towards schools that are a good fit and I help them present themselves in the best way possible.

For more information, please visit Jamie Bakal Consulting