5 Prep Tips for the K-12 Private School Application Process by Sanjay Nambiar

We’re pleased to welcome Sanjay Nambiar back to Beyond The Brochure. His reassuring advice and excellent tips are always a hit with our readers. In addition to offering suggestions for what to do the summer before September admissions begins, Sanjay highlights some of the most important steps in the process. –Christina

Take Advantage of Your Summer Before Application Craziness Begins!
Summer. It’s time for vacations, pool days, backyard cookouts, and general laziness. But wait, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves . . .

In late summer/early fall, the private school admissions season begins in earnest. That’s that time to fill out inquiry forms online, set up school tours, sign up for open houses, and begin working on applications when possible. When these balls start rolling, it can get hectic and stressful quite quickly; or, you can approach it with a slow and steady mindset.

That’s why we love starting in the summer. Because in June and July, in between your trips and relaxing weekends, you actually can start preparing for your admissions process – at your leisure and with less stress. And when you can do that, you get ahead of the curve and make the rest of the admissions process that much easier.

A Summer Checklist: June-July-August

As you contemplate the daunting admissions season that’s just a few months away, consider doing the following to ease yourself into the mindset of applying.

1. Think about your child

  • Far before you start looking at schools, spend a good amount of time thinking about your child and the type of student he or she is. 
  • Does your child thrive with structure or in more free-form environments. Is she competitive and a good fit for rigorous academics? 
  • Does he enjoy the creative arts and settings where he can get to the next level in fine art, acting, singing, or music? 
  • How important are athletics? 
  • What types of parents do you want to engage with and possibly befriend? 
  • Are you interested in K-12, K-8, or K-6? (See our previous post that addresses the pros and cons of each.)

2. Pick your schools

  • If you haven’t done so already, start narrowing down the schools you want to apply to. 
    • Visit their websites, fill out and submit inquiry forms, and get a feel for the culture and academic approach. 
    • Think about locations and possible commute times or school bus schedules.
    • Create a spreadsheet or tracking system to organize your thoughts about each school (strengths, weaknesses, how it fits your family, how it doesn’t, culture, extracurricular activities, volunteering opportunities, etc.).
    • For Kindergarten, some deadlines are in early September, so starting in the summer is even better timing.

3. Start thinking about (and maybe even writing) essays.

  • Essays are critical elements of your admissions application. You are in charge of how you describe your child and family, so it’s worth the effort to make it as strong as possible.
  • Start thinking about anecdotes and detailed stories from your child’s past. These narratives should describe specific aspects of your child’s personality or ability.
    • For example, how about that one time your son helped a new classmate who just moved to L.A. from another city? Or when your daughter overcame an academic challenge by studying harder and working with her teachers. Or when your child worked extra hard to make the basketball team.
  • Write down specific details, memories, and anecdotes. These will become important points in your essays.
  • If you have the time and don’t mind the work, you can even start writing general paragraphs. The questions below often appear in applications in some form or another. And even if these questions don’t appear in your specific applications, the text you develop now can be used for other responses where relevant (of course, there is a risk that you don’t use any of the text.).
  • Sample Questions for Parents
    • Describe your child as a student and individual.
    • How have you been involved in your current school?
    • What do you want from your child’s education?
    • What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses?
    • Describe any special circumstances that have affected your child’s education.
  • Sample Questions for Students (middle & upper school applicants)
    • What are your favorite activities?
    • What is your strongest interest and why do you like it?
    • Describe a challenge you had and how you overcame it.

4. Start thinking about interviews

  • Interviews are the most important in-person aspect of the application. This is your chance to connect, shine, and learn more about the school (for both students and parents).
    • Start preparing by thinking about and answering potential interview questions. Here are a few:
      • What are your favorite classes and why?
      • Tell me about a school project you enjoyed.
      • How do you handle challenges and disappointments?

5. Register for the ISEE Exam (for middle & upper school applicants) & other exams

  • ISEE registration typically begins August 1 for the fall test season (August – November), and spaces fill very quickly.
    • You can take the test only once per season (e.g., once in the fall season (Aug-Nov) and once in the winter season (Dec-Mar)); make sure to look for your school ISEE deadlines, however.
  • Some schools, such as Crossroads, also take the SSAT.
  • Catholic schools require the HSPT, which the student often should take at the school they want to attend; contact the schools for more information.

Take a Deep Breath & Dive In!

The application process can be overwhelming for even the most prepared families. That’s when a little head start can make a huge difference. If you can use the summer to consider the application elements listed above, you save some time during the hectic fall months, when kids are back in school and many adults become busier with work. 

Additionally, this is a great way to model for your kids how to tackle a huge project and reduce anxiety. Our kids are watching us, and when we’re calmer, they’re calmer. Also, just as important, prepping over the summer tends to give families a boost of confidence as they begin application season. And sometimes that little extra edge can alleviate a lot of stress.

Priya and Sanjay Nambiar run Nambiar Advising, a consulting practice that shepherds families through the private school admissions process, from helping clients find the best-fit schools for children to application support, essay editing, interview preparation, and more. Priya has spent more than 20 years in education and was the Associate Director of Admissions at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles. She earned a B.A. in Education from Brown University and an M.Ed. from Harvard University. Sanjay is an entrepreneur and professional writer who has written several award-winning children’s books. He earned a B.A. in Economics and Neurobiology from U.C. Berkeley and an M.B.A. from UCLA. To learn more, please visit www.nambiaradvising.com

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

Q&A with Larry Kilgman, head of Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School

I’d been to Heschel as a spectator when my son was in 5th grade and Viewpoint played their school in sports. I always remember how courteous and hospitable the kids and parents were during and after games, treating us as guests as opposed to rivals. Win or lose, Heschel always exhibited excellent sportsmanship, which I’ve learned, is an important part of a school’s culture. Since then, I’d been curious about the school, so I was pleased to accept the invitation to tour Heschel. Last month, I met Larry, along with Lara Martin, admissions director and Susan Kussin, head of marketing and alumni relations. Before walking around the lovely, sparkling campus–set on three acres– we chatted about Larry’s vision for the school’s future and his nearly lifelong connection to the school. I was inspired by his belief that the skills kids need most for the future include collaboration, critical thinking and, among others, empathy. The inclusion of empathy as a necessary skill is the type of forward-thinking leadership our world needs now and indefinitely. Heschel is a Jewish Day School grades TK-8 located in Northridge. –Christina 

Larry Kligman

1. You have a long history with Heschel, from student, teacher, coach and now head of school. What has kept you connected to the school for so long? 

Any Heschel student will tell you that once you attend our school, you remain a part of the Heschel community long past graduation.  As a transitional kindergarten through eighth grade program, our students spend their formative years learning and growing on our campus, and the connection lasts a lifetime. Heschel played an important role in my youth, and when I made the decision to have a career in education, I was lucky enough to come home to Heschel.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a dynamic, collaborative, and innovative administrative team and Board of Directors who have continuously supported and inspired my growth as an educator and leader.  Having a long history with Heschel affords me a unique perspective in balancing the ever-evolving nature of a school environment, while keeping the traditions and underlying values of our school at the heart of our mission.

2. How would you describe the educational philosophy of the school?

We hold onto the best of the principles and traditions upon which Heschel was founded, and strive constantly to learn and embrace current and forward thinking concepts, research, and strategies best suited to prepare our students for the future. Balancing individual engagement and joyful learning with rigorous studies within a dual curriculum is at the forefront of a Heschel education.

We are fortunate that the size of our school and the expertise of our faculty allow us to put into action the best elements from multiple learning approaches including project based learning, design thinking, and small group and ability-based instruction. The professional growth and development of our faculty promotes our innovative and fresh curriculum focused on critical thinking and curiosity, and as a result Heschel students experience true intellectual and ethical inquiry.

3. You described the 5 skills students will need for the future: Creativity, Collaboration, Design Thinking, Critical Thinking and Empathy. I’m pleased to see “empathy” is included. Can you talk about how you ensure students leave Heschel possessing these important skills and values?

Students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade are encouraged to question and engage in respectful debate, problem solve and think critically as they master new math concepts, strategize in games, interpret and respond to literature, and express themselves via writing and the arts.  

While we do not know what jobs may exist when our current students join the work force, we do know they will need to possess a strong sense of self, have a “growth mindset” – a willingness to work hard, take risks, and challenge their own comfort level.

As a pluralistic Jewish school, we have a natural lens for the inclusion of empathy, which is woven throughout the program in both general and Judaic studies. By exploring Jewish roots and other cultures, we encourage our students to explore sameness and difference.  Our students know who they are and what they stand for, and as a result, they have the ability to take on others’ perspectives. Every grade level participates in Tikkun Olam, acts of kindness which are performed to repair the world at large. The relevant and developmentally appropriate grade level projects are instrumental in instilling not just an understanding of the concept, but teaching students to live it in the form of action as a lifelong responsibility.

4. A big vote of confidence in a school is when alumni parents return to enroll their own children. Heschel has 69 legacy students! What did Heschel give so many families that they want for their own children? Does this make admissions more competitive for non-legacy families?

In my experience, all parents of our incoming new students want what any parent is seeking for their child; to grow confident, healthy individuals who make a positive difference in our world.  Our alumni families are already familiar with the Heschel partnership and community, and our new families quickly become part of the Heschel experience as they attend new parent events, community events, and experience Jewish holidays.

It is amazing how many Heschel alums share that their closest friends today are still the friends they made at Heschel. This is remarkable when considering our program concludes in eighth grade! Walking alumni through our school as prospective parents are some of my favorite tours. The reminiscing is endless and they are always amazed at the updated facility and incredible faculty. They see that the values, strong academic programs, and amazing community are still here, and they want that for their children.

In terms of admissions, we accept mission appropriate families where we can serve the child(ren) and family well. New and legacy families go through the same admissions process. When it comes to accepting new students, the competitive nature of private school admissions is dependent on class size and the applicant pool.

5. Where do Heschel’s eighth graders matriculate to and what is your process for helping place families in L.A. area private high schools?

This year our eighth graders have been accepted to 14 schools, which include Archer, Buckley, Campbell Hall, Chaminade, de Toledo High School, Harvard-Westlake, Marlborough, Milken, Shalhevet, Sierra Canyon, Valley Torah, Viewpoint, Village Christian, and Yula. We guide families through each step of the process, helping them transition from acceptance to graduation to matriculation. We recognize what an important process this is for our families, and our eighth grade faculty and the entire administration work hard to create an atmosphere of exploration and excitement for our families, rather than one of stress and angst. As a result, students feel empowered and excited to spread their wings after Heschel! We see Heschel as a place that opens endless opportunities to our students, and our matriculation process is no different.

For more information, visit Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

Photos: Heschel School and Christina Simon

Catalyst: A Learning Hub, New Private Middle School Opening Sept. 2019 in Agoura Hills

I’m always excited to share information about new private schools. Here’s news from Catalyst: A Learning Hub. –Christina

Revolutionary Independent Middle School Opens Its Doors to 6th– 8th Graders

From the founders of The Sycamore School in Malibu, an independent elementary school featuring a challenging curriculum rooted in collaboration, innovation, and learning through play and creativity, comes CATALYST: A Learning Hub, a revolutionary middle school based on the same foundational belief that education must be humanized for the 21st Century. Assumptions of the industrial-age-model of schooling are no longer sufficient for children to thrive in the 21st Century. Students are given choice with the aim of becoming self-directed, autonomous problem solvers, who create meaning in the world around them. CLH will open in Agoura Hills in September, 2019. CLH is the realization of Los Angeles-based Catalyst Education’s vision and philosophy and was founded on the belief that education must evolve to meet the needs of a connected and evolving world. Its three founders, Tedd Wakeman, AJ Webster, and Christy Durham, comprise the leadership team at The Sycamore School, founded in 2015 in Malibu. They bring their distinctive approach to learning and extensive experience to CLH as its founding Leadership Team. 

“We are very excited to bring an alternative option for middle school education to families from Malibu and the west valley. We are thrilled to be able to take this next step, building on our experiences, relevant research, and the latest brain science in education,” says Tedd Wakeman, Catalyst Learning Hub. “The world we live in now demands a different approach to education. Students need a learning experience that is engaging, continuous, and future focused, allowing them to thrive in a connected and evolving world.” CLH is located on the campus of the Gateway Foursquare Church off Agoura Road, north of Kanan and west of the 101 Fwy. Three school buildings are surrounded by trees, grass and green flora, which also serve as outdoor learning spaces. On campus is a pool, gardens, open fields, a ropes course, hiking trails, sport courts, a kitchen, and much more. Beginning January 2019, the buildings will undergo renovations to prepare for a September opening. 


The student experience at CLH will be guided by the question, “How will you affect the world?” We will help students develop the kind of entrepreneurial mindsets (collaborating, taking action, being adaptable, living imaginatively, and thinking critically) that will help them thrive in a world that demands agility and agency. Over the course of each year, students will be charged with developing “real world consumables.” This may take the form of an idea, a product, an organization, or a human experience. For example, they may choose to create effective portable water purifiers, publish a book of poetry, organize a 5K run for a cause, or start a movement to reduce homelessness. Identifying student passions and exploring ways in which to create something meaningful and tangible from them will be a central tenant of the school’s “10% Time” classes. In these classes, students will design and document their process in the development of these consumables.

CLH will also offer a relevant approach to traditional subject areas like English, History, and Math, allowing students to access knowledge in a manner that ignites curiosity. For example, Humanities will be approached from the perspective of “THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE” and will explore literature, history, geography, ethics, and empathy. Science will be explored through the lens of “EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES,” helping students make sense of how and why our world works. Other courses include “QUANTITATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING,” a class designed to explore mathematical thinking from the perspective of relevant application, and “COMMUNICATION DESIGN,” where students make the shift toward becoming producers of various types of communication. In addition to these core classes, a variety of additional enrichment opportunities will be offered, including Latin and Linguistics, music appreciation and composition, maker and tech, and both the visual and performing arts. A beautiful physical environment coupled with an engaging approach enhance the student experience and ignite young minds. 


Research shows that schools do better when educators are collaborative. To that end, CLH will not have a principal, per se. Instead, the three-member leadership team shares teaching and decision-making responsibilities and each governs a particular sphere of influence. AJ Webster oversees curriculum; Christy Durham, logistics and operations; Tedd Wakeman, community and outreach. In addition to the founding of the Sycamore School in Malibu in 2015, the LT brings varied and vast experience to the CLH community. 

• AJ Webster has almost 20 years of classroom experience teaching science, Latin, language arts, math, and social science at schools including Buckley in Sherman Oaks and the PlayMaker program at New Roads in Santa Monica. He holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. He embraces the Maker Movement, in which students design, construct and “think with their hands.” Webster has conducted workshops for the national Game Learning Society and was the keynote speaker for the 2014 Milken Playful Learning Summit. His work with PlayMaker was featured on PBS NewsHour. 

• Christy Durham also brings almost 20 years of elementary and middle school teaching experience. She holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and was a sixth grade teacher at Buckley, where she orchestrated an outdoor educational program and created a diversity initiative round table for the faculty. In 2011 she was awarded the Buckley School’s Parents’ Association Award, which allowed her to study in Peru. She received the National Junior Honor Society Teacher of the Year Award in 2012. Durham left Buckley in 2012 to teach fourth and fifth grade at Los Encinos School in Encino, which embraces integrated, project-based learning. She has presented at the Archer School for Girls STEM conference and the Milken Community School Playful Learning Summit. 

• Tedd Wakeman has been working with children in education, recreation, and research for more than 20 years. For 13 of those, he taught inner-city youth in LAUSD at the elementary level, concurrently traveling the country teaching and developing STEM curriculum for Nike/Eco Educators. He has taught extensively across the globe, working in the Republic of the Maldives teaching English to groups of adults from more than 25 different nations while diving the local coral reefs as a dive master. In Bali, he lived and worked with Indonesian rice farmers and taught local teenagers. He taught fourth and fifth grade for two years in Costa Rica, while exploring the local rainforest ecosystems. Wakeman then joined the GameDesk team in Los Angeles to open the revolutionary PlayMaker School, which has gained notoriety for its unique approach to 21st Century learning and game-based curriculum. 


Initial funding for Catalyst is provided by generous private donations. There is a one-time tuition reduction for the first year. Tuition will begin at $20,000 for 2019/2020 and return to its normal rate of $25,000 for 2020/2021. Need-based tuition assistance is available. Applications are due March 29, 2019. 

For more details about Catalyst’s mission and educational philosophy, and to apply online, please visit www.catalyst-education.org.

Contact Molly Ripton at mripton@sycamore-school.org to set up interviews or a campus tour.

Waiting, Waitlists and Waitpools by Lisa Marfisi

Waiting for Admission Decisions – so close, yet so far away! March 15, 2019 is when Los Angeles independent schools notify families of their decisions.

Let’s face it, for most of us, keeping busy is much easier than sitting and waiting. The application process is filled with responsibilities and chores that keep you occupied.  During the fall and winter, you have taken time to write an application, visit schools, attend events, interview, go to assessments and testing, and do LOTS of research.  Now is the hardest part – all you can do is WAIT……

If you have a definite first choice which is clearly FAR above the others, you should let the school know.  This is sometimes called a “first choice” letter. Write a letter to indicate your strong interest and be sure to tell them why the school is your first choice AND that you will enroll if you are offered a space.  You can ONLY write this letter to ONE school.  Then, you will need to enroll if you are offered a space.  Spaces are limited and schools take these letters VERY seriously.  You must be sure the school is without a doubt where you want to enroll your child.

Here are a few productive things you can do during this time: clarify which school your child would attend if you are lucky enough to get in. Do your research.  When you get your decision letter, you will only have between one week to 10 days to send in your response.  The earlier you send in your contract or let the school know that you will not accept the space, the faster the school can figure out how many students they still have room for. It is proper etiquette to respond quickly, even if you do not want to accept admission, so that you are not holding up the process for another family.  

  • Try to drive to each school during drop off/pick up hours to see what the traffic is like.  You may have gone to meetings and appointments during the middle of the day. Many parents are surprised to learn how long it actually takes to get to a school during rush hour.  Make sure you have this information BEFORE you make a decision.
  • Plan ahead financially.  You will be required to make a sizable deposit to hold your child’s spot. Make sure you can do this quickly so that you can respond in a timely fashion to the school of your choice. The deposit is non-refundable. It secures your spot!  You will of course at only put down a deposit at one school. However, there are some instances where parents will put a deposit to hold a spot at their second choice school and then a wait-list spot opens at their first choice school. In this case, the deposit on the first choice space will not be refunded.
  • Talk to other parents who you trust who are going through the same thing. You are NOT alone!  You can support each other during this time.  Instead of stressing on your own, try to talk to another parent who can relate to what you are feeling.  It will help both of you. DON’T post your feelings on social media.  Talk to parents in person.

Waitlist and Waitpool Letters

Decision letters will be emailed in March. A few schools still use regular mail. Other schools require parents to log on to find out the admissions decision. There are three types of letters. Two of the three are very straightforward.  An acceptance letter – yes you are offered a spot!  Your child has met the requirements for admission and there is a space in the grade you have applied to.   A denial letter – No, your child will not be invited to attend the school. 

It’s the other category that’s more complicated. A waitlist or waitpool letter.  It is important to understand the difference between waitlists and waitpools.  Both of these indicate good news. The schools are letting you know that your child is qualified to attend, but there is not a space in the grade you are applying for at this time. Parents often ask schools if the waitlist is ranked and if so, where their child is on the waitlist. Some schools will provide the information and others will not. Waitlists and waitpool spots can open up in March or right before school begins in September. Or not at all. So, the waiting continues.

However, there is a BIG difference between a waitlist and a waitpool.  A waitlist is ranked.  The student who is first on the wait-list will be the one accepted if a space opens up. If that student declines the spot, the student who is second on the list will be offered the spot and so on.

A waitpool is ALL of the students who are qualified and waiting for a spot.    If a girl space becomes available, ALL the girls in the waitpool are considered, same for boys.  The school is trying to figure out which child will fit best with the class they are putting together.

If you get a waitpool or waitlist letter, it is important to respond quickly so that the school knows that you are still interested.  You can remain in the waitpool or waitlist until the beginning of the school year or until you decide that you want to withdraw.  It is important to let a school know when you enroll in another school, so that you are no longer taking a space in the waitpool/waitlist and other students will be considered. 

Hang in there…… your child is beginning a new phase of their education and you are right there with them!  Soon this will be a distant memory and your child will be enrolled in a new school!

Lisa Marfisi has been a professional in education in Los Angeles since 1991. She was the Director of Admissions K-12 at Wildwood School and PK-6 at Echo Horizon School. She also worked at the Archer School for Girls, PS #1, and Westside Neighborhood School. Lisa’s experience has given her an understanding of what schools are looking for and enables her to help parents navigate the admissions process from an insider’s point of view. She is knowledgeable about schools in Los Angeles and is an expert at matching children to schools where they will thrive. Lisa has been helping families with the admission process for 19 years. Her two children are college graduates (UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara). Lisa has experience as a parent at independent, public, charter and parochial schools.  She holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. www.lisamarfisi.com

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.