Applying to Private School: All Those Tours & Schools Visits Feel Like a Full-Time Job! Four tips on how to manage your schedule for open houses, tours & other events.
You’re applying to private school. It’s exciting – so many educational roads to take and enriching adventures ahead! And then you start exploring the school websites and signing up for open houses, and tours, and interviews, and community coffee meetings, and homecoming games, and on and on . . . Before you know it, your school visit schedule is busier than your work schedule. It’s enough to overwhelm even the most organized parents!
But it doesn’t need to be this way. You can alleviate this stress with a little insight and prioritization. Some events are mandatory, some are optional, and some you can skip. The four tips below can help you weed through the morass of admissions season scheduling.
1. What you need to attend
- Open houses. Whether you’re applying to Kindergarten or 9thgrade, the school’s open house is a must for local families (for those relocating, the circumstances are different). This is a great opportunity to learn about the school, meet current students, see administrators and teachers in action, and get a feel for the culture and dynamics of the academic community.
- Tours/interviews. Depending on the school, you’ll either have an individual or group tour, or a student/parent interview, or a combination thereof. This is an essential part of the admissions process, so you can’t skip it.
- For open houses and tours, sign up as soon as possible, as spaces can be limited (check websites and sign up in August or early September).
- Interviews are scheduled once you have submitted your application, so get those applications in as early as you can.
2. Maybe or Nice to attend, especially if it’s a school you love
- Many schools will offer smaller, more intimate events, such as “Morning discussion with the Head of School,” “Coffee at a current or alumni parent’s home”, or something similar. If a school is high on your priority list, it’s a great idea to attend one, or maybe two, of these.
- If you want to get a better sense of the parent body and school culture, attend a non-admissions event. These include football games in the fall, other sporting events, fall/harvest festivals, educational seminars, book fairs, charity events, musicals or plays, and other theater arts or special programs. Often, schools post these events on their websites rather than send invitations. Check the website regularly for event updates!
- These events are not about networking with the admissions office or getting in “face time”. Rather, use these opportunities to understand the school better.
3. No or What you can skip
- Even if you love a school, you don’t need to attend every event. It’s overwhelming on your schedule and overkill in terms of admissions.
- Beyond the open house and tour/interview, attending one to two additional events is more than sufficient. You could choose one non-admissions event, such as a football game, and one administration event, such as an educational seminar or a group coffee with the Head of School.
4. Important things to keep in mind
- While open houses and admissions events are wonderful, they ultimately are marketing tools. The schools are putting forth their best image and trying to impress you; it’s good to remember that you’re seeing the best they have to offer.
- If you want to see the real culture of a school, attend a non-admissions event, such as a sporting event, book fair, holiday boutique or musical. This is where you can experience the parent body, student culture, and overall community. The school may not always invite prospective parents to these events, so check the school’s website regularly.
- The people at your open house or tour do not necessarily reflect the school. We’ve had many clients comment on how the people they met at an open house were not pleasant. Yet, these other people may not get in. As such, do not let a less-than-stellar open house group taint your view of a school. Instead, explore the school further, attend another event, and get a better sense of the real school culture.
- If you do not attend more than the open house and tour/interview, you are not hurting your admissions chances. If a particular school is compelling to you, it is nice to attend more events, but it is not mandatory. Don’t put that extra pressure on yourself – it’s not worth it.
- Sometimes prospective parents are invited by current parents to attend school fundraisers like auctions or galas. You should always check with the school since some schools have policies prohibiting donations (including purchasing tickets) during the admissions process.
Remove the Pressure & Enjoy the Process
The admissions process, despite the stress, actually can be informative. It’s a great time to learn more about your child and family, and to explore amazing schools and educational opportunities. When you can manage your schedule – by prioritizing events and not feeling pressure or guilt to attend every single offering – the process becomes easier and more enjoyable. And always remember: admissions is not about a value judgement or assessing the worth of your child; rather, it’s about finding the right fit and going to an environment where your child, and family, will thrive.
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.
Q: How would you describe the educational philosophy of The Gooden School? It seems like a great blend of traditional elements like uniforms and progressive ideals such as the use of restorative justice for student discipline.
A: At The Gooden School, we meet all children where they are, and we work with them to discover and enhance their gifts. The academic classes are experiential and project-based, and students are encouraged to make connections across grade levels and across the curriculum. Students become problem solvers, advocates for themselves and others, and performers. They use skills gained in academic classes and in sports, music, art, languages, electives, and STEAM to work collaboratively. All of this is reflective of the school motto, “Respect for Self, Respect for Others, and Respect for the World.”
Q: The Gooden School is small, with one class per grade for grades K-8. What are some of the benefits of a small school for students, parents,and staff? How does the school size contribute to the sense of community?
A: Every child (and family) is known and seen by all faculty and staff on campus. This means that students who may be naturally reserved have a voice, that when students are struggling adults can respond quickly, and students are responsible for their own actions. It also means that students participate in everything they want to, and even some activities they may be reluctant to try. All students participate in drama productions, create art and music, participate on teams (whether in P.E., after-school sports, or even as part of debate). The small size means that all teachers really can differentiate within the classroom. There are students who take different languages, or advanced math programs, or students who need one-on-one assistance in some areas. Because of our size, we can provide for these students. As a small community, volunteer participation is a necessity, which allows our families to partner with us, offering them an opportunity to play an integral role in their child’s educational growth.
Q: The Gooden School’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program gives students the opportunity to work on real-world projects like helping farmers after a monsoon in Indonesia or getting power to off-the-grid parts of Africa. Why is it important for STEAM to be applied to actual problems across the globe?
A: Global connectedness is essential in today’s classrooms. With the technology available – virtual field trips, connecting with students in other countries – and with the school’s mission that students be engaged with all communities in which they live, it is necessary for them to interact not only with their families and friends and local communities, but also with the world. The application of the collaborative, problem-solving skills students learn is essential to becoming a global citizen. Whether it is working on solutions to environmental issues, or how to communicate with our sister school in Haiti, students learn that the more diverse the experiences and opinions are within the group, the more likely it is that solutions to problems will be found.
Q: Gooden is an independent Episcopal school and the community attends chapel twice a week. Can you talk about how all faiths are welcome at your Episcopal school?
A: Episcopal schools have been established not solely as communities for Christians, like a parish church, but as ecumenical and diverse ministries of educational and human formation for people of all faiths and backgrounds. The Gooden school has a rich variety of students and families from increasingly diverse religious, cultural, social, and economic backgrounds. In fact, the intentional pluralism of The Gooden School is a hallmark of our mission. In middle school, students learn about world religions and take a Faith & Ethics course in which students delve into the subject of social justice.
Q: Gooden students and faculty have served over 38 nonprofit agencies and middle schoolers perform an average of 1,732 service hours each year. That’s a lot! How is community service integrated into the curriculum?
A: The Gooden School’s mission encourages students, faculty and staff to be responsible for their communities, their sustenance and improvement. This includes the community of our families, of our school, and of all the other communities of which we are a part. As part of the curriculum, students are required to report on and reflect about their community engagement experiences. Whether they are crocheting scarves for the homeless or collecting eggs from our on-campus chickens for a food bank, or working with the local Humane Society, all of these experiences deepen their connection to the curriculum, each other, and the world.
Q: What schools do Gooden 8thgrade students attend after graduation?
A: Gooden students matriculate to a wide variety of independent, private, and high performing public schools in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley areas. Under the guidance of Gooden’s head of school, students and their families select high schools that will continue to nurture their gifts and grow further as problem solvers, advocates, and leaders.
This year Gooden students were accepted to the following high schools: Alverno Heights Academy, Campbell Hall, Damien High School, Flintridge Preparatory School, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, Harvard-Westlake School, Immaculate Heart High School, La Salle High School, Loyola High School of Los Angeles, Maranatha High School, Marshall Fundamental School, Mayfield Senior School, Notre Dame High School, Orange County School of the Arts, Polytechnic School, Providence High School, Sequoyah High School, St. Francis High School, Waverly School, The Webb Schools, and Westridge School for Girls.
For more information, visit www.goodenschool.org 192 Baldwin Ave. Sierra Madre, CA 91024. Note: The school is very close to Pasadena.
Applying to Private Middle and High School in Los Angeles
Yes, it’s already that time! Some schools have their fall open houses scheduled already or will soon. Ditto with other events, such as the increasing number of parent coffees hosted by current families at the different schools.
If you are considering the private school option for middle or high school, the most important piece of applying to private school is to put together a plan to see what’s out there, narrow down your list, and get through the multi-faceted application process. This is definitely a process, and not just a one-time effort.
A private school application is a process with many moving parts. Some of these elements are in your control – touring schools, filling out the applications, meeting application deadlines, interviewing with admissions staff – while some definitely are not – teacher recommendations, for example, or how your student does on the entrance exam, or in the interview or assessment. People can find this process both time-consuming and nerve-wracking. The reason is simple; this is a complex process, and private schools are selective and can choose the students they accept into the school.
While it might be time-consuming, you should read through the websites for each of the schools you’re interested in. The school open house and tour will give you a better feel for the school and the families that attend that school; the websites go into great detail about the curriculum and philosophy of each school. But let’s take a look at the steps in the private school selection process, to help you get a better overview of what’s involved. Applying to private school is the same for every school and includes:
1. Identifying schools – in putting together your initial list of schools, do take your child’s advisor or academic dean’s recommendations into account. But it’s important to keep an open mind and tour a variety of schools, not just the one or two that everyone’s heard of. Your sister’s hairdresser’s nephew might be doing great at a particular school, but that bears no relation to how your child might fare at the same school. You are looking for your student – not for other learners, and definitely not for yourself. Tour as many schools as possible, and then narrow down your list. Plan to apply to at least four schools.
2. Attending tours and/or Open Houses – this is mandatory. There is a separate tour/open house for middle and high school students. Open Houses generally take place nights and weekends, while tours are usually during the school day. Some schools will allow you to do both.
3. Completing applications – most of these are online these days and there is a parent section and a student section. School applications may have anywhere from 3-10 questions about your child, their school experience so far, your family’s expectations about school, and how you have participated in your child’s current school. For the student you can expect a number of questions requiring one word or one sentence answers, as well as an essay – or two or three – with a writing prompt. This must be completed by the student, not the parent, and definitely not a hired hand! In addition to a school’s main application questionnaire, you will have to provide:
- Payment – anywhere from $100-$200 per application.
- Photo – a photo of your child.
- School recommendation –This may be both a request for a transcript as well as a recommendation from your current head of school.
- Teacher recommendations – they will also provide teacher recommendation forms that you will also give to your current school.
4. Parent Interview – once you have submitted an application, the school will schedule your interview. Unless you’re out of town on the date you’re assigned, you should make every effort to make the assigned interview date. You want the school to feel like it will be easy to work with you! Please be aware, though, that for middle and high school many schools do not interview the parents at all.
5. Student assessment – there are two types of student assessments required for middle and high school students: the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam), the SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test, used for some L.A. schools and boarding schools nation-wide) or the HSPT (High School Placement Test for Catholic schools); and the student interview. Once you have submitted an application, the school will schedule the student interview. This may be an individual or group interview.
From 5th grade and up, most incoming students applying to private schools must take the ISEE – the Independent School Entrance Exam. At least one school requires the ISEE for 4th grade applicants. Check with the requirement of each particular school, and be aware that the test must be taken, with results sent to the schools you’re applying to, prior to the last acceptable testing date for each school. These are challenging exams; for most students, prep is advisable. If your student requires special accommodations, like extra time, be prepared to provide documentation supporting that need.
6. Student shadow day – some schools allow students to spend a shadow day at the school, whether that is individually organized – attending specific classes and activities – or for a group of students on a certain day. It is certainly worth taking part if offered – this is a great way for the student to get more of an inside look at the school.
Los Angeles is a very large city, with a limited number of private schools. Added to this is the unhappy fact that siblings, legacies and school personnel get preference in admissions. The only way for you to affect how a school views your child and your family is to apply to schools that are really the best possible fit.
I can’t stress this enough – the most important factor in applying to private schools is making sure that you’re applying to schools that are the right fit for your child. That means taking your wish list out of the equation, to some extent. Is this the right school for them? All schools should provide intellectual challenges, but there is a difference between a challenge and a struggle. Knowing who your child is as a student is key. So yes, tour a variety of schools, by all means. But also make sure that you’re not just considering a school because it fits you. It really needs to be a fit for them.
Thoroughly overwhelmed about the school selection and application process Kindergarten through college? I am now scheduling consultations for September 2020 admissions. Please contact Sandy Eiges at www.laschoolscout.com for Kindergarten-College, or call me directly at 310 926 0050.