Here’s How To Plan Ahead for L.A. Private Secondary School Admissions by Sandy Eiges

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:

  1. Payment – anywhere from $100-$200 per application.
  2. Photo – a photo of your child.
  3. School recommendation –This may be both a request for a transcript as well as a recommendation from your current head of school.
  4. 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 for Kindergarten-College, or call me directly at 310 926 0050.

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Quick Tips on Applying for Financial Aid by Sandy Eiges, LA School Scout

LA School ScoutHere’s an informative primer on what’s required to apply for private school financial aid by our good friend, Sandy Eiges of L.A. School Scout, an L.A. area educational consulting company. To see our interview with Sandy, click here. 


We’ve come to that part of the private school admissions cycle where everything is coming due at the same time – teacher recommendations, head of school recommendations, transcripts, and for those of you applying for financial aid, tax returns.
For those of you wondering whether you qualify for financial aid, wonder no longer. The answer is – maybe!


The truth is that every school has a different amount of financial aid available in any given year. Coupled with a different income ceiling per school, this makes it challenging to determine whether you qualify or not. Some schools focus on ethnic diversity in their financial aid calculations; some expand that to include socio-economic diversity as well. If a large school commits a sizeable percentage of their annual income to financial aid, then clearly they will have deeper pockets and will have more aid available than a smaller school might.


Applying for financial aid is a very challenging process. While I’ve covered this before, I’m reviewing the steps here. For some schools it’s not too late to submit a financial aid application. For all schools there is one part of the application due by February 1st – your tax returns.


Here are some guidelines you’ll need to know when applying for financial aid:


1. Have your economic house in some kind of order.
 Once you apply to a school they will ask if you are applying for financial aid. If you are, they will send you specific instructions. While the application isn’t due until February, and you can complete most of the application online, you will have to add supplemental materials. You will need copies of previous years’ tax returns – for some schools it’s one year, for others it’s two. The tax return for the current year will need to be completed and submitted in January, just to meet the deadline.

You will need to itemize every expense and all of your income. If you are divorced, both parents’ incomes are used in the calculation, whether or not both parents are contributing to tuition – or even on speaking terms!  
Be aware that many schools have two aid applications – one you access online, and one that belongs specifically to a particular school. You will need to complete them both.


2. Expect to pay some tuitionVery few schools offer full financial aid these days. The more typical scenario is that if you qualify, the school will offer up to 2/3 of the payment. That means that you should expect to pay at least a third of the tuition. At the average L.A. private elementary school, tuition ranges from $18,000 – $25,000 per year. For middle and high school, it can go as high as $35,000 – $40,000 per year. You do the math!


3. Financial Aid applications are online.There are two main sites that process financial aid applications – the National Association of Independent Schools School & Student Services application (NAIS/SSS): “We estimate the amount you can contribute to school expenses and forward that estimate to the schools where you’re applying. It’s one form, for one fee, for any number of siblings, for any number of schools.” and FAST (the schools you are applying to will forward the link to their application).
To repeat, once you enter your information they will estimate what they think you can afford. You will also be asked what you can afford. This isn’t the amount of aid you will necessarily receive, but it’s always a good idea to ask for what you need.

Whether you use the FAST form or the SSS form, you will only have to submit one set of materials to each, which will be used for all the schools you specify. Both sites make it easy to upload supplementary materials, such as tax returns. Unfortunately if some of your schools use one form and some the other, you will have to fill out two separate forms.

Just as with school applications, it might be easy to press “submit” – but don’t submit until you’ve checked and double-checked the accuracy of your answers, and especially of your numbers. And of course you should always keep a copy.


4. Watch the deadline! While you might be tempted to wait until your child is admitted to a school before submitting an application for financial aid, applications are due prior to admission. If you applied and got in, but only now realize that you really need financial aid, you can always ask – but it is highly unlikely that there will be any aid left. Aid normally goes first to faculty and staff for their children, then to current students at the school, and then to new acceptances. If you apply late, you risk losing any access to financial aid. 

For the most part complete financial aid applications, including current year tax returns, are due by February 1st. If you can get the application done early, then by all means take care of it. Then if all you need to do is upload one tax form on the due date, so much the better.



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LA School Scout’s Private School Admissions FAQ

LA School Scout


My friend and colleague, Sandy Eiges of LA School Scout has a great new FAQ about private schools on her blog!


Click on LA School Scout and you’ll see a yellow box at the top of the site with the FAQ. You can listen to audio of FAQ or read the short text answers. Definitely worth checking out since it has lots of helpful information! You can see my previous blog interview with Sandy here.



Finding The “Best” School by Sandy Eiges, LA School Scout

Centro Infantil Municipal in El Chaparral, Granada, Spain. Photo: Timbuktu Magazine
Kindergarten. Centro Infantil Municipal in El Chaparral, Granada, Spain. Photo: Timbuktu Magazine

I know, we’ve talked about this before, and I am constantly being asked which school I consider to be “the best.” It can be frustrating for parents to figure out what is “the best” school for their child, be it preschool, elementary, middle or high – or even college. But the reality is that there is no unilateral “best.” Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.


For those of you who need a definitive answer (all of us!) I know this can be maddening. For those of you who have high-performing children, who would tear their hair out with boredom if in an undemanding environment where the norm falls far below their abilities and there is little or no differentiation for high ability kids, well, your path is clear. Your child will be happy in an academically demanding, highly structured environment.


If you are not that parent, but you have that child, well, good luck there. Not every school is a perfect fit for the whole family. If you go with your preference, your high ability kid may start acting out in ways that make it look like they are struggling. They are struggling – and might need a classroom where that same energy is being used to master more demanding material. Their brains are hungry for that finely ordered style of learning.


There are some less structured, more child-driven educational environments that have the same level of high expectations as the more structured classroom – but you might not see them that way. What they’re doing in the classroom is hands-on, no one is memorizing a thing, parents seem to love the school but you have no idea what your child is actually doing day-to-day – this might be a fit for your child but it might not be a school for you.


Whatever your choice is in schools, you really do need to “drink the Kool-Aid”™ or the whole experience will not be a match for you.


If you have a task-driven child, it goes without saying that you want to give them those tasks. If you have a deep or original thinker, or a “creative kid,” the mundane tasks of learning – repetition, memorization, detail – may hold no interest whatsoever. If they are in a school environment that is less structured, they might thrive. For some, though, they will need to “do the detail” in order to keep their lofty ideas grounded. Figuring out what might be the right match is not as easy as it seems.


So that notion of “best”? It’s really a moving target, based on too many inconsistent factors.


The key here is to make sure that you’re offering your child the school that fits who they are, not just who you are. Sometimes that’s an easy guess; sometimes not. Take a look at the variety of schools out there, and make your best choice. That’s all that any parent can do.


If you need help with any part of this process, that’s why I’m here. Trying to decide between “progressive” and “traditional”? Considering a move from public to private? Are you concerned that your child might have some learning issues which did not surface until they started school? We can help you with all of your school-related questions.


Sandy Eiges is the founder of LA School Scout, one of LA’s premier educational consulting firms.

Sandy Eiges
Sandy Eiges, M.S.W.
L.A. School Scout