Grateful, Hopeful Or Dismayed: When The L.A. Admissions Letters Arrive

Pool flowers

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.

One Fit Window


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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Photo: One Fit Window


Guest Blogger Alice: The Letters Are Coming!

The Letters Are Coming L.A

It’s nearly March and there is nothing left to do but wait.  Private elementary school admissions letters all come out on the 13th and emails are sent on the 14th. For Pasadena, it’s March 6. At this point,  you’re not sure which sedative to take and you can’t be seen drinking before noon.  It’s time to develop other coping strategies.


My personal best strategy is to try and forget. This is not easy and takes a lifetime of forced forgetfulness to be really good at. I have a famously bad memory derived from years of purposely blocking unpleasant things out, but for those new to the concept, you can avoid some, not all, of the stress if you follow these three important tips:


  • Don’t talk about it with all the other parents you know who are applying to schools!
  • Stop looking at the application materials that state the date.  Knowing it’s vaguely in March is much more relaxing than knowing the exact day, trust me on this.
  • Don’t call the admissions director “just one last time”.


If it’s too late for you and the date is ingrained in your psyche then you have to engage in more rational behaviors. The most rational by far is to know your back up plan.  If you have a solid back up plan that you can actually live with, you are way ahead of the game.   So while you already likely have a first choice, second and third, you should also have the nuclear option.  You need to be able to answer the question:  What if my brilliant, perfect, deserving child gets in nowhere?  L.A. is insanely competitive and it has happened.


Also, if you know the school you want is right and you either didn’t get in, or were wait-listed, don’t make a series of panicked calls the day you get your letter Along the way I’ve been on a few wait-lists, my son at Buckley, a daughter at Harvard-Westlake… and being the one pestering the schools over the weekend won’t help your cause.  The schools purposely time things so your letter comes on a Friday and emails on a Saturday morning.  They do this so you –and they–have the weekend to calm down.  Wait until you are very calm and purposeful and it’s at least a Monday before you call.  Know what you want to say, write it down if need be. This will go a long way if your goal to keep good relations and reapply. 


Back up plans vary from family to family, from giving a young child more time in preschool to enrolling in public school, to moving out of town, or out of state.  There are families who really do choose to move when things go south.  If public school is NOT an option for whatever reason, and if you live in L.A. on purpose, it’s not a bad idea to know some of the other lesser-discussed private options.


There are church and temple schools that are less competitive and some take rolling applications.  There are Montessori’s that don’t require you know anyone of the Board of Directors or currently working in the White House.  That was our back up for kindergarten.  We had a very good Montessori that went through sixth grade that we could have lived with.  There are for-profit private schools that are small and not too swanky, but who will take great care of your child as you contemplate reapplying next year.


And that of course, is the final answer.  If you know you belong somewhere, you can reapply next year and if nothing else the school will value your commitment.  Also, use time between now and then to look honestly at your child, your family and the application you wrote and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.  Are their some weaknesses that might be addressed?


If, for example, you did things on your application like drew pretty pictures, or used multiple color pens in order to stand out, next time – don’t do that.  (I know from a friend’s experience it doesn’t work).   Maybe your child does need to address some social or academic issues you thought weren’t important. Perhaps the school is like a country club and your family is the outsider. That’s a difficult hurdle to overcome, no matter how wonderful your kid is.


Also, if you know the school you want is right and you either didn’t get in, or were wait-listed, don’t make a series of panicked calls the day you get your letter.  The schools purposely time things so your letter comes on a Friday and emails on a Saturday morning.  They do this so you –and they–have the weekend to calm down.  Wait until you are very calm and purposeful and it’s at least a Monday before you call.  Know what you want to say, write it down if need be. This will go a long way if your goal to keep good relations and reapply.


In the end, hopefully you’ll be pouring the wine to celebrate rather than drown your sorrows, but know, as vital as this all feels right now, in the larger scheme of lives well lived, children becoming adults and prospering, it really just a tiny bump in the road. Perspective is everything.  Cheers.


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. 


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The Only Admissions Letter That Mattered

As many of you know, my kids happily entered Viewpoint School in Fall 2013 after 7 years at The Willows Community School. We knew it was time for a change after so many years at one school and my daughter was ready to begin 7th grade at a bigger school. So, we set out to find the right school for her. Twists and turns during the process last year left us feeling like we’d chosen to apply to the wrong schools. What seemed right at the time felt completely wrong for our daughter midway through the process. But, we pressed on, thinking that we’d finish the process and make our decisions then. I’m keeping things intentionally vague to protect the privacy of my 13 year-old, who is keenly aware of a lot of the things her mom writes. I know you understand.


As you may have guessed, applying for private middle school in L.A. is serious business. It’s also fickle because you’re dealing with a tween/teen. At one school where my daughter spent the day, they didn’t have enough chairs so she had to stand during several classes. This upset her, so she hated the school. We didn’t apply there. She loved another school because she had friends on the tour. We didn’t apply there either.


There are only a few top-tier schools for huge numbers of applicants, coming from both public and private elementary schools, including gifted magnets and charters. Points of entry for middle school are 6th grade (if there is one at the school), 7th grade and then for high school, 9th grade. The middle school admissions process is rigorous.


There are tours, parent interviews, student visiting days (long ones), an interview for the kid, letters of recommendation, lengthy applications (one written by the student and one by the parent). I do a lot of writing, but my portion of one written application still took me seven hours to complete. There are tons of prospective parent events and even more if you’re a minority family. There is the ISEE test and it is a very BIG DEAL that involves an ISEE tutor and at least a few months of tutoring (unless your kid already knows the material, which happens). Then there’s the 4-hour ISEE test on a Saturday. It is a mini-SAT. Of course, whether you kid plays sports is a huge deal.


We initially suspected that our interests and those of the incumbent school would not align. The Willows has a middle school and they want kids to stay through 8th grade for a variety of legitimate reasons.  However, our daughter’s world had become too small and she needed a change. Still, it was our backup plan. We had a daughter with all As, who was in 6th grade, but was taking 7th grade math and who had never had a discipline issue. Somewhere in the process we realized our son needed to move to a new school too. The pressure doubled. During our time at Willows we had donated the equivalent of the annual GNP of a small island nation over and above tuition.  Still, we anticipated, that wouldn’t be enough to ensure a smooth exit from the school. So we knew we’d need a contingency plan. But, we didn’t know what it would be. What we did know was that we were ready to move on–with or without their support.  


When a parent representative from one school where we applied called me during dinnertime to invite me to an African American parent event and then kept me on the phone for 30 minutes talking about her daughter’s basketball prowess (my daughter doesn’t play sports), I was about to lose my mind. Her voice droned on, as she asked me yet again whether my daughter played sports. I  tried politely to end the call. I was exhausted from the hours the process required and at that moment I realized this particular school was completely wrong for my daughter (who was totally dejected after spending an entire day there) and for our family. The call from Pompous Mom was the final straw. I didn’t attend the event for prospective African American families. The mere thought of it made me cringe…I pictured a bunch of prospective black parents standing around sipping cocktails, pretending to be comfortable, but really freaking out inside, while current black families talked about how fabulous the school was. No thanks. If Pompous Mom was any indication of what the evening would be like, I’d skip it. I didn’t attend the event, knowing it could be a deal breaker for our application. People are climbing over each other to get into this school and I’d just declined to show up at a black family event after a call from Pompous Mom and several emails from the school.


I also unwittingly made a terrible blunder during the admissions process at this school  by not asking a friend’s kid to host my daughter during visiting day. To do this, I would have needed to contact the school and request her kid, a current student. The message I got from my friend accused me of upsetting her kid–and worse. Confused and rattled, I had no idea that visiting day at this school is really a popularity contest and the kids who have a visitor assigned to them get public recognition by the school. I hadn’t meant to hurt her kid, I just didn’t know what other moms at her school already knew (but kept quiet for fear that their child wouldn’t have a visitor). Internal school politics that play out in the admissions process is how I’d sum this up.


Our parent interview at the same school can only be described as ridiculous. A 20-something admissions assistant who was brand new at the job conducted our parent interview. The interview consisted of her reading off a checklist to confirm that what our daughter said in her interview sounded correct. “Yes, that sounds like our daughter,” we nodded, making a mental note that our daughter hadn’t said anything inflammatory or immature. Once the checklist was completed, the interview was finished. The scenario in the waiting room was like something out of a cheesy movie…families dropping names, bragging ostentatiously about how rich they were, hurrying to coach their kids to make sure to say XYZ in the interview.  When the admissions director emerged from her office, she got a big over-the-top hug from the family she was about to interview. Their kid was the cousin of a current student who “happened” to stop by at that moment to say hi. They’d mentioned this to us as we waited. Sitting in the claustrophobic waiting room, Barry and I whispered to each other, “We misread this one!” What we saw—and what we’d seen during the tours and events– was not what we wanted. Nor did they want us, it turned out (we were wait-listed, but opted not to remain on the list). And that was a good thing, although stressful at the time.


Then, the most amazing thing happened: Viewpoint School. We toured, spending half a day there. Our kids loved it. Barry and I knew this was the right school in so many ways. Big academics (6 grads went to Stanford this year) and big sports, with a remarkable professionalism and warmth that starts at the top with the Headmaster, Dr. Bob Dworkoski. It seemed ideal for both our kids. We couldn’t believe that luck, serendipity, a few smart decisions, some quick thinking, advice from those in the know and a gut feeling about the school would result in both our kids getting in. The admissions director, Laurel Baker Tew was gracious, knowledgeable and welcoming. We connected with her in a way we hadn’t with admissions officials at the other schools. On the car ride home, we sensed the day had gone well, but we didn’t know what Viewpoint thought. We’d have to wait.


Then we got the only admissions letter that mattered. Acceptance to Viewpoint! For two kids. Cheers and hugs in our family. Calls to friends and family. A dinner celebration with our kids. The admissions process had worked, although not in the way we’d anticipated it would play out.


This school year at Viewpoint has been incredible for so many reasons. My daughter is pushed and encouraged academically—she works hard and has a lot of studying and homework in a traditional college preparatory environment. She also has a chance to try new activities like journalism, which she loves. She was selected as one of the editors of the middle school newspaper. She placed second in a middle school writing contest. She’s planning to audition for Jazz Lab (she plays guitar). She’s received Highest Honors for both quarters because she’s worked hard and has classes with teachers she adores. Many of the academic skills she learned in elementary school have served her well in the transition from progressive to traditional school. She has a wonderful group of friends. She’s happy because she’s at the right school. I’m not even going to pretend I’m humble-bragging. I’m just really proud of her (and my son too). I know you understand.


Our family is at the right school. It’s an awesome feeling.


I truly hope your family ends up at the right school too. Even if the route there is unpredictable. Good luck!


Here’s a link to some of our most popular previous posts about getting in, not getting in and being wait listed. Also, once you have acceptance letters, how do you chose? It’s all here. 



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