Private schools aim to collect as much information from different sources about prospective students as possible during the application process. The perspective provided by parents and guardians is highly valued because no one knows your child better than you.
The real question is, how do you provide insight on an application form that helps schools see your child’s unique qualities?
Let’s review guidelines for the types of questions you’re likely to encounter below. The exact questions will vary from school to school, so the crucial takeaway when writing parent statements is to use examples and stories. For example, show how your child is creative, resilient, or empathetic through specific anecdotes instead of statements.
General Parent Statements
Many applications include a prompt similar to this: "A parent/guardian's perspective on your child's strengths and weaknesses is valuable. Please write a statement of recommendation for your child." When responding, keep the following guidelines in mind.
- One paragraph should review how your child is "smart," but don’t discuss grades or test scores here. Instead, focus on how your child is academically engaged and intellectually curious. Use stories and anecdotes to add depth.
- Another paragraph, describe your child's character and personality. Don’t list adjectives here. Rather, use stories to bring your child to life on the page.
- Finally, it's important to cover any challenges your child has faced and, most importantly, how they have overcome these challenges. Most schools ask about challenges and they can be wary if parents don't mention any.
- Avoid using too many words. Edit down your first draft so that the main statement is no more than three to five sentences per paragraph, and make sure to heed suggested word counts requested by the schools. Admissions teams have a lot of files to read, and if your essay is too long, you risk them skimming it and missing out on your key points.
"Why are you applying to [our] school?" is another common question. These tips will help your answer stand out.
- Take notes on what the school says about themselves during open houses, visits, tours, etc. What is their mission statement? What are their stated values? Keep these notes handy as you eloquently match the school to your child and family. Again, use examples that really stick.
- If you’ve visited the school or attended an open house, draw on SPECIFIC examples from your experience. Make sure your response is UNIQUE to your family and student. Don't list adjectives about the school. Tell a story or give an example about why you think your student would thrive in their environment. Is it the school's philosophy or the art program? The experiential learning component? Make sure to match this element to your child.
- Review all answers before submitting the application to make sure you have the correct name of each school. It’s a common mistake for parents to cut and paste the wrong school name—and that’s never a good typo!
“Is there any further information?”
Given that applications have a limited number of questions for parents, each with word counts, this one provides valuable “real estate” to illustrate who your child is and something unique they would bring to the school. Here are some ways to take advantage of this opportunity that most parents skip.
- This space can be used to tell the school about a learning difference that you think is relevant. If you think this will show up in your child’s record, it is a good idea to show that you know what is hard for your child and how you have partnered with the current school to help them succeed.
- You could also use this section to describe the student’s diverse background of any kind. Schools are looking to create the most textured class possible. What will your child bring that is unique?
- This question could be a space to tell a story that illustrates a difficult moment for your family and how your child coped. Habits of heart and mind are becoming more important for schools; they’re often screening for qualities like resilience.
- Overall, you can discuss anything that wasn’t covered in the other parts of the application here. The information in this section should be relevant to understanding the student holistically and help the reader make sense of any apparent “holes” in the application. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a place to list accolades or accomplishments.
Thank You Notes
It’s always a good idea to send a thank you to the admission office or interviewer after a meeting or event. An email is fine, and in some ways, it’s easier since so many schools have paperless files. When you do this, think about the guidelines above and use this opportunity to match your unique child and family to the unique school!
Jamie Moffett is the founder of Walking Feet Advisors, an advising practice for families applying to independent schools. She previously served as the director of admission K–8 at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, Calif., where she worked for the last eighteen years.
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