A hand drawn graphic of a leaf and a caterpillar.

How much time can I save with the SAO?

Daren Worcester
Jun 26, 2023
3 minute read

If this is your first experience going through the private school application process, the biggest eye-opener is likely the time it takes to research and apply to a handful of top-choice schools. The potential to significantly reduce your time investment with the highly-touted Standard Application Online (SAO) almost sounds too good to be true. But it’s not. 

How much time can you save?

Well, that depends on how many applications you submit, but we know that families using the SAO complete three applications on average. And while we don’t have a stopwatch measuring the time spent on each element, we can make reasonable estimates. 

Let’s walk through this…

  • It likely takes 15 minutes to complete the profile and demographic information; 
  • An hour to submit recommendation requests, continually check their status, and send friendly reminders;
  • 15 minutes to send transcript requests
  • A half-hour to gather admission assessment scores and submit them to the schools; 
  • Three hours for your child to write their essay and an hour for you to proof and provide feedback; 
  • And an hour for overall organization and communication with the school to understand your status in the process.

That’s a total of seven hours per application, and it’s a conservative estimate as the long-term time-saving benefits of managing multiple applications through a single dashboard with an intuitive checklist are hard to quantify. However, take the average of three applications, and on the second and third submission, you’d save 14 hours with this estimate. For five applications, it’s 28 hours saved!

A screenshot of an SAO application in progress to the Taft School.
The ability to stay organized with the SAO and easily track application progress for each school will save more time than you think.

As outlined above, the SAO’s intuitive checklist and ability to track application deadlines and all forms and requirements in one place is a definite time-saver. The following SAO best practices will further help you maximize your time savings.


<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Enter profile information at account creation.</span>

Whether you’re registering for the SSAT, the Character Skills Snapshot, or the SAO, our initial family account setup asks for a wide range of profile and student interest information. It may seem tedious at the time, but inputting this information at the initial get-go will have it all loaded and ready to submit to schools via SAO inquiries and applications, saving you from having to add it later.


<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">Use our private school search to find schools that accept the SAO.</span>

Our private school search has a filter for schools that accept the SAO. Combine it with filters for location, day or boarding, grade levels, religion, and student interests to quickly identify and learn about top-fitting schools that meet your family’s preferences.


<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">Let schools know you’re interested via the SAO.</span>

Once you’ve entered your family’s profile information into our system and have discovered schools through the search, letting them know you’re interested via the SAO is quick and easy. While adding schools to your SAO dashboard, select the checkbox to demonstrate your interest in the school. Their admissions team will receive a notification, opening the lines of communication and ensuring that you’re aware of open house events and application requirements. The time-saving potential of simply being in the know is tremendous.


<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">4. Write and submit the SAO essay.</span>

Submitting one essay to multiple schools is a huge time saver that quickly adds up with each additional application. Students can also write their essay—and parents can review it—directly in the SAO before submission, saving more time from copying and pasting.

Some schools accept submissions from the SAO and a native application on their website. This practice may have you wondering which essay they value most, but you don’t need to worry. In accepting the SAO, each school agrees to treat the SAO essay equally with its native website application. In fact, through system integrations, both applications often land in the same inbox together. 

Schools accepting the SAO are doing so because they want to remove barriers and make the application process as simple as they can for families. Consider it a positive sign—you’ve found a school that cares about the parent experience—and take them up on their time-saving offer. 

Get started with your SAO application today.

A hand drawn cloud graphic.
Save 14 hours or more applying with the Standard Application Online.
Get Started!

Let’s get going!

A hand drawn graphic of two rabbits running.

Save time applying to private schools with the Standard Application Online. Apply to any of over 400 participating schools with one set of documentation and a single student essay.

The Official SSAT Practice

The path to bright SSAT results starts with studying. Only EMA's official Online Practice and Guide Books feature four full-length tests with 600 questions created by the same people who develop the SSAT. Compared to the competition, it's no competition—you get more and pay less with our official study guides!

Get started today with the free online Mini-Practice Test to identify focus areas.

A hand drawn graphic of a plant.

Find a school that’s unbe-leaf-able!

Whatever type of private school you're looking for, we've got it. Day schools. Boarding schools. Schools that dance. Schools that play. Schools that pray. Use our Private School Search to discover the schools that will help your child hone their strengths and discover hidden talents. Where will they blossom?

Admission Concierge at Your Service

Grow your understanding of the private school application process with Admission Concierge, a free newsletter delivering timely reminders and advice throughout the application process. It's everything you need to know—precisely when you need to know it.

Stand Out With the Snapshot

The Character Skills Snapshot is an innovative measure of student preferences, attitudes, and beliefs, helping schools get to know who an applicant is rather than just what they know from grades and standardized tests—letting their uniqueness shine. Add the Snapshot to your student's application today to help them stand out.