Applying to private schools is an exciting time filled with a world of possibilities. Whether applying to high schools, middle schools, or elementary schools, knowing how the application puzzle pieces fit together can make a difference for your family when admission decision letters arrive.
<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Find schools that are the right fit.</span>
Taking an interest in a school due to its reputation or a personal recommendation is a good way to begin the process, but it’s no guarantee that the school will be a good fit for your family. Private and independent schools vary in educational philosophies and programs, so ensuring these align with your child’s interests, learning style, and future aspirations is essential.
Also, understand the competitiveness of admissions at your chosen schools by asking about their acceptance rates. Many of the competitive schools receive more qualified candidates than they can accept. Put the enrollment odds in your favor by applying to more schools and including less competitive but equally supportive options where your child can thrive. After all, when their secondary school education concludes, the student’s overall growth matters far more than the institution on their diploma.
Our Private School Search is a great way to discover schools based on programs of interest, desired locations, and other preferences. Check out our Featured School sponsors, too.
<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">Know the application process and requirements.</span>
On the surface, the private school application process is similar from school to school. Most schools offer financial aid and ask that applicants complete an interview and submit an essay, recommendations, and admission assessment results. Where it gets tricky is in the details. Application deadlines can vary widely by school, and some schools offer rolling admissions.
Staying organized and adhering to each school's requirements and deadlines is critical. Applying to schools with the Standard Application Online (SAO) helps make this easy with a convenient dashboard showing each school’s deadlines and your application progress. You’ll also save time by only submitting one set of personal information, student essay, and recommendations.
Want to stay a step ahead throughout the process? Our free Admission Concierge email newsletter will deliver timely advice and reminders.
<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">Start early and inquire.</span>
The more time you can give yourself to thoughtfully complete each step in the application process, the better. Technology has made it easy to research and apply without taking the time to engage with the school. That’s a mistake because when it comes time for the admissions committee to make tough decisions, it’s easier to decline a student they haven’t gotten to know.
As early as you can in the admissions process, fill out an inquiry form on the school’s website, use the “interested in” feature in the SAO, or contact the admissions office directly to let them know you are interested. This step will make your family known to the school, get you on their email list, and ensure you don’t miss out on open houses and other engagement opportunities.
<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Attend an open house or school tour.</span>
Admission evaluations are a two-way street. Attending an open house, school tour, and an in-person interview enables admission officers to get to know your family. It also is a reflection of your interest in the school. From your perspective, it’s an opportunity to learn about the school, experience the campus atmosphere, and evaluate whether it is a good fit. If you can, schedule visits when an activity of interest, such as a theater production or an athletic event, occurs.
<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">Prepare for the SSAT.</span>
Many schools include the SSAT in a holistic admission evaluation that’s fair and equitable to all students. Using the official study materials created by the same team that makes the SSAT and taking the assessment more than once are reliable methods for helping your child achieve their best result.
What if a school is test-optional? To properly evaluate whether to submit SSAT scores, your student must first take the SSAT. Review the Score Reporting Tips video to learn how to report scores after you’ve reviewed them first. It’s also a good idea to talk to each school about how they use SSAT scores. In addition to admission evaluations, many schools use the results to plan course placement and the support new students may need to be successful in their program.
<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">Be active in the school community.</span>
Schools are looking to admit students who will be active and engaged community members. The best way to show them this is by participating in various academic enrichment and extracurricular activities in your child’s current educational setting. Make sure to strike a healthy balance, though, as you don’t want your child’s mental health or schoolwork to suffer because they are over-committed and stressed.
Being an active participant applies to parents, too. What could you add to the school community? During your parent interview, talk about your interests and ask about ways you could get involved—whether it’s joining the Parents’ Association, taking photos at school events, or baking for fundraisers.
<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Do your homework.</span>
Most of the advice on this page falls into one consolidated bucket: Show sincere interest in the school. Learn about their programs and discuss them as a family to prepare your student to articulate why they want to attend and ask their own questions in the interview. Ask for current parents and alums you can speak with to learn more about the school. Follow through and be curious and courteous with the parents and alums, as they will likely report back to the admissions team.
If the school is your first choice, let them know. Declaring your first choice doesn’t guarantee admission, but schools aim to admit students who will accept enrollment.
<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">Write a thank you note.</span>
Students who send a thank you card, write a letter, or even simply send a follow-up email after their interview leave a lasting impression on their admission officer. Sending a thank you to the school’s student tour guides is also appreciated. You never know what will make the difference when admission committees convene, but saying thank you never hurts.