As Director of Admissions at an independent school in the Los Angeles area, I have been asked frequently “What can I do to assure my child’s admission to private school? “
The short answer is “not much”. Spaces in independent schools are at a premium, even in a slow economy. There are always more children applying than available spaces for any given year.
However, there are a few things parents can do to make things easier for themselves and their children. The children should always be the primary concern.
Start early. At least one year prior to applying begin researching the schools in your area. Most independent schools (non parochial) begin their kindergarten admissions process a year ahead, so giving yourself plenty of time to learn about your choices is essential.
Include all the public school options available in your search as well. Do not rely on rumors about your local public schools. Check them out yourself. A good public school beats a mediocre private one any time.
Decide why you want to send your child to private school. Are your reasons religious, philosophical, or are you just looking to avoid public schools?
Call schools to find out what their schedule is for admissions. What are the deadlines for submitting applications? Do they have tours? Is there a kindergarten fair in your area where many schools come together and share information with prospective applicant parents. Call your local NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) affiliate to get a list of schools in your area. If you live in a large city, there may be books published listing private schools with some information on philosophy and contact information. Most schools have websites now. Check them out and keep a list of those which sound interesting. If you come across terminology you are not familiar with, check it out. Who are Dewey, Piaget, Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf Schools)? How do their ideas impact the curriculum and its implementation?
Should you decide to apply to a school, treat it as though you were applying for a job.
All the same etiquette applies regarding dealing with personnel and keeping appointments. You are not doing anyone a favor by applying to their school. Schools are looking not just for children who will fit into their programs, but families who are compatible with the school community. Parents are scrutinized as carefully as their children. Treat each and every contact you have with the school as an interview. Be honest. If your child has difficulties in certain areas and/or has had interventions by professionals, tell the school. It will all become apparent anyway and it’s best to be forthcoming with the information. Many schools will accept children with learning disorders or developmental delays, if they feel they can work with a family.
Talk to the director of your child’s preschool. What sort of school do they feel would be best for your child? Talk to parents who have children in some of the schools you are looking at? Do you share the same values? Are your children’s needs similar?
Go with your gut. Does a particular school just not feel right to you? Even if everyone praises it to the heavens, if it does not feel comfortable to you, it won’t work for your child. Remember, it’s about your child and what is best for him or her.