School Application Essentials
Tips You Need to Know
By Dr. Cheryl Andaya
Intro and Offers to Prepare for the School Application Process
When I started writing this post, ideas came like rapid fire and this post grew to 9 pages and over 5k words!!! 😳 I still have more tips to share but decided to save it for another time because this was turning out to be a novel. That being said, I will be working on another post about the interview process so stay tuned. Subscribe here to make sure you don’t miss it…AND if you subscribe now, you will get a copy of the worksheet I used to help organize myself during our own school application process. Also, I know we’re all super busy parents and there’s a lot to cover, so I’ve been thinking about doing a web course on this for those who don’t enjoy or have the time to read all these pages. If you’re interested in the course, PLEASE let me know because this will motivate me to get it done 😝! I’ll be offering the course at a discounted rate to those who purchase prior to the launch of the course. Once the course is launched, it will be full price so pre-order now! I will be discussing points here but going more in-depth about preparing yourself and/or your child for going through the school application process. Use the Contacts page here, put “web course” in the subject line, and I’ll forward you information to secure your copy once it launches.
Let's get it started, yeah!
Okay, let’s get into this! First off, trying something new since this is such a lengthy post, I’m adding emoticons to draw attention to important points. Here is the key:
☝️ – eh, don’t miss this. This ONE is a tip to note! (get it, one? The number one? Heh)
🌸 – mental health tip
Sooo, if you’re reading this, you’re likely stressed out with the school application process. Congratulations! 🎉 Just making that initial decision to go through the school application process is difficult. If you’re applying your young child to private school, there is always the question of whether it’s even worth sending their child to private school at such a young age or if they should wait until their child is older to spend the money. Our family decided that if our children got in at an early age, we didn’t want to risk not accepting the offer since our top choice had such a competitive application process. If only we could “reserve” the offer until they were older 😩. Alas! Since that was not possible, we accepted the offer as soon as we got our top choice and, truthfully, we’ve had no regrets👍.
The school application process to private schools can be pretty intense 😱 BUT, having this information and knowing these tips will make it easier for you! You’ll be prepared and your child will be prepared! 👌
First off, START EARLY!!!!! ☝️Start a year from when you want your child to enter the school because you want to do research, there are deadlines, and all kinds of hoops you gotta go through, especially if the schools you are looking at are in high demand. Additionally, starting early will help you with the mental preparation that you’ll need to get through this process. The better prepared you are, the 🌸calmer you’ll feel!
The school application process can be pretty intimidating, especially if you’re like me, a product of public school education…private school is new territory. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with public school; however, private schools provide so many more opportunities…at least from where I stand. I was a skeptic about private school, wondering if all that tuition was really worth it. Then, hearing about public school mismanagement and the lack of support students experience, as conveyed to me by a few of my patients and their parents, and also seeing the progress and growth of my children who have attended private school since Kindergarten, I see the difference. Yes, every school has its flaws, but being surrounded by other individuals who value education, makes quite a difference. When you’re at a school that expects all its students to attend college, it becomes a natural future goal.
Okay so finding the right schools to apply to and going through the school application process is the next step. We’ve done it, and I actually enjoyed the process…minus the anxiety of really wanting a particular school. I’m hoping this information can help alleviate part of that anxiety by giving you an idea of what to expect throughout this process.
There are many things to take into consideration when selecting schools where you want to apply. As you start your exploration of schools, ☝️think about your child and ways you would like him/her to grow. Think of your child’s personality, strengths and areas of challenge. What kind of environment would be the most conducive to their growth? ☝️Make a list of the top 5 things you want in a school for your child. Rank them starting from the most important. Keep the list out as you obtain information about schools and look to see if the schools you’re considering hits the 5 things on your list. With the list in mind, now you can look at the makeup of schools.
There are many ways to get information about schools. ☝️Visit the school’s website or, if you’re from Hawaii, get your hands on Honolulu Magazine’s special issue that they put out each year, which provides information on private schools in Hawaii. They even have a ☝️list of private school open houses find it here.
Accrediting entities also have information on their website with schools in your area that are accredited by them. Accreditation is important because a school is held to higher standards put out by the accrediting body. You can find more information at the NAIS website here. Another good article about a parent’s perspective on private school accreditation here.
Another resource is meet and greet functions. This is where all the private schools congregate and their brochures and information on their school. This is also your chance to make an impression as sometimes admissions people will be there to answer questions. Definitely visit the booth of your top choices and have a question ready. Grab brochures and flyers on the schools you are considering. They also will have information on financial aid; grab that as well if you need it.
☝️List of things to take into consideration
- Cost💰: Is the tuition within your financial means? Most schools have financial aid available. Is lunch included? School books and other fees included? Some schools will include school supplies in the tuition. This means you don’t have to worry about getting pencils, paper, crayons, etc. each year. We were very surprised and pleased by this, but I also felt sad that I didn’t get to go through the fun of school supply shopping and labeling everything. Call me weird; I know most don’t like it. There’s just something about that new school supplies smell 🤤. Okay, moving on.
- Size: What is the teacher-student ratio? How many students attend the school? How many students are in each class? Would your child do better in smaller classes? Does your child need extra attention?
- Number of available spots🤷🏻♀️: How many new students is the school taking for your child’s grade level? What are your chances of getting your child in? Do you have backups in case you don’t get your top choices? You want to have a plan so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.
- Accreditation📝: Accreditation ensures that the school meets certain national standards. This means that the school is held at a higher standard with checks and balances in place. This could also involve more extensive background checks for faculty and staff.
- Philosophy of the school: What is the aim of the school overall? What is the school’s mission? What learning style/method do they subscribe to? How do they support their teachers?
- Graduate results: Where do their graduates go and is this where you would want your child to go? How does the school prepare them for transition to the next educational experience? There is the term “feeder schools” used for schools that tend to have a large number of their graduates who move on to certain private schools. They “feed” these private schools. Some of these schools deny being feeders since they can’t guarantee anything; but, if you look at their alumni, a large number move on to certain schools.
- Temperament of your child vs. school environment: Is this the type of school that relies on structure? Would your child do better in a more flexible environment? Are there several opportunities for your child to get out of the classroom and play? Opportunities for hands-on learning versus purely didactic learning?
- School’s areas of focus: What other areas are of focus? You want to look at ways the school fosters social development, experiential learning, academics, and character development. School should not be just about academics. Each school has a mission statement; is this in line with your beliefs about education?
- Technical advancements 💻: Is technology important to you? Do you want your child to learn technological skills and incorporating high tech gadgets in their education? What is the implementation of technology in education for the schools you are considering? Some schools utilize ipads and teach coding from an early age while some will wait until the child is much older. If this is an area you want your child to learn, find out about opportunities in the schools. You can also always supplement what the school offers by seeking outside classes; however, consider the time you will need to pick-up and drop-off as well as additional fees.
- Diversity: Does the school have a diverse background? This could enhance your child’s learning as they learn from other students with diverse experiences. Some schools also incorporate various cultural celebrations and discussions.
- After school activities🥋🎼🎻🎺♟: If you’re like most parents that work 9 to 5 jobs, you need to figure out what you’re going to do for after-school care since school lets out at about 2 or so. Factor this into the total tuition as well.
- Religious aspects ⛪️: Does the school cover religion as part of its curriculum? Is it important to you? If you’re not religious how will this factor if your child’s grade is partially dependent on religious participation as it is in some religious schools? Is this on your top 5 important things? If you are a parishioner of a particular church that is affiliated with the school where you are applying, this may increase your chances of being accepted and they may offer financial aid via the church.
- Sports ⚽️🏈🏀: Is your child or you relying on sports programs? Smaller schools may not have the sport opportunities you are looking for.
- Location: Is the location of the school convenient for drop offs in the morning? How is the commute to that particular school in the morning? This may not seem important initially, but are you willing to do this commute every morning? Do they have school buses available? How early would your child have to wake?
- Highest grade of school: Some schools only go up to 5th or 6th grade. That means you have to go through the whole application process again in a few years and your child will have to become accustomed to a new school again. This could be a deal breaker for some.
- Teaching styles: Are the teachers nurturing or very strict? Some private schools really stick to the whole “prim and proper,” don’t color outside the lines belief. They have a very structured environment and want each child to stay within that structure with very little or no room for flexibility. I’ve heard of a few religion-based schools that have nuns as teachers and they tend to be very old school, expecting children to be obedient. Some children thrive with the structure. Other schools don’t mind if children have their own idea of how to accomplish a task as long as they are learning what needs to be learned. One school had a teacher that didn’t believe in homework after he had read studies showing that children did not benefit from the additional work after school but had more benefit in using the free time to do physical activities and then reading. This did not sit nicely with some parents who believed that their child needed to spend most waking hours dedicated to schoolwork. Hmmmm, that’s a topic that I may want to do more exploration. Let me know if that’s something you’re interested in and I’ll get on writing a post about it.
After you select the schools that are of interest, decide which ones you would apply to. Now that you’ve selected the schools you want your child to apply to, the next step is to prepare for the school application process. Having applied to college and internships, the process of applying to private school is similar. There are many elements to the school application process and if you have more than two sites, you can easily become overwhelmed, so staying organized is key if you’re to maintain your sanity.
The first thing you want to☝️note are the deadlines and ☝️GET ORGANIZED! Some schools provide checklists, which are great! However, you don’t want 3 or 5 different checklists to keep track of so consolidate them into one. When we were applying to schools I constructed a simple sheet to help me keep track of things that I needed for each school. If you’re interested, ☝️please email me using Contacts and put “school worksheet” in the subject line.
ELEMENTS OF THE APPLICATION
School Application form. All schools provide their own application form. Here you provide the student’s information (name, date of birth, etc.), education history, and family information. Make sure you spell things correctly and use good punctuation!
☝️Note the deadline for submitting an application. Typically, school applications ☝️become available in July/August for the entrance to the school the following year. Say what?! Yes, folks! This a long process. That means if you’re looking to apply for the 2019 school year that starts September 2019, you would start the school application process now. Seriously though, I was soooo anxious about the whole process when we were going through it that I started really, really early! I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything and got all the information we needed to increase our chances of being accepted into one of our top choices. Look at the school application and determine how long it would take you to complete it. Some applications require answering questions about your child, your expectations, and require some thinking.
Schools often have school applications right on their website so you can download the application. It may seem easy enough and you may want to just jot down the first thing that comes to mind when responding to the more in-depth questions but don’t! ☝️You are making an impression to the admissions team so use this opportunity to really express your thoughts about why you believe your child would be a good fit in their school. Take your time to answer these things and make drafts. Your thoughtful answer may set you apart from other applicants. Your child is unique so ☝️make sure your answers try to capture the uniqueness of your child. If you’re interested, I am available to proof-read and provide guidance on applications to provide additional, individualized tips on completing these forms. Please email me to obtain more information on fees. Things to take into consideration when writing about your child:
- What is it about the school that you believe would benefit your child?
- How do you think your child would contribute to the school?
- In what way do you think your family’s belief about education and learning is in line with the school’s method of teaching and their school environment.
- Look at their website, find their mission statement, and start from there while thinking about your child. Some school application sites will even mention what they are looking for in students so again, look at their website! Sounds intense? How bad do you want your child at the school of your choice? Put in the effort! Do the homework and the legwork…especially since this may be the school your child and your family will be with for the next 6 to 13 years!
The schools are trying to look for children they believe will succeed and prosper in their environment. Be careful using the same responses for other schools, make sure it makes sense. For example, if you mention the school’s great robotics program 🤖 and then use the same response for another school, make sure they actually have a robotics program!
Not all schools are created the same. If your child thrives with structure, sending him/her to a school with a free-flowing teaching environment may not be the best. Schools offer an open house where interested applicants can visit the school campus. Attend these (at least the open houses of your top choices)! They will have staff, current parents of students, and students present to give you information about the school and answer questions. This gives you additional information about the school’s mission, philosophy, and what they expect from their students.
Okay, while you’re working on that, look at the other things you need to turn in to the school.
Say what?! Yes, reference reports!!!! 😱I seriously flipped when I saw this! Schools request reference reports from previous teachers/coaches. Yes, even from those applying to Kindergarten! Again, public school alum here, so this was all new to me 🙇🏻♀️. I did, however, need reference reports when applying to colleges, internships, and fellowships so it wasn’t completely new to me but still…for Kindergarten?! Sheesh! Then again, the competition to get into the some of the top private schools is so fierce that admissions committees need to get as much information to help them select the best fit. Preschools who are “feeders” for private schools are very familiar with this process and will even remind parents that they need to submit these; however, they may require you to hold off on giving the forms to teachers until a particular date…ha! Great! Another deadline to remember! Now you see why staying organized is key. Yep, add this deadline to your sheet so you remember!!!! Feeder preschools may also have teachers who are well aware of what private schools want in these reference reports so that gives them an advantage. For the preschool, the more of their students get accepted into the private schools, the more leverage they will have during their recruitment to say that a certain number of alumni were accepted to private schools A, B, C; so they want to help out and increase your child’s chances of getting into top schools. Our preschool even asked us to provide them with information of where our child will be going after graduating from preschool.
What if your child has never attended preschool or was home-schooled? No problem. Then you want to seek out coaches or extra-curricular teachers (e.g., piano teacher, karate teacher, dance teacher, etc.). Anyone who could speak to your child’s receptivity to being taught and your child’s character. Make sure it’s okay with the school and that they will accept the substitute. Some schools will say it’s not necessary, other schools will accept it.
The school usually have their own reference report forms to be completed. You can print those out from their website and get it ready by filling out your child’s name and information. You will also need to provide a stamped envelope of where the form is to be sent (school’s admissions address). One of the reports (from last year) is due right away, reports from current teachers are usually due in December. This is half-way through the school year so your child’s current teachers have a pretty good idea of your child’s strengths and areas of challenge. Your child’s teacher will send it directly to the school where you’re applying by using the pre-stamped envelope. The school (where you’re applying) will then notify you that it has been received. If you have not received a notification of the form received a week out from the deadline, call the admissions number and confirm it was received. If it has not, you still have some time to check with the teacher to see if they have done it or not.
Usually, schools will want reference reports after you have submitted the initial school application form, which may have a different deadline. Yes, yet another deadline to remember! This means you’ll be submitting things in pieces. Keep track of it!!!!
Prior Standardized Testing and Report Cards
Any prior standardized testing (e.g., SAT scores, IQ tests, etc.) may be requested so have those ready.
Prior report cards or progress reports will also be requested. This includes last year’s report cards and the first semester of the year of your child’s current school year.
School Application Fee💰
This is usually submitted with the school application and is non-refundable.
You may need to submit this to verify your child meets the school’s age cut-off for acceptance into the grade level to which you are applying.
For those applying to Kamehameha Schools (if you’re not applying to this school, you can skip this section):
If you are applying to Kamehameha, you will also need to verify your Hawaiian lineage. This could take some time depending on if you have other family members registered their Hawaiian lineage in their database, the Ho’oulu Hawaiian Data Center (link here). For the database registry, you will need to provide not only the applicant’s birth certificate, but also the certificate for the Hawaiian parent, and the corresponding Hawaiian grandparent. If you have Hawaiian lineage on both sides, providing both sets of parents’ and grandparents’ certificates could expedite the process. If your child is adopted or there were name changes, you need to obtain documents for these. Certificates need to be certified copies issued by a duly authorized state or government agency. A certified copy is one that is guaranteed by the issuing authority to be a true and exact copy of the original. A photocopy of the certified copy cannot be used for verification. All documents will be returned to you after they have been inspected for authenticity and photocopied by Data Center representatives (Schools, n.d.).
*Schools, K. (n.d.). Ho’oulu Hawaiian Data Center. Retrieved from http://apps.ksbe.edu/datacenter/3-step-process/step-2-gathering-documents
Children of alumni/staff, siblings of current students
Some schools give special consideration to qualified applicants that are children of alumni, their faculty or staff, ethnicity, or have siblings at the school. Depending on the school, this could guarantee acceptance. However, at the more competitive schools, this may not be guaranteed. Usually, this is only when two applicants are of equal standing. In other words, if two applicants were equally qualified and they needed a tie-breaker, the special consideration would be taken into account. It does not necessarily mean guaranteed acceptance. Neither my husband nor I are alumni to the school where our children were accepted so we were even more surprised when they were accepted and the child of a friend, who was an alum of the school, was denied.
If your child has learning challenges, you be requested to submit additional documents verifying the diagnosis and recommended accommodations your child may need.
Applying for financial aid is a whole other beast. You need to gather the documents and get things in order. This is separate from the school application. The schools state that your decision to apply for financial aid does not weigh in your school application. I have a few parents that think otherwise. I personally don’t know.
After the school receives the school application materials, they will send you dates for testing. Most schools will require your child to be seen on two different dates for “testing.” The first date is an individual test session and the second date is the group date.
☝️Individual testing session
This is where a cognitive test will be administered at the school to help assess your child’s learning potential. Some parents decide to enroll their child into a test-preparation class/workshop to boost their child’s chances of acceptance. I have heard mixed reviews about it and know that some of the children who did this did not get accepted to the school of their choice. I believe part of it is the grade you’re trying to enter and the needs of your child. We never enrolled our children into these classes when they applied at the Kindergarten level. For one, we did not have the financial means at the time to do it and second, as a psychologist, I was familiar with the cognitive testing process and knew that a quick class/workshop would not really help my children.
When parents asked me my thoughts about this process, I basically told them what we did. We purchased those cheap workbooks from Costco or Amazon and had them do those. I’ve included a link below for one of the books we purchased in case you want it.
*Please note: This is an affiliate link, which means if you purchase through this link, I will earn a small fee without any extra cost to you. It helps to keep me writing these hopefully, helpful posts. Mahalo in advance.
We then had them sit, to do those workbooks. Not an easy task for 3 to 4-year-olds, so you may need to work at it. Hmmm, 🤔 another post about that? Let me know! Once you get them accustomed to doing the workbooks, you are on your way. Also, READ, READ, READ 📖 to your young child. Don’t just rely on those reading apps or television reading programs, you want to foster the love of reading with your child and that is increased with your presence and the interaction between you and your child during the calm, reading time.
The second “testing session” occurs on another day, usually a few months after the first testing session and it entails a group situation. For some schools, if you don’t pass the first interview, you don’t get invited to the second interview. The second interview encompasses seeing how your child does in a brief, simulated class environment. It’s with a small group of children.
The elements of the interview and the group session include more tips; however, I’m realizing that this is actually turning out to be a rather lengthy post so I’ll include it in a separate post for those who are interested.
Once you get to this point, give yourself and your child pats on the back, you’re almost there! Wootwoot!!!!!👏🎉
Now is the hardest part, the waiting game🙇🏻♀️. The last of the group interviews occur in February/March (check your school application timeline) and their decision letters are mailed out in April/May. Parents stress during this time but there’s nothing more you can do so relax and enjoy the fact that it’s over.
Once you receive the results, it will usually be an acceptance, denial or wait-listed. I’ll cover a bit of them here:
🌸Don’t take the rejection personally. The great thing about having a committee involved with the admissions process is that there are several individuals who contribute to assessing your child. There are also several data points they use to make the decision.
Let’s recap: the school application forms, report cards, reference reports, information on your child, individual interview, and group interview.
This is why, with each data point, you want to use this as an opportunity to highlight your child. A denial letter just means that your child was not a good fit for the school at this time in their development. 🌸It is NOT a reflection of failure of your child OR of you as a parent. If your child is placed in an environment that does not fit his/her learning at this time, this could negatively impact your child. Notice I also use the word “yet.” Your child may be ready for the school at a later time and, with the exception of high school applicants, your child will have other opportunities to re-apply in upcoming years. I knew of a family who applied every school application eligible year from Kindergarten until the 6th grade, when their daughter FINALLY was accepted. Yay!!!!!
This is where you are placed on a list waiting for a spot to open. Openings become available when those who were offered an acceptance letter decide not to send their child to the school, leaving a vacancy. Depending on the school and where you are on the wait-list, you can get offered a spot in a few weeks. The most competitive schools may not get openings until the following year when some families either move, no longer can afford the tuition, or discover the school is not a good fit for them. For our top choice school, everyone who was offered a spot accepted it. Only two spots opened up after the school application year. The wait-listed individuals who wanted a spot the year after the initial application, had to go through the individual interview process again and resubmit grade reports. The wait-listed children are then re-ranked and are selected by the best fit.
Yayyyyyy!!!! Congrats 🎉🎉🎉 on the new adventure (and financial commitment 💸) that awaits you. Enjoy and celebrate! You did it!
If you were wait-listed or accepted to one school but decided to accept an offer at another school, please let the non-chosen school know as soon as you decide so they can offer a spot to another child. There are other anxious parents waiting.
If you’re on the fence about what school you want (some families are blessed to get multiple offers) do additional research. Some schools offer a welcoming gathering for those who received acceptance letters. They provide additional information at these gatherings and get to see other parents whose children will be attending the school. Talk to parents and children who are currently attending the school or are alumni. Follow your gut when making the choice. If your child is old enough, maybe you want have their input. Does your child have friends attending the school? That might help with the acclimation process. You want to set your child up for success.
All in all, it ultimately comes down to the effort your child puts in school and the support you, as parents, give your child. You can send them to the best private school in the country but if they don’t put in the effort and don’t receive your support, they won’t get very far. I’ve seen public school graduates excel and private school students tank. Parents play a huge role in whether their child succeeds in school. Helping them become motivated and learning to take advantage of opportunities is key to their learning. I’ve written on this topic on another post. You can find that here.
Good luck with the process! Remember the aim is to help set your child for success!
Whew! If you made it reading all the way here. That’s freaking AWESOME! That was a lot!!!! There’s still more that I can write about this subject with the interviews and preparing your child. Please let me know if you’re interested in reading about it because that helps light a fire 🔥 under my butt to get on it. ALSO, I’m thinking about just doing a web course on this to provide even more information. Let me know if you’re interested. As mentioned above, I’ll be offering the course at a discounted rate to those who purchase prior to the launch of the course. Once the course is launched, it will be full price so pre-order now here and put “web course” in the subject!
Also, please let me know in the comments below if this was at all helpful or if there is another topic you would like for me to cover. I love receiving feedback as it helps me learn ways to improve this service.
Thanks again for reading! Aloha kakou!!!!!😘
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I’m a mother and a Clinical Psychologist who works with children and their families as well as individuals reaching for their goals. Born and raised in Hawaii, I embrace diversity and help individuals find their strengths.