“Each independent school has a mission statement and values different things within that mission,” Slade says. “Assessing whether this mission aligns with your values as a family is a really helpful and important starting point.”
In the fall of the year before you want your child to attend, get to know the schools on your list through events like Open House, Shadow Day, School Tours and interviews. Once you have the application materials, make a schedule of important deadlines and documents you need to gather, including those for financial aid, standardized tests, transcripts, teacher recommendations, interviews, etc
Most application deadlines are in December and January, but due to the combination of winter holidays, the busy holiday season, and unpredictable winter weather, Slade recommends families aim to submit their applications before holidays.
“Families can’t control when a school releases their child’s transcript or when teachers fill out recommendations, so the sooner they ask for these things, the better,” she says. “A teacher or a child’s school should not be forced to meet deadlines at the last minute.”
The open day is one of the best opportunities to get to know a school quickly. (See the Open House Guide on the following pages.) Held annually in the fall, these events make it easy for families to tour the facilities and meet key contacts such as administrators, faculty and coaches, and Ask questions to current families and alumni.
Even if families feel they already know a school well, it’s always a good idea to attend formal admissions events like the open house.
At that time, it was a question of asking: what did the children think was good for them?
“It shows your interest,” says Diane Russell, director of enrollment management at Harford Day School, an independent school for children in grades 3 through 8 in Bel Air. “As many touchpoints as possible are helpful to see how engaged a family is in the process.”
Russell recommends arriving with specific questions in mind, especially regarding your child’s needs.
“If your child has a particular interest or gift in a certain area, or struggles in a certain area, this is an opportunity to find out how a school responds – each school may have a different approach,” she says.
Since COVID-19, Russell notes that some schools, including Harford Day, continue to offer virtual tours or information sessions in addition to in-person events, allowing families to get a first taste of the school. before going out in person. . It’s also a good option for families looking for schools outside their area or for those who want a low-key way to start the process a year earlier.
Although the Open House is a one-stop-shop to experience the best of a school, it is an admissions-focused event and not a typical depiction of everyday school culture. To get this idea, Russell recommends families connect with current members of the community and attend campus events that are open to the public, such as sporting events or theater productions. “These kinds of opportunities can be very enlightening on top of all the typical events,” she says.
Another change since the pandemic? Admission to independent schools has become more competitive in some areas, Russell says, due to the larger-than-normal influx of families who have moved their children from public schools to independent schools, which have largely been able to pursue some form of in-person learning while public schools were closed. “Many of us are more full than before the pandemic,” she says.
While the competition shouldn’t deter families, it’s all the more reason to make your interest in a school known by attending events and communicating frequently with admissions staff.
Families should also be sure to check availability for tours and shade days, as many schools have reduced availability since the pandemic. “It takes a little more diligence and pre-planning on the part of families to know the options, so they don’t miss an opportunity,” says Slade of Severn.
Ghost days, when prospective students attend a full or partial school day with a current student, provide an opportunity to experience the school’s culture from the inside. (See the sidebar for more on how to make the most of the shade day.)
While it can be nerve-wracking for a student to attend an unfamiliar school with an unfamiliar student, Slade implores parents to trust the process.
A common mistake, she says, is asking friends to follow together or with a current student they already know, like a neighbor or older brother. Because it can prevent prospective students from forming their own impressions of the school, it’s a practice Severn strongly discourages. “We want them to see Severn through their own eyes,” says Slade.
She also recommends that families view the application process as developing a relationship with the school. “This relationship should be based on trust and transparency,” she adds, and families should not try to gloss over details that they think could hurt their acceptance.
By being honest about a child’s talents, interests and needs from the start, schools can better assess whether they can meet those needs and families will end up with the school that is the best match. “There is a good school for every child, but not all children are suitable for all schools,” she explains.
Typically, schools begin sharing admissions decisions in mid-March, and enrollment contracts and deposits are due in April.
On the waiting list for the first choice? If so, Slade recommends that parents stay in communication with the school regarding the desire to remain on the waitlist or the decision to accept an offer at another school.
Severn, for its part, uses the term “waiting pool” because students are not prioritized but rather create a pool from which staff can draw to fill the incoming class when places become available.
“Check periodically,” says Slade. “Schools are not bothered by this. Admissions officers try to manage not only the yield of new families, but also the returning families, and things happen over the spring and summer – families transfer, families move out of state – so we as a school are just as keen to know who is realistically still in our waiting group as families need to know if a place is available.
The best part of the process? Go to registration. Although the process can be stressful, it is designed to help students find themselves in the ideal school for their needs. In independent schools, enrollment in school is the start of a lifelong relationship.
“You really can be part of a community that isn’t just the school itself, but something bigger that becomes a part of your kids’ lives,” Russell tells Harford Day. “We have our alumni who come back after graduation to visit us and a lot of them, when they get married, it’s their friends from Harford Day who are at their wedding party. So it’s a long-term relationship.