Considering Private School?

Considering Private School?

Small steps this summer can minimize stress of application process.

Middle School Science teacher Debbie Pakaluk works with eighth-grade students in the chemistry lab at Norwood School.

Middle School Science teacher Debbie Pakaluk works with eighth-grade students in the chemistry lab at Norwood School. Photo by James Kegley/Courtesy of Norwood School

The school year has just come to an end … which means it’s the ideal time to prepare to apply to leading independent schools.

A supply versus demand imbalance for a coveted spot at one of the local, top-tier private schools makes advanced planning a critical part of the process. Local admissions directors offer suggestions on what can be done during the laid-back days of summer before the demanding fall application process begins.

“Do your research over the summer,” said Mimi Mulligan, assistant head of school and director of admission and enrollment management at Norwood School in Bethesda, Md. “Spend time educating yourself on the wide variety of independent school options in the area.”

Perusing school websites and becoming familiar with a school’s mission and philosophy toward education can help narrow down choices. Reading social media postings can give parents a sense of a school’s culture and community.

Have a family conversation about the type of school that would best serve your child, advises Mulligan, who warns that a school’s perceived prestige or reputation as a "top school” doesn’t necessarily translate into a good match.

“Be realistic about your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning style, then create a list of schools that you feel would be a good fit for your child and your family,” she said. “This list should be based on your child’s needs, not the name recognition of the school. By the time September is here, you will be ready to contact schools for their admission materials and to schedule a visit.”

Talking to parents and students at prospective schools is one way families can get a sense of a school’s environment. “Create a chart to compare [factors such as]: How the students treat each other. What is the teacher-student relationship like? How does the school care about each individual student and other things that are important to you?” said Terri Collins of Oak Crest School in McLean. “ Ask to speak with two current parents to get their perspective of what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of the school.”

“I think one of the things would be to indentify the type of school: a boarding school or a day school,” said Scott Conklin, director of admissions at Episcopal High School in Alexandria. “Once you’ve come up with a list of schools, visit some of them. Most are probably open during the summer. Walk around campus and meet the admissions directors.”

“Once families have narrowed down the list, they can send for information and begin to map out their fall visits,” said Clare Dame, director of enrollment management at Randolph-Macon Academy. “Plan to visit no more than two schools in one day so that they have time to fully investigate each one and will have the time to assimilate the information."

Garnering logistical information is important in planning an application strategy for the fall. “What are the processes? What are the dates? When are the Open Houses?” asks Richard S. Moss, director of admission at the Heights School in Potomac, Md.

However, Moss underscores the importance of creating a balance between advance planning and enjoying a summer respite, and questions the wisdom of focusing too much energy on an academic year that is more than 12 months away.

“Most importantly, families should … have a good, restful, and productive summer,” said Moss. “It is easy to think about the long-term goal of admission while sacrificing the immediately important goal of having a truly great break. … Though it is good, as a parent, to be generally aware of the process so that in September you can hit the ground running.”