Q&A: Admission requirements
Private/independent schools come in all shapes and sizes, but they all seek “mission-appropriate ” students they can set up for success and guide toward reaching their goals. Having a sense for your child’s abilities, potential and goals will help narrow the field.
Where do I start?
Word-of-mouth continues to be the best way to learn about independent schools. Ask coworkers, family members and neighbours.
General Internet searches, educational directories and national organizations are great one-stop shops for information. Visit sites that accredit private and independent schools.
Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) is an association of more than 90 independent schools across the country. For boarding schools in Canada, look into The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS).
How do you schedule a campus visit?
Once you’ve identified a few schools of interest, schedule a campus visit by e-mailing or calling the admissions offices. A school will schedule a personal tour or direct you to an open house or information session.
When reaching out to the school, provide a little information about your child, such as the grade they are seeking and specific interests. Then, the admissions office can tailor the visit. Don’t forget to provide your cell phone number so the school can reach you with any last-minute information about your visit, such as a school closure.
For the most part, campus visits are scheduled within the academic day so families can truly get a feel for the school.
What happens on a visit?
While each school organizes their tours a little differently, you can typically expect to have a walk through the school, watch a few minutes of classes, and speak with members of the admissions office.
Some schools will have you speak with teachers or, if your child is interested, shadow a class. Many schools will also use the time to conduct the child’s interview and do the student assessment.
Whether you’re just starting to research, seeing the school for the first time, or are partway through the application on a return visit, treat each visit as a chance to make a first impression. (Remember, they are considering you, too.) Dress consistently with the feel of the school. Even if you’re in the early stages of your search, let your child know why you’re there; it’s important he or she is on board.
And most importantly, ask lots of questions!
The interview is an opportunity for the school to get to know the applicant and the parents. Students and parents will often be interviewed separately.
Questions will pertain to the current school year, a student’s strengths and challenges, goals and desire to attend the school. Depending on the grade, situational questions around decision-making and other non-cognitive assessment tools may be used as well.
For the parent interview, schools hope to ensure a strong partnership between the home and the classroom. While it is important to prepare, being honest and authentic is integral to the interview process.
When should you start the process?
Now is a great time! Many schools conduct the majority of their admission cycle during the fall and winter months. Some have published deadlines, while others consider applications on a rolling basis.
Even for schools with deadlines, spaces often become available throughout the year, as families let schools know about relocations and re-enrollment.
If a school does not have a place available in your desired grade the day you call, still complete the application process. This will ensure you are in consideration if a place becomes available, whether later that week or just before the school year begins.
What are standardized tests and assessments?
Each school uses different assessment tools for various age groups. For middle and senior schools, the most popular standardized test is the SSAT. The assessments are typically used as part of the application process, not as a make-or-break component.
While preparation can help ease nerves going into an assessment, too much prep can cause anxiety and potentially produce a skewed score. If you’re nervous about the score, call the admissions office to get more information about how they use the assessment in considering the application.
What is included in the application?
The application is another opportunity for the school to learn more about your child and family. Thoughtfully answer questions about why you are considering a new school and how the school can best support your child.
Students’ essays are a first insight into their academic abilities. Again, answers should be thoughtful and edited, but also a reflection of their writing abilities and thought processes.
Other than the interviews and assessment, for many schools the completed application will also include report cards from the current and previous school years and a letter of reference.
What questions should you ask school officials?
Throughout the research phase, your campus visit, and the application process, you’ll be inundated with information about schools.
Know, as a family, what your priorities are and ask questions that relate most specifically to those goals. Important things to consider include:
- class size
- student support
- co-curricular opportunities
- how the academic day is structured
- how communication between the family and school takes place
- what sets the school apart from other schools
Is there anything else I need to know?
Have fun. Selecting a new school can be a daunting, yet exciting time. Independent schools care so much about their current students and are excited to show you how your family could potentially make a great fit at their school.
Each school also wants to ensure it is positioned to help your child succeed on its campus. This might mean your child is not offered a place at a particular school. You should feel confident, however, that your child’s best interests were considered, and the perfect school for them is very likely in their future. Happy searching!
Lydia J. Hawkins is Director of Enrollment at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Okotoks, Alberta.