Tips on getting into private school
You’ve decided on private school and have selected the one that best suits your family. Now what? How does acceptance work? Read on to find out what you need to know about applications, assessments and interviews.
Here’s an opportunity for the school to learn about your child and family. The process varies according to your child’s age and level of education, but one common part of the application is to ask why you’re considering a new school and how you believe the school you’ve picked will best support your child. You’ll also be asked for family histories, your financial standing and other general questions that will be used to create a profile of your child. Admissions departments will want to know how younger elementary-aged students (those in kindergarten and grade one, for example) behave in social situations and interact with their peers, while students in higher grades will need to show their academic background, says Lydia J. Hawkins, director of enrollment at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Okotoks, Alta. Previous report cards will be included as backup paperwork. Depending on the age of your kids, they may be asked to either answer questions on their own or provide a written essay, which will give educators insight into their academic abilities. Answers should be thoughtful and edited, but a true reflection of their writing abilities and thought processes. (Refrain from doing this assignment for your student—admissions officers have seen it all!)
Just about every private school has an in-person meeting as part of the admissions process, and parents often wonder how best to help their children prepare for their interviews. This is an opportunity for the school staff to get to know you, and you should prepare your child in the event that he or she is interviewed alone (you may be interviewed separately). Questions will pertain to the current school year, the 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 also be used.
For parents, schools hope to ensure a strong partnership between the home and classroom. While it’s important to prepare, being honest is integral to the process.
The York School in Toronto invites candidates to a full-day experience at the school, where staff and teachers can meet prospective students, which helps to determine whether the school is a good match. Older candidates (Grades 6 to 11) participate in a group interview following their time learning about the school. “We want to see how your child interacts with others. Are they collaborative? Are they reflective? Are they a good listener? Are they passionate?” the school’s site says.
You can help your child prep by asking them a few key questions that are sure to arise at their meeting. They should have some great experiences or initiatives to talk about that really reflect themselves and will make an impression. They’ll definitely be asked why they chose the school—for this one you’ll want them to be armed with a few specific reasons, including what appeals most to them, why they want to attend either a co-ed or gender-specific school, as well as why they think they’ll succeed as a student in the school. It’s also ideal for you to have them think outside of the box and have answers to a few fun and creative questions prepared—“if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?” “If you could sit down for dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?” It’s key for kids to be ready to share what they love most, show enthusiasm and a well-rounded personality, and really be engaged and ready to learn.
Standardized tests and assessments
We know—no one likes a test. But there are various assessment tools depending on the age group of the student applying, and one of the most common for middle and senior schools (Grades 5 to 11) is the secondary school admission test (SSAT). The SSAT isn’t a make-or-break, says Hawkins, and different schools put more emphasis on them than others, but it’s an important part of the application process, as results can really help the school get an idea of applicants’ strengths and weaknesses. Students should do some prep (you can find materials online) to get familiar with the format but spending too much time studying or mulling over content may cause extra anxiety, which won’t help come test time. Be sure to remind them—schools are looking at the student as a whole; this test is just one part of the application process.
Acceptances (and refusals)
If your child gets in, great—job well done. But don’t take it to heart if you get a negative response from the school. The truth is some schools get more applications than anticipated and just can’t accommodate all interested students. Don’t give up the first time—you can often reapply, especially if you have younger children, who will grow and change as they develop.
Originally published in the 2019 Private School Guide.