Applying to independent schools has several different components. The following information is designed to help guide you through the process.
1. Finding a Match
While all ISSL schools are committed to providing a positive and safe educational experience, there is no common mold. Each school has developed a distinctive program and culture based on its mission and its own community. Each child has differing needs and desires. A family should assess what these are and take time to consider the following:
- School Type. Do you want a day school or boarding school? Coeducational or single-sex?
- Grade range. Do you want a school that focuses on your child’s age range, or one that can serve your child through elementary, middle, and high school?
- Location. Convenience matters, especially if you want your child to take part in school activities. Time the commute before and after school just to be sure.
- Student body. Consider both average class size and total enrollment. A smaller population may mean fewer social opportunities, but more chances for your student to shine. Also consider the diversity of the student body.
- Educational philosophy. Most independent schools fall along a continuum between traditional and progressive, but what does that mean? How are classes taught? How are expectations conveyed? How are students tested? Ask to sit in on a few classes to see how the philosophy plays out. Is the atmosphere competitive or more nurturing?
- Curriculum. What courses are offered? Which are required and which are elective? Is there an interdisciplinary emphasis, so that what students study in English meshes with what they’re learning in history? Does the curriculum fit your student’s learning needs?
- Faculty. Examine the faculty list (online or in recruitment materials). Where did teachers go to college? How long have they been teaching? Do their degrees match with what they teach? Is there much turnover? In primary grades, how many teachers are in the classroom? Watch a class to see how teachers interact with students and engage them in the learning process.
- Facilities. In addition to the overall condition of the school, look at the facilities your child may use. Is the art department well stocked? Are sports facilities well equipped? Are computers up to date? How extensive is the library/language lab?
- Special programs and extracurriculars. Does the school provide programs that fit your student’s needs and interests? Consider academic support, language programs, arts, athletics, leadership opportunities, and service programs. Is the school a place where your child can blossom? How does the school get parents involved? What do parents typically do?
When your child has special needs
Many students have diagnoses such as ADHD, anxiety, learning delays, physical disabilities, or behavioral issues. Other children have special talents they want to nurture or learning styles that require additional time or resources in the classroom. Whatever your child’s special needs, it’s best to talk about them honestly and early in the process.
Consider asking the school if you can speak with two or three parents of children who have special needs similar to your student’s. Ask these families:
- How does the school endeavor to meet your child’s needs?
What do you see as the school’s strengths and weaknesses?
- How would you most like to see the school improve?
If your child is not admitted, it may mean the school doesn’t have the facilities or expertise to meet your child’s needs. In that case, the school wouldn’t be right for your child anyway.
Keep notes on every conversation you have, and look for consistency in the answers. This information should help you narrow your list of possible schools.
2. Collecting Information
Review each school’s website (links are provided via the ISSL website) and request an admissions packet. Don’t hesitate to call the admissions office with questions, even if you’re not sure whether you plan to apply to the school. It is in everyone’s interest to help you ensure that the school is a good fit for your student. Here are just some of the questions you may want to ask:
- What is the school’s mission or educational philosophy?
- Is the school accredited, and if so, by what accrediting agency?
- How much is the tuition?
- Are there other charges, such as for books, lab fees, transportation, and so on?
- What financing options or financial aid does the school offer?
- What is the financial aid application process? When are the deadlines?
- What is the process for applying to the school?
- Will there be interviews with you and your child?
- What factors do the schools consider when choosing students?
- Are references from current teachers needed?
3. Timing and Deciding
It is recommended that parents begin the process the fall before the enrollment year. Consider a number of schools, as many have more applicants than places for new students. When you hear from the schools that accepted your child, you will be given time to make your choice – usually two weeks. You may visit a school again, talk to parents whose children are already enrolled, or perhaps your child can spend time on campus. Once you have made a decision, inform the other schools that accepted your child. Many have waiting lists and prompt responses are not only polite, but also important. When you return the enrollment contract along with a tuition deposit, your family will be considered part of that school’s community.
The following timeline will help you prepare:
Although not every school follows the exact schedule, many follow similar timetables for admission. These are general guidelines to help you in the admissions process. Be sure to check with individual schools for their specific procedures.
August (or the year before you want your child to attend)
- Determine what you’re looking for in a school.
- Begin researching schools that meet your child’s needs.
- Develop a list of schools that you’d like to learn more about.
- Browse schools’ websites and request admissions and financial aid material.
- Check with schools to see if they’re participating in a local school fair where you can gather material and impressions from several schools at once.
- Review admissions materials and decide which schools to visit.
- Note and keep a calendar of deadlines for admission and financial aid
- Register for any standardized tests required for admission (each school lists specific admission criteria on its application).
- If testing is required, review the test website to learn about procedures and test dates and to see sample questions; consider whether you want to buy a test-preparation book.
- Call schools to schedule individual tours, interviews, class visits and ‘shadow days.’ Ask elementary schools about their test schedules and how to make an appointment.
- Call to schedule tours, interviews, class visits and school-based tests if you haven’t already.
- Visit open houses, attend information sessions and take tours.
- Finalize a list of schools to which you will apply.
- Take standardized admission tests, if applicable.
- Follow through on activities you may not have completed, such as scheduling tours, interviews, class visits, and standardized or school-based tests.
- Continue to watch for open houses you may want to attend.
- Start lining up teacher recommendations from your child’s current school.
- Start working on applications, financial aid forms, student questionnaires, essays, etc.
- Continue to watch for any open houses or school events of interest.
- Request transcripts at the end of your child’s first semester.
- Complete any remaining applications, questionnaires, etc. Most application materials are due in January or early February.
- Pay attention to deadlines: most schools’ applications are due in January or February, along with test scores, references, transcripts, and financial aid forms.
- Don’t miss the deadlines: most schools’ applications are due in February at the latest.
- Visit schools or have your child participate in a shadow day if you haven’t already.
- Watch for school decisions starting in mid-March.
- Watch for financial aid decisions about this same time.
- If you’ve applied and been accepted by multiple schools, decide which school is the one you’d like your child to attend.
- Sign and return enrollment contracts and deposits.
May to September
- Attend events and activities for new parents and students during the spring and summer.