How To Apply
Applying to independent schools has several different components. The following information is designed to help guide you through the process.
For additional information, please visit the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) website.
Each ISSL member 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:
- Day or boarding?
- Co-ed or single sex?
- Religious affiliation or not?
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?
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.
- Total enrollment size
- Average class size
- Diversity of student body
- Traditional? Progressive?
- How are students tested?
- How are expectations conveyed?
- Competitive or nurturing atmosphere?
- What courses are offered? Which are required and which are elective?
- Is there an interdisciplinary emphasis, so that what students study in English, for example, meshes with what they're learning in history?
- Does the curriculum fit your student's learning needs?
- Where did teachers go to college?
- How long have they been teaching?
- How diverse is the faculty?
- 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.
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 and travel opportunities.
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 at this time. In that case, the school wouldn't be the right fit 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.
Review each school's website (find links here) 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?
You’ve defined your ideal school, used the ISSL School Search to find schools that fit your child’s needs, and narrowed that list by asking the school questions. Now it’s time to see for yourself what the schools are really like.
All schools have their own timelines and procedures for family visits. Check the school’s website or call the admissions office to ask when and how they recommend families visit the school.
The Open House
The majority of open houses occur in the fall, although some schools schedule one just after the first of the year.
- Look for a calendar or open house dates on the admissions section of the school’s website, or call the admissions office
- Check to see if you need to register, or if you can just drop in or if there is a virtual option.
- Find out if there will be a formal welcome during the open house and what time it will occur. This presentation is an ideal opportunity to hear the school head and admissions director talk about the school
- Remember, an open house is not the right forum to ask in-depth questions — it’s too crowded and busy. Jot down questions as you think of them, so you can ask them later, during a personal tour or interview
As you tour the school, take notes on your impressions about:
- The quality and condition of school facilities
- The various programs offered that may interest your child
- What the students, teachers, and other families are like
If your tour is conducted by a current student, try to ask:
- Where else did you apply?
- Why did you choose this school?
- If you could change anything about this school, what would it be and why?
Visiting Preschools and Elementary Schools
When you schedule a tour, ask what happens during school visits. Teachers may invite your child into the classroom, either with you or without you. This may be a chance to see if your child seems best suited for a full day, for mornings only, or whatever schedule the school offers.
Before deciding whether to take your child on a school visit, ask yourself:
- Is your child able to separate from you fairly easily?
- How are his or her verbal communication skills?
- How does the child do in a group?
Ask what the school day is like and how the school program’s size and structure will fit your child. You want to know what the school offers, and more importantly, whether your child is ready for what the school has to offer.
For information on visiting Boarding Schools, visit http://www.boardingschools.com/.
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.
Most ISSL schools 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.
The following timeline will help you prepare:
- Begin researching schools that meet your child's needs and 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.
- Decide which schools to visit in-person.
- Check schools' open house schedules and make plans to attend.
- Note 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.'
- Finalize a list of schools to which you will apply.
- Take standardized admission tests, if applicable.
- 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, along with test scores, references, transcripts, and financial aid forms.
- 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.
- Attend events and activities for new parents and students during the spring and summer.