Day and Boarding; Grades 6-12


Tips for Getting Into a Private School

The private school admissions process can be highly selective — and it’s crucial your child is prepared. Follow these tips for getting into a private school.

There are myriad reasons a family may decide to apply to a private or independent school for their child. It could be that the area’s public schools do not meet the academic standards they are seeking, or they may not be able to provide the educational support your child needs. With small class sizes, personalized advising, and a distinctive learning philosophy, the pros of a public school may quickly outweigh those of local public schools.

However, private schools require an application — and generally, the more prestigious the establishment, the more selective the admissions process is. Whether you are applying for a private middle school, upper school, or boarding school, it’s imperative to understand how the application process works and what admissions committees expect.

We have put together tips and guidance for you to keep in mind as you approach the private school admissions process:

Start Early

Most private school admissions deadlines are early in the calendar — usually January or February. However, the application process begins much earlier. Allot at least six months — ideally a full year — to ensure your child has everything needed to apply.

Your timeline will be dependent on whether your child applies to elementary, middle, or high school, as well as their individual needs and goals. In general, start requesting information from schools during the spring or summer.

Account for Your Child’s Interests

As you research, frequently check in with your child and ensure they are engaged in the process. Do the considered schools have extracurricular activities, such as sports, theater, and more, your child wants? Are the academics up to par? If the private school offers boarding and day school options, does your child prefer one over the other?

Keeping your child’s viewpoint, objectives, and proclivities involved ensures you will find a good fit but is also integral to the admissions process. In writing and in person, they will need to articulate why they are excited about a particular school.

Highlight Academic Performance and Potential

Regardless of what grade level your child is applying for, schools will care about past academic performance as well as their involvement in extracurricular activities both at school and outside of school. During the school interview, the admission team will ask your child about their favorite subjects and activities and why they enjoy them. They want to get to know your child well to be sure that the school is the best fit for their educational and social needs. Being able to talk about academic or extracurricular passions and how they are personally involved can be critical in order for a child to be admitted to a highly selective private school.

Assess Your Child’s Extracurricular Profile

Just as admissions committees will consider your child’s academic pursuits, they will care deeply about what they do outside of the scholastic sphere. Sports, arts, and community service are all ventures that speak to what your child can bring to their school’s community at large.

Extracurriculars show private schools what your child is passionate about and help them see where they fit into the student body. Activities in which they interact, cooperate on a team, and help others show maturity and empathy.

Prep for Standardized Testing

Most private schools use some form of standardized testing to evaluate applications, the most common of which are the ISEE and the SSAT. These tests are another reason to start early, as doing so allows your child time to prepare through self-study or tutoring.

Common at charter and Catholic schools, other private schools use a school-specific entrance exam or admissions test. Some secondary schools rely exclusively on the results of this entrance exam. However, most schools consider test scores a component of a holistic review of your child’s application.

Obtain Letters of Recommendation

Another aspect of the private school application process you’ll want to consider early on is letters of support. Most schools ask for two recommendations, often from math and English teachers. Giving your child’s teachers plenty of notice can ensure these letters are as strong and positive as possible.

If your child intends to get involved with athletics, consider getting a letter from a coach. The same applies to other educators that can speak to your child’s passions, including art and music instructors. Moreover, if you have a connection to a school, such as knowing a board member, support from them can also be effective.

Visit the School’s Website and Attend Campus Tours & Open Houses

According to a 2021 EMA research report, 72% of families researching independent schools spend time on individual school websites. This makes website the most frequently relied upon source of information. Not only that, but attending tours and open houses are also crucial to the application process, so be sure you know when these are. Most schools' open houses take place in October and November. While some schools have a few different options, they aren’t limitless; create a visiting schedule before the fall arrives.

During your school visit, you will most likely meet members of the admissions office and hear from the director. Encourage your child to ask questions and ensure your own are answered as well. If you have concerns about admission events, academic support, or any other aspect of the school, that’s the time to get those questions answered in person!

The Interview

Most independent schools pride themselves on their vibrant and robust communities. An offer of admission is an invitation to join the community! An important part of the admission process is the interview. Students should spend some time prepping for the interview. At the very minimum a student should go onto the school's website and get familiar with the culture, clubs, and academic offerings. This will help the student to engage in a more meaningful conversation with their admission counselor and to also ask more informed questions.

Have Your Child Write Strong Essays

In addition to the interview, admissions committees will also rely heavily on written responses to essay questions. These prompt students to reflect on their favored subjects, ways they have grown or matured, and what activities mean most to them.

Students should write as much of these essays themselves as possible; admissions officers can determine if an essay was drafted by a child or adult. However, talk to your child about how to approach the essays and help proofread their responses.

Applying to private schools can initially seem overwhelming and even a bit intimidating. However, by understanding what admissions officers will look for — and ensuring you and your child manage the process successfully — you will maximize their chances of admission to the school of their dreams.

For more information about our school’s admission process or the top four features to look for in a private school, contact The Pennington School today.