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Published May 20, 2024 ⦁ 13 min read
Private School Admissions: 10 Tips for Parents

Private School Admissions: 10 Tips for Parents

Navigating the private school admissions process can be challenging, but following these 10 tips can help:

  1. Start Early: Begin researching and preparing for the admissions process 12-18 months before your desired start date. This includes researching schools, preparing for standardized tests like the SSAT, and understanding application timelines.

  2. Research Thoroughly: Evaluate schools based on academics, campus culture, faculty, resources, accreditation, and reputation to find the best fit for your child.

  3. Utilize Online Applications: Many schools use online application systems like Gateway to Prep Schools or Ravenna, streamlining the process and keeping you organized.

  4. Prepare for the SSAT: Understand the test format, use official study materials, take practice tests, develop a study plan, and manage stress to help your child perform well on the SSAT.

  5. Attend Open Houses and Tours: Visit schools to observe facilities, interact with faculty and students, attend information sessions, and explore the surrounding community.

  6. Engage with the Admission Concierge: Take advantage of personalized support, insider tips, timely updates, and application advice from the school's admission concierge.

  7. Highlight Character Skills: Showcase your child's character traits like honesty, empathy, curiosity, teamwork, and resilience through recommendations, extracurriculars, and personal statements.

  8. Practice for Interviews: Conduct mock interviews, record and review them, research the school, and practice active listening to help your child feel prepared and confident.

  9. Connect with Current Parents: Attend school events, use your network, join online parent groups, or request parent contacts to gain insights into the school's daily life and community.

  10. Follow Up and Stay Engaged: Send thank-you notes, ask follow-up questions, check on application status, and stay in touch with the school throughout the process.

School Tuition (Grades 9-12) Student-Teacher Ratio Extracurriculars
Phillips Exeter Academy $59,500 5:1 100+ clubs, 20+ sports teams, theater, music, art
Phillips Academy Andover $59,900 5:1 150+ clubs, 30+ sports teams, visual/performing arts
The Lawrenceville School $67,200 7:1 100+ clubs, 20+ sports teams, theater, music, art
Choate Rosemary Hall $64,860 6:1 80+ clubs, 30+ sports teams, arts, community service
Deerfield Academy $65,900 5:1 60+ clubs, 30+ sports teams, arts, outdoor programs
St. Paul's School $64,920 5:1 100+ clubs, 30+ sports teams, arts, community service

By following these tips and thoroughly researching your options, you can navigate the private school admissions process successfully and find the best fit for your child.

1. Start Early

Starting the private school admissions process early is key to success. Most top private schools have application deadlines in late fall or early winter for the next academic year. However, the process itself begins much earlier, often 12-18 months before the desired start date.

1. Research Schools

Begin researching potential schools at least a year in advance. Attend open houses, campus tours, and information sessions to understand each school's environment, curriculum, and community. This will help you create a prioritized list of best-fit schools for your child.

2. Standardized Testing

Many private schools require students to take standardized admission tests like the SSAT, ISEE, or school-specific exams. Prepare your child for these tests well in advance by enrolling them in prep courses or working with a private tutor.

3. Application Timelines

While application deadlines are typically in January or February, the actual application process opens several months earlier, often in September or October. Starting early allows ample time to gather transcripts, recommendations, essays, and other required materials without feeling rushed.

2. Research Thoroughly

Researching private schools thoroughly is crucial for finding the best fit for your child. Here are some key areas to focus on:


  • Curriculum and Teaching Methods: Ensure they match your child's learning style and goals.
  • Test Scores and College Acceptance Rates: Check these to gauge the school's educational quality.
  • Class Sizes and Support Services: Look into student-to-teacher ratios and available academic support.

Campus Culture

  • Values and Environment: Make sure they align with your family's beliefs.
  • Open Houses and Tours: Attend these to observe interactions and get a feel for the campus.
  • Extracurricular Activities: Ensure the school offers sports, clubs, and programs that interest your child.

Faculty and Staff

  • Qualifications and Experience: Research the faculty's expertise and commitment.
  • Professional Development: Ask about support and training for teachers.
  • Leadership Team: Understand their vision and plans for the school.

Resources and Facilities

  • Libraries, Labs, and Technology: Evaluate the quality and availability of these resources.
  • Technology in Learning: Inquire about how technology is used in education.
  • Physical Facilities: Check the condition and maintenance of the school's buildings.

Accreditation and Reputation

  • Accreditation: Verify the school is accredited by reputable bodies.
  • Community Feedback: Look for reviews from current and former parents and students.
  • Rankings and Awards: Research the school's recognition from educational organizations.

3. Utilize the Standard Application Online

Many private schools now use online application systems like Gateway to Prep Schools or Ravenna. These platforms make the process easier by allowing you to:

1. Create a Parent Account

Set up your account and enter basic family information once to apply to multiple schools.

2. Complete the Online Application

Fill out details about your child, upload required documents like transcripts and test scores, submit the application fee, and track your application status.

3. Manage Requirements

The system keeps you updated on each school's specific requirements like teacher recommendations, interviews, or admission tests.

4. Receive Updates

Schools will communicate admission decisions and next steps through the application portal.

Using the standard online application simplifies the process for families and ensures your materials are received promptly by the admissions offices.

4. Prepare for the SSAT Exam


The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is a key part of many private school applications. Proper preparation can help your child do well. Here are some tips to get ready for the SSAT:

Understand the Test Format

The SSAT has three main sections: Verbal, Quantitative (Math), and Reading Comprehension. The Upper Level test (for grades 8-11) also includes an unscored experimental section and an essay. Get to know the test structure, question types, and time limits.

Use Official SSAT Study Materials

Official SSAT study guides are great resources. They include an overview of the test, sample questions, and full-length practice tests. Buy the guide for your child's level (Elementary, Middle, or Upper) and work through the practice questions.

Take Practice Tests

Regular practice with full-length SSAT tests is important. It helps your child get used to the test format and timing. It also shows which areas need more work. Use the results to focus your study efforts.

Develop a Study Plan

Based on practice test results, create a study plan. Set aside time for reviewing concepts, practicing question types, and learning test-taking strategies. Consider an SSAT prep course or a private tutor for extra help.

Keep Stress in Check

While the SSAT is important, too much stress can hurt performance. Encourage your child to stay focused but remind them the test is just one part of the application. Celebrate their efforts and keep a balanced perspective.

5. Attend Open Houses and Tours

Attending open houses and campus tours is a key step in the private school admissions process. These events give you a firsthand look at the school's facilities, culture, and learning environment, helping you decide if it's the right fit for your child.

Observe the Campus and Facilities

During the tour, pay attention to:

  • Classrooms, Labs, and Libraries: Check the condition and resources available.
  • Class Sizes and Technology: Note the student-to-teacher ratio and available tech.
  • Overall Atmosphere: See if the environment suits your child's needs.

Interact with Faculty and Students

Use this time to meet teachers, administrators, and current students. Ask about:

  • Curriculum and Teaching Methods: Understand the academic approach.
  • Extracurricular Activities: Learn about sports, clubs, and other programs.
  • Faculty-Student Interaction: Observe how teachers and students engage with each other.

Attend Information Sessions

Many schools offer information sessions during open houses. These sessions cover:

  • School Mission and Academic Programs: Get an overview of what the school offers.
  • Admission Requirements: Learn about the application process and criteria.

Explore the Surrounding Community

While on campus, also look at the surrounding area:

  • Safety and Convenience: Check if the neighborhood is safe and easy to access.
  • Nearby Resources: Look for libraries, parks, or cultural institutions that could benefit your child.

6. Engage with the Admission Concierge

Many private schools offer an admission concierge service to help families through the application process. This support can be very helpful, providing reminders, advice, and assistance.

The admission concierge is your main contact, ensuring you don't miss any deadlines or requirements. They can help with:

  • Standardized testing (e.g., SSAT) preparation and registration
  • Submitting application materials and documents
  • Scheduling campus visits and interviews
  • Understanding the school's admission criteria

Engaging with the admission concierge early helps build a good relationship and ensures a smooth experience. Don't hesitate to ask questions or express concerns—they are there to support your family.

Benefits of Using the Admission Concierge

Benefit Description
Personalized Help One-on-one support tailored to your child's needs and interests.
Insider Tips Insights into the school's values and admission priorities.
Timely Updates Information about important dates, events, and any changes to the process.
Application Advice Guidance on creating a strong application.

Using the admission concierge can make the application process easier and more organized.


7. Highlight Character Skills

Private schools look at character traits along with academics during admissions. They want students who show honesty, empathy, curiosity, teamwork, and resilience.

Teacher Recommendations

Teacher recommendations can show your child's character in the classroom. Ask teachers to highlight:

  • Respect for others
  • Love of learning
  • Teamwork skills
  • Handling challenges well

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurriculars can show traits like:

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Dedication
  • Community service

Provide examples of your child's positive impact in these activities.

Personal Statements and Interviews

These let your child show their values and personality. Encourage them to:

  • Show self-awareness
  • Talk about challenges they've faced
  • Share their interests and passions
  • Highlight ethical choices they've made

Admissions teams look for students whose character fits the school's values and community.

8. Practice for Interviews

Interviews are an important part of the private school admissions process. Practicing ahead of time can help your child feel more confident and prepared. Here are some tips for effective interview practice:

Mock Interviews

Conduct mock interviews with your child. Take turns playing the role of the interviewer and the interviewee. Ask common private school interview questions, such as:

  • Why are you interested in attending this school?
  • What are your academic strengths and weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a challenge you've faced and how you overcame it.

Encourage your child to provide specific responses that highlight their qualities and experiences.

Video Recording

Record your mock interviews and review the footage together. This allows your child to observe their body language, tone, and overall presence. Provide feedback on areas for improvement, such as maintaining eye contact, speaking clearly, and avoiding fidgeting.

Research the School

Ensure your child thoroughly researches the school they're interviewing for. Encourage them to review the school's website, mission statement, and values. This knowledge can help them tailor their responses and ask informed questions during the interview.

Practice Active Listening

Interviews are a two-way conversation. Teach your child to listen attentively, maintain eye contact, and ask follow-up questions when appropriate. Active listening shows engagement and interest, which can leave a positive impression on the interviewer.

9. Connect with Current Parents

Talking to current parents can give you a better idea of a private school's daily life and community. Here are some ways to connect:

Attend School Events

Go to events like open houses, student performances, or parent socials. Introduce yourself to current parents and ask about their experiences.

Use Your Network

Check if anyone in your personal or professional network has a child at the school. Arrange a call or meet for coffee to hear their thoughts.

Join Online Parent Groups

Many schools have online parent groups or forums. Join these groups to read past discussions and ask questions.

Request Parent Contacts

Ask the admissions office for contact information of current parents who can share their experiences. Many schools have parent ambassadors for this purpose.

Hearing from current parents can give you insights beyond what you see on the website or during tours. Their feedback can help you decide if the school is right for your family.

10. Follow Up and Stay Engaged

Effective follow-up is key in the private school admissions process. It shows your interest and helps build a relationship with the admissions team.

1. Send a Thank-You Note

After an interview, campus visit, or meeting with an admissions officer, send a brief thank-you note. This shows your appreciation and keeps communication open.

2. Ask Follow-Up Questions

If you have more questions after interacting with the school, reach out. This could be about the program, resources, or anything that needs clarification. Asking questions shows your engagement and can provide useful insights.

3. Check on Application Status

As the admissions process moves forward, follow up with the school to ensure they have all necessary materials and that your application is complete. This helps avoid any delays or misunderstandings.

4. Stay in Touch

Even after submitting your application, continue to engage with the school. Attend revisit events, connect with current parents, and respond promptly to any communication from the admissions team. This ongoing interaction shows your sustained interest and can help you stand out in a competitive applicant pool.

School Comparison Table

Here is a comparison table of some top-rated private schools in the area to help you evaluate your options:

School Tuition (Grades 9-12) Student-Teacher Ratio Extracurriculars
Phillips Exeter Academy $59,500 5:1 100+ clubs, 20+ sports teams, theater, music, art
Phillips Academy Andover $59,900 5:1 150+ clubs, 30+ sports teams, visual/performing arts
The Lawrenceville School $67,200 7:1 100+ clubs, 20+ sports teams, theater, music, art
Choate Rosemary Hall $64,860 6:1 80+ clubs, 30+ sports teams, arts, community service
Deerfield Academy $65,900 5:1 60+ clubs, 30+ sports teams, arts, outdoor programs
St. Paul's School $64,920 5:1 100+ clubs, 30+ sports teams, arts, community service

This table compares key factors like tuition costs, student-teacher ratios, and extracurricular offerings at some of the most prestigious private high schools in the area. It allows you to quickly evaluate and contrast these top options side-by-side.

When looking at tuition, keep in mind that most private schools offer financial aid to make them more accessible. The student-teacher ratio gives insight into class sizes and personal attention. And the extracurriculars show the breadth of enrichment opportunities beyond academics.

Of course, this is just a high-level overview. You'll want to dig deeper into each school's philosophy, curriculum, facilities, college placement rates, and overall fit for your child during your research and admissions process.


The private school admissions process can seem daunting, but with the right preparation and mindset, you can navigate it successfully. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Start Early and Research Thoroughly: Begin researching schools well in advance to understand their unique cultures, values, and requirements. Attend open houses, connect with current parents, and utilize resources like school comparison tools to find the best fit for your child.

  2. Highlight Your Child's Strengths: Throughout the application process, showcase your child's academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and character strengths. Prepare them for interviews by practicing responses that demonstrate their curiosity, resilience, and passion for learning.

  3. Stay Organized and Follow Up: Keep track of deadlines, required documents, and communication with the schools. After interviews, follow up with thank-you notes or emails to reiterate your interest and appreciation.

  4. Seek Guidance When Needed: Don't hesitate to reach out to the admissions office or seek professional assistance if you have questions or need support. The private school admissions process is a journey, and having the right resources can make a significant difference.


What to say in a private school interview?

In a private school interview, focus on your child's strengths, interests, and personality. Here are some key points:

  1. Academic Interests and Achievements

    • Share favorite subjects and why they enjoy them.
    • Mention any academic awards or accomplishments.
  2. Extracurricular Activities and Hobbies

    • Discuss involvement in sports, arts, clubs, or community service.
    • Explain how these activities have helped develop skills and interests.
  3. Personal Qualities and Goals

    • Describe personality traits like curiosity, resilience, or leadership.
    • Mention future goals and how the school can support them.
  4. Enthusiasm for the School

    • Express genuine interest in attending the school.
    • Highlight aspects of the school that resonate with your child.

Encourage your child to be themselves, engage in the conversation, and ask thoughtful questions.

What happens in a private school interview?

A private school interview is a conversation between the admissions team, the student, and sometimes the parents. Here's what to expect:

  1. Introduction and Rapport-Building

    • The interview starts with introductions and casual conversation to help the student feel comfortable.
  2. Student Interview

    • The student will answer questions about their academic interests, extracurricular activities, goals, and reasons for applying. They may also face hypothetical scenarios to assess problem-solving skills.
  3. Parent Interview (if applicable)

    • Parents may be interviewed separately or with the student. Questions will cover the child's personality, strengths, challenges, and the family's educational values.
  4. School Overview and Q&A

    • The admissions team will provide an overview of the school's programs and culture. This is a chance for the family to ask questions.
  5. Conclusion and Next Steps

    • The interview ends with a discussion of the next steps in the admissions process and a timeline for decision notification.

The admissions team will evaluate the student's communication skills, curiosity, and fit within the school community. Be prepared, engaged, and honest in your responses.

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