Applying to Private Schools- Advice from Admissions Directors

Written by: Jay Annadurai

With so many great schools in Chicago, finding your way can be tough! Do you have questions on private school options in the city? Check out tips from the recent NPN School Choice Event at Bubbles Academy - our Private School Admissions Director Panel.

What can make a school really stand out? 

  • Teacher tenure- how long do teachers stay?  
  • Continuation of the school experience- enter in preschool and no need to reapply
  • Differentiated instructions to meet the needs of all students
  • Small class size, giving teachers more time for individualized attention
  • Technology, options for language classes, opportunities for before/afterschool enrichment

What research should parents do in advance?

  • Check out a school's mission statement- what do they believe in? What are their goals? Look at school websites, visit during Open Houses, check out a school tour taking place during the school day to see students learning, make a list of questions to ask, talk to other families, use NPN school directory & discussion boards. Determine what will be a good fit for your own family!       

What are private school options for preschool?

  • Some schools offer cooperative learning programs (parent/caregiver stays with child) for children as young as 1. These programs help introduce both the child and the parent to the school. There may be programs available for 2 year olds (who may not be potty trained) that are drop off. Other schools may not start preschool until child is 3 or 4 years of age by Sept. 1st.  Private school preschool programs may be half-day or full-day. If a program is half-day, there are typically morning or afternoon sessions available- you may gain acceptance to a time slot that might not be your first choice.  Before and/or after-school care is often available. Acceptance into preschool guarantees admission into kindergarten.

What typically goes into the application process?

  • Most schools use a parent interview, a play date for the child, and a common recommendation form. Schools also except you to attend an Open House and/or School Tour. Show them you are interested!  At a play date, the school wants to get to know your child. They know that this maybe stressful for the child- don’t flip out if your little one doesn’t behave perfectly! A thank you card following the parent interview/playdate is a nice touch.

How many schools should you apply to?

  • Apply to about 3-5 schools. Applying to more than 1 school doesn’t hurt your chances of admission to any particular school. Cast your net wide!

Who at a school is involved in the decision making process typically?

  • Decisions on admittance typically come from a committee of teachers, heads of school, and admission directors. Some schools are purely by blind lottery. Schools typically are looking at admission in terms of what the whole incoming class will look like- different ability levels, personalities, girl/boy ratio, etc. A rejection does not mean that the school didn’t love your child!

How do waitlists work?

  • Once someone is accepted, they must accept or decline within a certain period of time. After initial acceptance offers go out, there may be some additional spaces available (as some slots are turned down by others). If you are not initially accepted, you may receive a waitlist number. Calls can be made to those on waitlists through the summer and even into the beginning of the school year. Private school admission can be competive. Acceptance rates range, depending on the school and number of applications received, between 10 to 50%. If you are on a waitlist, you may want to contact the Director of Admission with a follow up email/letter/phone call to express your continuing interest.

Is financial aid available?

  • Most schools offer a scholarship or financial aid program. Financial aid is determined by companies such as FACTS or Smart Tuition. Needing financial aid does not hurt your chances of admission. 

Thanks to our panelists for this great info: Mike Horton, The British School; Jennifer Zielinski, The Waldorf School; Jill Due, Catherine Cook; Erin Walsh, Francis Parker; Jane Nolan, Park West Cooperative. If you missed this event, stay tuned- we’ll be posting the podcast on our digital library soon. Check out more School Search info here as well.

Thank you to Enterprise and Bum Bul Bee Photography for their support. 

Posted on October 20, 2012 at 11:34 AM