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Recommendations and other Components of the Application

What are the components of applications?

  • A transcript of grades (or, for younger students, the most recent teacher reports)
  • Standardized testing (WPPSI, WISC, SSAT, ISEE, SCAT, OLCAT, ERB, et al. — as applicable)
  • Other testing reports (if applicable)
  • Tour or open house attendance
  • Student school visit (depends on school and grade level)
  • Student interview (depends on school and grade level)
  • Parent interview
  • Teacher recommendations
  • School recommendation (usually by a principal or division head)
  • The first part of the application, sometimes called the “data sheet”
  • Parents’ written responses to application questions
  • Students’ written responses to application questions (if applicable)
  • Financial aid forms (if applicable)


Different schools may supply transcripts in different formats. Ask at your current school.

How many standardized tests does my child need to take?

One — usually. The school to which your child is applying will guide you.

What about neuro-psych testing and other kinds of evaluations?

See the section on ”Learning Disabilities and Other Challenges” for more information.

Most schools ask for two recommendations. Is it okay to submit more?

I have never known an admission office to object to a third recommendation, but it’s better if it doesn’t simply repeat what the first two have already said. If you want a fourth recommendation, you should be sure it’s written by somebody who knows your child well, and from a different perspective, such as a coach or music teacher. There’s no need for another teacher if you’ve already got three. If you want a fifth recommendation… sorry, you’re wrong. You don’t want a fifth recommendation.

Which teachers should write recommendations?

Most schools ask for an English and a Math teacher. Do not tempt fate by slipping in the Science teacher instead of the Math teacher. If the school doesn’t specify, you may ask any teachers you’d like. Unless your situation is very unusual, ask current teachers only. 

We know somebody important. Should we ask her to write a recommendation?

It depends. Your senator’s recommendation seldom counts for anything if the senator does not know your child. In some circumstances it could even backfire, if the admission office thinks you’re trying to manipulate or intimidate them.

Should parents waive their right to see their children’s teacher recommendations?

It’s a parental decision, but I advise parents strongly to waive those rights. All the way down to kindergarten, academic recommendations are assumed to be confidential. If you don’t waive your right to see them, the receiving school is likely to see it as a red flag, and to ask why your family expects different treatment. Many schools mark such recommendations “Not confidential.” Do your best to have faith in your child’s school, even if you find that challenging. It may help to remember that it is in your current school’s interest for students to be admitted; it speaks well for the program and the relationships.

Does everything in the process count?

Yes, everything counts. Though everybody loves your child and treats her as a special person, it is a cruel fact of the admission process that higher scores are better than lower scores, that A-minus is better than B-plus, and that the ability to pay without requesting aid is better. Remember, though, that the process is holistic, and a few lower grades or a single area of relative weakness on standardized testing is seldom a deal-breaker.

Is there anything in the process that counts more than other things?

Everything can count in your children’s favor, and everything can count against them. That said, I believe the interview is a vital part of the application process, for the simple reason that it’s harder to deny likable, memorable people than to deny those who are not memorable, or who are memorable for the wrong reasons. If your child is an introvert, it’s worth a little work on interviewing skills, which (surprise!) yr. humble site owner provides.

How important are the short answers and “essays”?

Much more important than you probably think.