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Do it yourself

Want to apply on your own? Are you NUTS?! Okay, okay... Many families apply successfully to independent schools on their own. If you take that route, I offer this DIY section.

If you do this yourself, I wish you success! Here’s the thought that I have come to believe is the most important thing of all to bear in mind: The process is holistic. Everything counts. There is no formula. 

The most common misconception about school applications is that little is important beyond test scores and grades. Yes, of course test scores and grades are important, but they are not the only factors admission committees consider, and they are seldom the most important factor. If you doubt that, consider that every school, every year, accepts some students with lower test scores than those of some students the same school rejects.

Why? Because everything counts. Because test scores are only one part of the puzzle. And because there is no formula.

Here’s some additional “30,000-foot” advice before you start.

Just as clients who represent themselves in court may not know the opposing attorneys and may not have seen many cases, you may not understand the differences between traditional and progressive educational approaches (hint: it’s not about politics); the ways different standardized tests are scheduled and their restrictions; when to press a family friend to write a note supporting your child’s application; or what to do with a wait-list decision. You probably don’t know Directors of Admission very well, and there is information that admission offices will not share with you because you are the parent of an applicant. There are a hundred other things you probably don’t know. Be as open and unbiased as you can with different perspectives on school. Do not succumb to the notion, often peddled by those with axes to grind, that there are a few schools that are so special that all others pale by comparison. The notion of a “Big Three,” for example, is silly on its face — this is not an athletic competition.

If you’re a “DIY” type, and if your child is truly in the top tier in most of the aspects of an application, a professional counselor may not add a lot of value. However, a DIY approach can also be an undertaking full of grey areas — areas in which you have many questions but have not yet developed expertise. If so, reach out and I’ll offer some advice to support your child’s applications.

For now, here you go — many of the resources and much of the insider information on successful applications.


FAQ: general questions that keep getting asked

You have lots of questions. Good. You should worry if you don’t! Here are answers to a ton of the questions I’m asked most frequently. Each set of questions opens in its own new window.

General Application Facts

Components of the Application

Standardized Testing

Learning Disabilities and Challenges

Visits and Interviews

Other Application Topics



Here are a handful of thoughts that I’ve thought over the past couple of decades.

Why Choose a School That Ends in Grade 8?
Some thoughts on why you might reconsider “just doing it once.”

What Are the Differences Between the SSAT and ISEE?
A factual chart. It’s long but pretty comprehensive. You’ll have to enlarge it.

Calling Teachers by First Names? Are you kidding?
There are several schools in the Washington area at which teachers and students are on a first-name basis. Here’s a piece on why some schools do this, by the head of a school that does.


Useful Web Sites

Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington (AISGW)

Association of Independent Schools of Maryland and DC (AIMS)

Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS)

National Association of Independent Schools

TABS (The Association of Boarding Schools)

Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT)

Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE)

Washington Independent Services for Educational Resources (WISER — a professional association)

Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA — a professional association)

twitter: ON schools and parenting


DC Urban Moms (and dads)

In 2017 I began posting on the Private-Independent School Forum of the site, DC Urban Moms and Dads. I bought a hardy rain jacket and dismembership benefits. (I kid, I kid.) (Mostly.)

For the blissfully uninitiated: DC Urban Moms (as it’s usually called) is a veritable galaxy of forums, some helpful and some less so. In particular, DCUM’s Private-Independent School Forum can be a hornet’s nest — a repository of misinformation, disparagement, and sometimes ugly temperament. There are also some bad traits! Perhaps that’s no surprise: posts are anonymous, so nobody is accountable.

So what led me to pull on my wading boots — and register for an account under my real name?! It was part altruism — I mean, some of the ideas posted are flat-out incorrect, and I could maybe help a few earnest folks. It was part noble sociological investigation. As a friend asked when I posed the idea: “Is there any appetite for free, knowledgeable advice?”

I’m not too proud to say that it was also an attempt to see if I could engage some of the reasonable denizens (mostly lurkers, actually) who need advice on independent schools and knew to take with a grain of salt bizarre claims like, "Every kindergarten applicant accepted at Ideal Academy scored above the 95th percentile on the SAT!" or “Everybody knows that Washington Prep’s academics haven’t been any good since the Truman administration!”

Indeed, several parents have contacted me to say they heard me as a reasonable voice on DCUM. The topics on which I’ve posted are arbitrary — I’m fielding ground balls where they’re hit — and it’s seasonal, because there are times of the year that I can’t check in often, if at all.

If you’re interested in what I’ve had to say, click on the link below, which will take you to my posts, under my actual name. Be sure your waders are waterproof, and cinch ’em up tight.