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General Application Facts

What’s the key to independent school admission?

If you remember only one thing, remember this: There is no formula.

As logical people, we want to believe there is something in the admission process that will predict whether applicants will be admitted. That is especially true of quantitative data, like test scores, because those data are so easily compared. Surely higher is better, yes?

Well, yes, surely it is. I have yet to find the applicant who wishes for scores that are just a little … lower. 

But better test scores alone do not guarantee admission anywhere. In any given year, at any given school, in any given grade, there are a hundred factors we do not know about the applicant pool and the composition of the current class.

Perhaps the class is heavy on boys compared to girls. Perhaps it is light on diversity. Perhaps there is a lot of financial aid already committed to the grade. Perhaps there are already a number of learning challenges, and the teachers are wary of adding more in that particular grade. Perhaps there is an unusually high number of applicants whose siblings already attend. (Almost every school offers siblings some preference in admission.) Perhaps there are two average applicants whose siblings are also applying — one is a fifth-grade concert violinist and the other is an eighth-grade pitcher whose fastball already clocks at 75. In every case, the school will admit students for reasons that the rest of the pool cannot possibly know when starting the process.

All of those, by the way, are actual reasons in my experience that students with lower scores have been offered spaces, while those with higher scores have not been. Ignore the basic tenet at your peril: There is no formula.

Do we have to attend an information session or tour before we apply?

It depends on the school. More schools are requiring it each year. Be sure you know.

Do we have to submit an application before our child visits?

It depends on the school. Again, more schools are requiring it each year. Be aware that “submit an application” usually does not mean “submit a complete application.” Most schools ask that applicants complete, before scheduling a visit, the first part of an application — what some call the “data sheet” — which requests basic information, as well as the application fee.

Are the application deadlines firm?

If you miss the application deadline, schools usually won’t consider your child’s candidacy until they’ve decided on all of the applications that were submitted on time. That means there may or may not be spaces left; at the most competitive schools the answer is almost certainly no. This is not one of those factors to leave to chance: Aim for a few days before the deadlines.

What if we miss the deadline but still want to apply?

Some schools will have openings after admission deadlines pass. The easiest way to find out is to call or write the admission office to ask, “Are you still accepting applications for grade X for the fall?” Every school will answer that question directly.

Can a student apply after school starts in the fall?

It depends on the school. Some schools fill quickly; others have space available after school begins. Many schools will accept applications through the first semester, others accept them year-round. Again, the best way to know is to call the admission offices where you’re interested.