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Selection and Counseling
School selection and counseling is a comprehensive service that begins in late summer or early fall. Families meet to discuss and answer questions about their children, their views of school, what has and has not been effective so far, and the different types of schools available in the Washington area (and, for boarding school applicants, around the country). Selection and counseling includes the services listed below, as appropriate. (Not all families engage all services.)
Interviews and conversations with parents (and with applicants to grade 3 and above)
Review and discussion of grades and school reports
Review and discussion of standardized testing and professional evaluations
Discussions of schools identified by parents
Recommendations of schools
Recommendations for additional testing and resources (if indicated)
Recommendations for test preparation services
Discussion of teacher recommendations
Discussion of application calendar
Evaluation of likelihood of admission at particular schools
Discussion and coaching on student school visits and interviews
Discussion and coaching on parent interviews
Complete review of applications
Advising on unusual conflicts between schools
Discussion of admission options after offers are received
Strategic counsel on wait-list decisions
Preparation for matriculation
All other questions and concerns as they arise throughout the year
Sometimes families have specific questions that require less discussion and planning than a full application process involves. For example, sometimes parents would like opportunities for their children to practice interview techniques, would like to receive advice on their application responses, or begin the process after initial deadlines and notifications have passed. In these cases, the normal process doesn’t make sense and I am happy to discuss hourly billing.
A note on Fees
I try to be sensitive to differences in family resources, and in some cases I will adjust fees based on circumstances. If you are committed to applying to independent schools but are concerned about fees, please get in touch so we can discuss your situation.
Peter was a tremendous resource to our family throughout the school selection process. He is passionate, extremely knowledgeable about the independent and public school landscape in the Washington area, and has an extensive network of contacts — he knows many admission directors personally, and is current on the ins and outs of each school. Working with Peter was so valuable because he listened, got to know our child and our family, and was able to provide input and advice on schools that represent the best fit for our family.
—Nancy Kim and Charlie Hewlett, parents
Peter is one of the wisest, most insightful educators we have known. His wisdom helped our child thrive and succeed, both as a student and as a human being. He has helped countless families like ours through the school search journey, bringing sanity, good humor, and integrity to the process. He has a deep nuts-and-bolts knowledge of the process based on experience, as well as a strong understanding of each school. You won’t find better!
—Kim Berman and Farzad Mostashari, parents
Peter has a unique capacity to understand students’ core talents while considering their capacity for growth. He is able to help families convey these elements of a student’s profile to admission teams, in their own writing and conversation, in reassuring and persuasive ways. Peter’s deep knowledge of schools as settings for academic and personal growth allows him to tailor his support for students and families in ways that serve families and the school communities they join.
—Alexander Levey, former Director of Upper School Admission, Sidwell Friends School, Washington (currently Director of College Counseling, Maret School, Washington)
Why me? I help families complete the process of applying to schools and school programs, and I encourage families to make solid, reasonable decisions about their children’s schooling. Rather than telling families what they should do, I help families develop questions that will help them understand their preferences in education, and the ways particular schools do or do not align with those preferences. In general, I don’t believe there are “good schools” and “bad schools” — instead, there are good choices and bad choices for each particular family.
Success in placement. I have worked with about 400 students on school placement. Just under 90 percent of those students have matriculated at their first-choice schools; a bit over 90 percent have matriculated at first- or second-choice schools.
Both sides of the table. I have served on admission committees that have reviewed hundreds of applicant files. I have also helped hundreds of students find placement at independent, parochial, and public school programs in the Washington area, and at various boarding schools around the US. Nobody else has such extensive experience on both sides of the table in the school application process.
All kinds of schools. I worked at independent schools near Chicago and Washington, DC for 23 years. I have experience at PK–12 schools, a PK–8 school, and a 9–12 school; at day schools and a boarding school. I have helped applicants gain admission to day schools, boarding schools, parochial schools, and public magnet schools. There are very few kinds of schools with which I do not have direct, specific experience.
Established relationships. I have spent over 15 years understanding the nuances of schools and their admission processes, and I have established relationships with scores of admission officers in the DC area. (Alas, despite this experience, it should go without saying that none of this means I can “get somebody in.”) I know how to help your family represent your children at their best, and I know the questions to ask during the process to help families apply to schools effectively. It may help to think of my services as similar to an attorney’s: A good lawyer can help you present your best case through knowledge of the legal system, but she cannot guarantee that a court will rule in your favor.)
Last school position My last position in a school was Middle School Head (i.e., principal) at Green Acres School in Rockville, Maryland, where I served from 2003 to 2014. I stayed an extra year, through 2015, as Director of High School Placement, at the request of the Head of School.
Other school roles In addition to Middle School Head and Director of High School Placement, my formal titles have included Upper School Head; Middle School Teacher; Director of Communications. Other previous roles include: yearbook advisor, newspaper advisor, varsity baseball coach, dormitory master, student advisor, and Middle School soccer coach at my very first school. (I am approximately 110 percent unqualified to be a soccer coach.)
Education I earned my masters degree in education at Harvard. It was my first choice, but it turned out not to be the right program for me. I earned my bachelors degree at Wesleyan because I didn’t get into my top two choices. I loved it. I’m living proof that first choices don’t always turn out best, that there’s nothing special about the Ivy League, and that people survive rejection!
Other stuff A school application is a multi-faceted exchange of information between an applicant family and a school. I’ve always been intrigued by the ways people present and consume information — words, images, music, other arts, even video. To that end I’ve been an editor in every job I’ve ever held, whether nominally that of “editor” or not. I’ve written on music and sound, and my career took two brief digressions into graphic design, which is essentially the study of how people interact with visual information. The lines between professional obligation and personal interest are sometimes blurry. I’m also a photographer (sometimes professionally), a pretty good cook, an amateur woodworker, a terrible guitar player, and a music collector. I have about 3000 LPs. I understand vinyl is hip again. My children remind me that I am not.
“When I was 14, I couldn’t believe what a fool my father was. When I was 21, I couldn’t believe how much the old man had learned in seven short years.” (Mark Twain)
“Believe those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it.” (André Gide)
“Not all who wander are lost.” (unknown)
Michael or LeBron? Michael. (I’m a Chicagoan.)
Beatles or Stones? Grateful Dead. Sorry, yeah, I was one of those people.
Oxford comma? In favor. Adamantly.
Real life I live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington with my wife, our high schooler, our college student (when she’s home), and Stella, a neurotic but sweet lab/hound rescue dog.
Affiliations and memberships I hold active memberships in IECA (the Independent Educational Consultants Association) and WISER (Washington Independent Services for Educational Resources).
Reviews To see what others say about my work, visit the Reviews page.
FAMILIARITY WITH Schools
Strong placement counseling depends on familiarity with many schools. Here are many of the DC–area schools I’ve visited over the course of my work counseling students and families:
Langley School (McLean, VA)
Lowell School (Washington, DC)
Madeira School (McLean, VA)
Maret School (Washington, DC)
McLean School of Maryland (Potomac, MD)
National Cathedral School (Washington, DC)
National Presbyterian School (Washington, DC)
Nora School (Silver Spring, MD)
Potomac School (McLean, VA)
Sheridan School (Washington, DC)
Sidwell Friends School (Washington, DC)
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School (Potomac, MD)
St. Anselm’s Abbey School (Washington, DC)
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School (Washington, DC)
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School (Alexandria, VA)
Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart (Bethesda, MD)
Washington Episcopal School (Bethesda, MD)
Washington International School (Washington, DC)
Washington Waldorf School (Bethesda, MD)
Westminster School (Annandale, VA)
Basis Independent (McLean, VA)
Bullis School (Potomac, MD)
Burgundy Farm Country Day School (Alexandria, VA)
Christ Episcopal School (Chevy Chase, MD)
Concord Hill School (Chevy Chase, MD)
Connelly School of the Holy Child (Potomac, MD)
Edmund Burke School (Washington, DC)
Episcopal High School (Alexandria, VA)
Evergreen School (Silver Spring, MD)
The Field School (Washington, DC)
Fusion Academy (Washington, DC)
Georgetown Day School (Washington, DC)
Georgetown Preparatory School (Bethesda, MD)
Georgetown Visitation School (Washington, DC)
Grace Episcopal Day School (Kensington, MD)
Green Acres School (Rockville, MD)
Green Hedges School (Vienna, VA)
Harbor School (Bethesda, MD)
The Heights School (Bethesda, MD)
Holton-Arms School (Bethesda, MD)
Landon School (Bethesda, MD)
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.
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 DC Urban Mom. I bought a hardy rain jacket and dismembership benefits. (I kid, I kid.) (Mostly.)
For the blissfully uninitiated: DC Urban Mom 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 ridiculous 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, "Ninety-five percent of the seniors at Ideal Academy score 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 indeed contacted me because they saw 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.