Time To Get Started!

You've narrowed down your top choices. Next up? Complete the necessary applications for each school.

You've narrowed down your top choices. Next up? Complete the necessary applications for each school.

Step 1 – Considering private school

You should have a picture and an understanding of yourself and of your child. Data from previous years, such as student achievement, grades and comments, athletic aspirations, extracurricular interests, social strengths, and the type of school that will be best for your child, will shape a short list of schools to which you want to apply.

Take all of the information you have and build an understanding of your child’s strengths, weaknesses, likes/dislikes and the kinds of environments in which your student best works.

Ignore rankings: match your student to a school

In simplest terms, private school rankings are inaccurate. They fail to capture and convey the nuances that make each school unique. A number of schools place high numbers of students in competitive colleges and benefit from large endowments. However the idea of ranking independent schools top-to-bottom/best-to-worst misses the point. Just as there is a college for everyone, there is a private school for everyone.

We don’t have a private school ranking list because every school appeals to and works best with a different kind of student. Each school is unique in its approach and connection with students.

Set aside notions of hierarchy.

How then to think about schools?

  1. Figure out what kind of student you have and the kind of environment that is most likely to support your student’s growth. What kinds of programs or activities does your student need?
  2. Read catalogs and materials closely and ask questions of each school. What kinds of students go to this school? Does a student like ours do well here?
  3. Think of a school application in terms of match or fit. Is this school a good match for our daughter/son? Does this school fit our child’s abilities and provide what he/she needs to be successful?

A ranking doesn’t matter at the end of the day. The most important thing is digging deeply to determine as best you can if a school fits where your student’s development stands and provides the setting and programs necessary for a successful school experience.

Step 2 – Build your admission foundation

  1. Again, know your student. How does your child learn best? What kind of school fits your student’s strengths, interests, aspirations and goals?
  2. Contact the admission offices of all the schools to which you wish to apply. Have a list of the contact numbers and addresses ready and begin scheduling visits and interviews.
  3. Know who will write recommendations on your student’s behalf.
  4. Order admission packages from the schools to which you may apply.
  5. Have taken, or schedule to take, the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) or Independent School Entrance Exam.
  6. Visit, or plan to attend, any private school fairs in or near your hometown.
  7. If a financial aid application is needed, have financial documents organized and ready.
  8. Develop an organizing system or plan that helps you keep everything accessible.

Step 3 – Request an admission packet

Whom to contact?

Send all correspondence to the attention of each school’s admission office.

What to request?

Call, write or email the schools in which you are interested and request their admission packet. Also look at their websites; they often provide useful information that can assist your search.

School Catalog

A colorful brochure filled with pictures and information describing the school and its programs.

International Student Handbook

Many schools will have a handbook that describes the special services for international students.

Student Application Packet

The student application packet will include a student application, a writing sample form, teacher recommendation forms and an academic transcript release form. Most schools offer an online application.

Required Educational Tests

Most schools will require the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT). Schools also require the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for all students for whom English is a second language. Some schools also require international students to take the SSAT. Additionally, schools will also want to see standardized achievement tests used by your current school.

Deadlines and Dates for Admission

Most schools will list three important dates:

  1. The financial aid deadline
  2. The application deadline – the latest possible date that the school will accept an application for a new student.
  3. The admission notification date – the date by which all candidates for admission will be notified if they have been accepted or denied admission to the school.

Step 4 – The application writing sample

Many schools will ask for student and parent essays as part of the application. Our advice here is simple and blunt.

  1. Speak and write honestly. Avoid embellishment.
  2. Write your own essays. Parents, please don’t write the essay. Students, write about your own experiences, accomplishments and ambitions.
  3. Parents, help answer questions. Perhaps do a bit of proofreading for your student. Do not inject yourself into your student’s writing process, write for your student, or give your voice to your student’s writing.

Staying out of your applicant’s writing can prove difficult. However, little is more frustrating for an admission officer than reading a student essay that clearly, has too much parental input.

Writing Sample as Part of the Interview

To minimize parental input, some schools will ask applicants to write a brief piece as part of their interview. If asked to write on your visit, take a deep breath, then read and understand the question. Sketch out or outline your answer, then do your best. The school fully understands what kinds of answers to expect.

Step 5 – Financial aid

Many schools use the School and Student Services for Financial Aid (SSS) to collect basic information on income, assets, family size and the number of siblings in private schools charging tuition. SSS prepares a Report of Family Contribution – the amount of annual tuition SSS calculates a family can afford to pay. Member schools award their need-based financial aid using the Report of Family Contribution.

The financial aid process begins with the family completion of the Personal Financial Statement (PFS). Create your School and Student Services (SSS) online account through http://sss.nais.org. The online form and tools will tell you what information is required.

SSS offers a list of frequently asked questions about the PFS on their website. To preemptively minimize problems and delays, we recommend reading FAQs before beginning your PFS.

SSS directly transmits data to your selected schools.

Whom to Contact?

Some schools will have a separate officer who handles financial aid applications and requests. If the school doesn’t have a dedicated financial aid officer, someone in the admission office will supervise the financial aid process. Request the necessary financial aid and student application materials at the same time you request your admission application packet.

Important Notes About the Financial Aid process

Applying for financial aid is time-consuming. Read through all information available from each school and from SSS. Do your homework. Gather documents and start early. Be transparent, open and honest in all your data and in your communication with the admission and financial aid officers. Keep the financial aid officers at your schools informed – let them know what you are doing and ask questions. In turn, they will keep you informed.

Remember, seeking financial aid is a process, not a recipe. Completing the financial aid process will not produce a specific result. Schools award their own aid based on the competition for that aid. The amount of aid you receive varies from school to school based on how much aid the school has available and the quality of competition for each available dollar.

Be prepared to receive more aid from a school where your student might be a stronger applicant and less aid where they may be in the middle of the pack.


Each school will have a clearly published application checklist included with the school catalog and application materials. This checklist will include all deadlines. Generally, many schools encourage students to complete the entire admissions process by the first of February.

This is not a hard and fast date for all schools. Many schools have their own timetable. Confirm each school’s admission timeline using their published materials.

Step 6 – Visiting campus – touring and interviewing

The majority of private schools require an on-campus admission interview. An admission interview can be arranged via the same process used to request a student application packet.

The Interview
Why is an interview important?

An on-campus interview is one of the most important parts of the application process. While local and/or regional informational gatherings and interviews are helpful and convenient, most schools place a great deal of importance on the quality of a candidate’s interview. The admission officers at each school want to meet you face to face.

The Tour

Most likely during your school visit you will be taken on a campus tour led by a student tour guide. Usually, the tour is conducted on a one tour guide to one family ratio. Sometimes, one tour guide might lead two families at once.

This is your chance to ask questions about student life, relationships, perspectives and activities. How do students feel and think about their school? What’s living in a dorm like? How are the academics, extracurriculars and athletics? How are classes? What’s a regular day like? What do students love about their school? What would they like to see improved? How’s the food? What happens during the weekend?

Student tour guides can be great references. Tour guides are students who know and love their schools. That’s why they’re working with prospective families. Ask your questions.

Step 7 – Submit your completed application


Each school will have a clearly published application checklist included with the school catalog and application materials. This checklist will include all deadlines. Generally, many schools encourage students to complete the entire admissions process by the first of February.

This is not a hard and fast date for all schools. Many schools have their own timetable. Confirm each school’s admission timeline using their published materials.

To complete the  Standard Application Online (SAO), start here.

 To complete the Gateway to Prep Application, start here.

Step 8 – Ongoing correspondence and communication

A thank-you note after your interview provides a polite touch. A couple of weeks after the application deadline, you might also call to make sure that all recommendations and transcripts arrived.

Follow-up questions and inquiries are usually best directed to the admission officer with whom you interviewed. Most likely, this is the officer handling your candidacy in the office.

Step 9 – The decision

Unless you have applied for rolling or early admission, most schools will notify candidates on or around March 10. Admitted students generally have 30 days before a decision and a deposit are required. Once again, be sure to consult each school for variation in the notification process.

In general, admission committees render one of these four decisions on an application:

  1. Admit – Yes! You are accepted!
  2. Defer – They are still interested in you, but they probably have some concerns about your grades. They may want to see another set of marks before they make their final decision. Call the school to clarify your status.
  3. Waitlist – They really like you, but don’t have room just yet. Most schools create a waitlist of qualified candidates in case a student who was enrolled decides not to attend at the last minute. In this event, the student, or students, at the top of the waitlist are offered admission. Call the school to clarify your status.
  4. Denied – It’s not the decision that you had hoped for, but if you don’t get admitted to a school, it usually works out for the best in the long run.

Tip for you

  • ​What to Request from an Admissions Office?

    Be sure to request that the complete packet of admission and application materials be sent to you at the same time. Many schools segment their mailings which can delay the time it takes for the mailing to be sent to you.