As a parent, I remember how confusing it was when I was trying to figure out where to send our older son to school. Part of me wanted to show support, and be a part of the community, and it seemed the best way to do that was by sending our son to our neighborhood elementary school with other kids from the neighborhood. An equal part of me felt I needed to stay true to my strong belief in progressive education, and search for school that could better accommodate my child who wouldn’t and couldn’t sit still for a second. Ultimately, it is a deeply personal decision. It meant a financial sacrifice for our family, but we haven’t been sorry. For parents who are thinking of private instead of public school in the future, here is a little insight into what to expect.
Application season in full swing
The application process for private school can cause a lot of anxiety for parents. Presently, most Los Angeles- area private schools are in full swing of admissions tours, visitations, interviews, and the application process, which for most schools, usually runs into the first week of February. Next, hopeful parents will wait anxiously for the mail when acceptance-or rejection letters begin to arrive in mid-March.
It can be an entirely harrowing experience for parents who are trying to get their kids into schools where there are only a few openings, and usually an abundance of qualified applicants. This year, the process is already in full swing, but for parents who hope to get their child into a private school next year, the more informed you are, the better.
Look before you apply
First of all, start looking early. Private schools vary in their teaching methods and philosophies. Some schools emphasize academics, others take a more progressive/developmental approach to learning. Do some research and make sure the schools you plan to apply to match your own ideas about how a child should be educated, and more importantly, a good fit for your child.
Most private schools start giving tours in the fall. Find out when those tours start and sign up early, or even better, ask if you can visit the school before the tour starts. Some schools will allow visitations, some don’t. Tours give parents a chance to ask questions and see teachers and kids in action. It’s best to go on as many tours as possible and some schools are booked far in advance.
Applications & recommendations
Next, send in your application along with the usual application fee, which usually ranges to $50 to $100 per application. In most instances, you will be asked for an assessment or recommendation from your child’s former teacher. This is your child’s chance to shine, and hopefully your child’s teacher will take the time to write a thoughtful and insightful recommendation for your child. It can make a big difference. However, a good recommendation is not the sole criteria, in many instances, according several admission directors I spoke to, the letter also offers insight into a child’s learning habits and personality. Many schools like to balance outgoing personalities with introverts, leaders with followers etc…, and just because a child may have had some difficulties before does not automatically exclude them, especially when applying to a private elementary school.
Don’t be afraid of tuition
Don’t rule out a school because it is too expensive- all schools offer financial aid or indexed tuition. You might qualify even if you think you don’t.
Getting to know you
Next step, sign-up for a visit/orientation. Many schools use this time to get to know the parents and the child. More than likely, parents will have a chance to talk to an admissions committee. This is the most important step of the process and this is where your research can pay off. Many schools consider the family as a whole, and not just the child when deciding who gets in and who doesn’t. The attitude at many schools is “how can you help in your child’s education process.” Chances are, the school encourages and relies on parent participation. Offer what your school is looking for, in other words, how can you help and what skills do you have will benefit the school. Emphasize what you can do- or have done in the past, that the school might find useful e.g. fundraising experience, helping in the classroom, gardening, building, writing, tutoring etc.. And of course, if you know someone that is already at the school, it almost always helps to have someone put in a good word for you.
Prepare for rejection & next year
And a last bit of advice, apply to several schools and keep a positive attitude. All private school admissions directors lament the fact that there usually many wonderful qualified, families who apply, and not nearly enough spaces. Many families get put on a waiting list, which is a schools way of saying, we want you here, we just don’t have room right now. If your child gets put on a waiting list and you are serious about getting into the school, let the admissions director know it right away. But don’t stop there, make yourself known throughout the year with an occasional email expressing your continued interest in the school, and show your support by showing up at school fundraisers or other activities throughout the year. All schools private and public appreciate dedicated families.
Becky Koppenhaver is a freelance writer covering schools. You can send Becky story tips and ideas at becky@theEastsiderLA.com
Photo by Knittymarie/Flickr