5 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Private School

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Applying to private school is an exciting but demanding process. There is a wide range of schools to apply to, and it's hard for the first-time applicant to know how to manage the process. To ensure a smoother process, try to start early, leave time to visit the schools, and look for the school that fits your child best. Here are common pitfalls to avoid when applying to private school:

Mistake #1: Only applying to one school

Parents often become enamored of the vision of their children at a very prestigious boarding or day school, and there is no doubt that the top boarding schools have amazing resources and faculties. However, it's important to make sure you're being realistic. Many of the top private schools have competitive admission cycles, and accept only a small percentage of applicants. It's always a good idea to have a top choice and at least one or two back up schools, just in case.  

In addition, when looking at schools, consider more than just how the school is ranked, or where many of its graduates attend college. Instead, look at the entire experience for your child. If she loves sports or other extracurricular activities, will she be able to participate in them at that school? Consider how well she is likely to fit into the school, and what her quality of life (and yours) are likely to be at school. Remember, you are not just looking for prestige; you are ideally looking for the right fit between the school and your child.

Mistake #2: Over-coaching (or under-coaching) Your Child for the Interview

While there is no doubt that the private school interview can be very stressful, there is a line ​that parents must walk between preparing their children and over-preparing them. It's beneficial for a child to practice speaking about herself in a poised way, and it helps if the child has researched the school she is applying to and knows something about it and why she might want to attend that school. Letting your child "wing it" without any preparation is not a great idea, and can jeopardize her chances for admission. Showing up to an interview asking basic questions that can easily be found online or saying that she doesn't know why she's applying, isn't a good first impression.

However, your child shouldn't be scripted and asked to memorize pat responses just to impress the interviewer (who can usually see right through that stunt). That includes coaching the child to say things that aren't really true about her interests or motivations. This type of over-coaching can be detected in the interview, and it will hurt her chances. In addition, too much preparation will make the child often feel overly anxious instead of relaxed and at her best during the interview. Schools want to get to know the real child, not the perfectly poised version of your child that appears for the interview. Finding the right fit is important, and if you're not being genuine, it's going to be hard for the school, and for your child, to know if this is where she needs to be. 

Mistake #3: Waiting for the Last Minute

Ideally, the school selection process starts in the summer or fall the year before your child will actually attend the school. By the end of the summer, you should've identified the schools you are interested in applying to, and you can start to arrange tours. Some families opt to hire an educational consultant, but this isn't necessary if you're willing to do your homework. There are plenty of resources available right here on this site, as well as several others, to help you understand the admission process and make the right choices for your family. Use this calendar to organize your school search process and check out this awesome spreadsheet that will help you organize your private school search. ​

Don't wait until the winter to get started with the process, as many schools have deadlines. If you miss these, you might jeopardize your chances of getting in at all, as the top private schools have limited spaces available for incoming students. While some schools offer rolling admission, not all do, and some will close their application to new families by February. These early application deadlines are especially important for families who need to apply for financial aid, as funding is usually limited and often given to families on a first come, first served basis. 

Mistake #4: Having Someone Else Write the Parent's Statement

Most schools require both older students and parents to write statements. Though it may be tempting to farm out your parent's statement to someone else, such as an assistant at work or an educational consultant, only you should write this statement. The schools want to know more about your child and you know your child best. Leave time to think and write about your child in a candid, vivid way. Your honesty enhances your chances of finding the right school for your child.

Mistake #5: Not Comparing Financial Aid Packages

If you are applying for financial aid, be sure to compare the financial aid packages at the different schools your child to which your child is admitted. Often, you can convince a school to match another school's financial aid package or at least get an offer increased slightly. By comparing financial aid packages, you can often manage to attend the school you like best for the best price.


Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski

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Your Citation
Grossberg, Blythe. "5 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Private School." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/mistakes-when-applying-to-private-school-2774614. Grossberg, Blythe. (2023, April 5). 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Private School. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mistakes-when-applying-to-private-school-2774614 Grossberg, Blythe. "5 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Private School." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mistakes-when-applying-to-private-school-2774614 (accessed June 10, 2023).