Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Emily Glickman is the founder and president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, a leading private school consulting service in New York. She currently serves as an alumni admissions interviewer for Columbia University and is a vastly well-known expert on private school admissions. Emily has also been featured in several prestigious publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
VT: What is the typical timeline for private school admissions?
Emily: Families should start to think about private school admissions about a year and a half before a child starts a new school. While the private school admissions process officially starts right after Labor Day, advanced planning means you have more time to research and sometimes visit schools, study for required exams, and improve your family’s and student’s admissions profile.
If your child applies to private school, plan for a busy fall! Usually, private schools upload applications to their websites in late August or early September. Then it’s a sprint: essays, interviews, testing, references, and transcripts. Before you know it, it’s the New Year and it’s almost time for February or March decisions.
VT: What is the typical process that admissions officers go through to evaluate applications?
Emily: Private school admissions directors review a student’s whole profile: parent and (for middle school and high school) student essays, interviews, school reports, and teacher recommendations.
VT: What are the most important things children need to have represented on their applications?
Emily: Kids need to seem like they will be successful in a new school. Every admissions officer likes an articulate, friendly, easy-going student with a solid academic record.
VT: What are common mistakes parents make when applying to these programs?
Emily: Sometimes parents think they need to snow admissions directors with extensive talk about their vast real estate holdings, multiple doctorates from the world’s best universities, and thirty board memberships. While private schools like generous, community-minded people, nobody likes a showoff.
VT: How should parents go about determining the culture of a private school, and whether it would be a good fit for their children?
Emily: When parents evaluate private schools, they should start with an open mind and a willingness to look at a number of schools. In New York City, it’s a sellers’ market, so buyers need to give themselves many possible options. Families should go to school-sponsored events and talk to current parents. Some of my clients have found YouTube videos of school events and the school newspaper to be good ways to ferret out real information that you don’t get from marketing materials.
VT: How important are standardized test scores when admissions decisions are being made?
Emily: For NYC kindergarten admission, ERB scores are critical. I find that for middle school and high school, students’ grades carry more weight and sometimes will mean more than a disappointing ISEE or SSAT score.
VT: What tips do you have in regards to ISEE prep, SSAT prep, and preparation for other standardized assessments that private schools might require?
Emily: If students want to have the best possible choice of schools, they should prep. In my experience, prepping can dramatically improve students’ scores. That said, some parents want to prep years in advance! That is too much. Children are only children for a short period. Test prep should be practiced in moderation, and only when it is productive.
VT: What are the most important things parents need to have well represented about themselves when meeting with admissions officers?
Emily: Parents need to seem like pleasant, community-minded, thoughtful people who will reflect well on the school.
VT: How does networking and having in-school connections affect one's chances of admission?
Emily: At almost all schools, some more than others, networking matters. Connections help, especially when a student is qualified. In many ways, NYC private schools are like country clubs. If you know someone there, you’ve proven yourself to be their kind of person.
VT: How can a student best prepare for admissions interviews?
Emily: I work directly with students and coach them on how best to answer questions. For kids who want to prepare on their own, my best advice is to show your best self. It’s not the admissions officer’s business if your favorite activity is playing Xbox while scarfing nachos. Instead, discuss your favorite school subject or your interest in American biography.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.