What to Know About Making the Right Impression On Private Schools

The following piece was written by Liz Perelstein. Liz has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is the Founder of School Choice International.

For many families, myths surrounding private school admissions make the application process daunting, at the very least. Often, these focus on “how to get in," but secondhand tips may contradict what admissions officers really look for in a candidate.

Myth: You need to “know someone,” a high-level contact or someone currently attending the school, in order to “get in.” 

Reality: In some schools in certain locations, high-level connections may pave the way for admission. But this doesn’t mean that applications that aren’t supported by these contacts will not be well received. 

What you need to know:

  • If you have a contact who really knows your child and who can contribute valuable information that speaks to your child’s ability to succeed in the school, get a letter of recommendation.
  • If you know a family well whose child attends the school, ask them to put in a good word for your family, as schools choose families—not just children. A reference from a current family who makes a positive contribution to the school suggests that your family, too, will be an asset to the community. Feel free to use information gleaned from a current family in an essay on why you want your child to attend the school. Personal information—rather than simply websites and word of mouth—has a ring of authenticity that admissions officers like.
  • Admissions officers do not like being pushed by board members to admit a student who is otherwise unqualified for the school. Going over their heads may backfire.
  • Students who end up “counseled out” of private schools for being a poor fit often have come to the school from contacts, rather than because admissions officers determine a good fit. Think of the long run, not just “getting in.”

Myth: There are certain “right answers” that admissions officers look for in an application.

Reality: Other than addressing the specific questions, this is not the case.

What you need to know:

  • Schools are genuinely interested in families who fit the culture and students who will be successful. Families should do their homework and have good reasons to think the school is an appropriate choice for their child. Applications and interviews should speak to these points, rather than simply boasting about a child.
  • Stories speak louder than statements. Describe your involvement in past school activities and tell anecdotes about your child’s behavior. Make your child come to life for the admissions committee. Anecdotes should not speak to the child’s genius or his/her ability to read The New York Times at age three.
  • Admissions officers can assess what is genuine, and exaggeration doesn't reflect well on parents. Schools seek children who have potential to learn and true curiosity. Ability to memorize information by rote, which may be a trend among today's parents and some preschools, does not impress. If anything, this approach will portray your family negatively.

Conclusion: Schools seek students and families who will be a good fit. Families who are genuinely interested in the school and care about developing their child as an active and lifelong learner are much more appealing than those who prep their kids academically or come to the school through high-level contacts. Authenticity is the key word in making the right impression and enhancing your child’s chances of admission.

Visit School Choice International for more information.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.