1. Submit the application before the deadline.
This is so obvious, yet so important: make sure your admissions folder is completed well before the deadline. Admissions staff are intrinsically well-organized and detailed oriented. They will appreciate the care and concern which you have shown to complete the file as soon as you can. They can begin their review process only once the file is complete.
2. Give recommendation forms out early.
Don't hand the teacher recommendation forms to the teachers the week before they are due. That's discourteous, to say the least. And don't forget to put a stamp on all the envelopes. Teachers don't make a lot of money. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Recommendation forms take time and care to complete properly. Allow as much time as possible.
3. Schedule testing well before the deadlines.
While you can schedule testing at the last minute and even do walkins, it is not recommended unless you have no other alternatives. Bookmark the test schedule. Buy the practice materials and even hire a tutor if your child needs that extra help. Admissions testing is only one part of the admissions process, but it is an important one. Admissions test scores give admission staff pretty clear guidance as to what your child has learned to date. They know how applicants with certain scores will perform at their school.
4. Speak to coaches a year in advance if applying for a team sport.
If you are angling for a position on a varsity team, start that process as early as you can. Eighteen months out is not too soon. Develop relationships with the coaching staff so that you know what will be offered when the time comes. Some schools are known for their hockey programs, for example, others for swimming. If your child needs and expects that level of training and time on the field, do your due diligence well in advance and do it carefully.
5. Apply for financial aid well in advance.
Waiting to the last minute to do anything is not a good idea as a rule. But nowhere is this more true than when it comes to financial aid. The financial aid decisions are made separately from admissions. Because there is a limited pool of funds for financial aid, you need to adhere to all the deadlines scrupulously or risk having your financial aid request turned down.
6. Schedule the school visits early.
By the time schools go back in during the month of September you only have 2 short months until Thanksgiving. Time becomes a premium commodity in admissions offices towards the end of the year. So, be smart and prepared to get your school visits over as soon as you can. You won't feel as rushed. The admissions staff might have a bit more time for you. It's a much more pleasant experience.
7. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
You may have your sights set on Exeter. But the fact of the matter is that Exeter is extremely competitive. It receives many more applicants than it places for. That's why it is so important to develop a list of schools spanning three categories: the schools which are a reach because they are very selective, the schools which you are 80% sure you can get into and the safe schools which you know you can get into with no problems. Safe schools often are the hidden treasures in the private school world. They have everything you want in a boarding school but lack the name recognition the top ten boarding schools have.
8. Schedule an overnight if possible.
The video tours are marvellous. You have walked the campus from top to bottom. Now, spend a night as the school's guest in one of their dorms. That way you can truly get an idea of what sort of community the school really offers. Watching students interact in the washrooms and at the breakfast table can be instructive.
9. Discuss any special requirements such as boarding your horse, dietary, etc.
One of the nice things about most boarding schools is that they can and will accommodate special requirements you might have. For example, if you are a rider and want to bring your own horse to school with you, most schools with equestrian programs will happy accommodate your wishes. The same is true of certain dietary needs within reason. Ditto some kinds of medical requirements. Always infor the admissions staff if you have special requirements. It makes more sense to understand what the school can and cannot do for you BEFORE you get there.
10. If an international student, plan the visa application process.
Apply to an American boarding school takes plenty of lead time. It also requires attention to dozens of details which are not part of the normal boarding school application process. That's because the U.S. Government will require you to have a student visa in order to enter the United States. You can't apply for a student visa until you apply to a boarding school. Then the school will give you a form I-20 which allows you to apply for a visa.