As you begin the process of selecting a boarding school for your child, keep the following ten items in mind.
1. Submit your application before the deadline.
Waiting until the last minute to submit an application is never a good idea. Make sure your child's admissions folder is completed well before the admissions 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. After all, they can only begin their review process once the file is complete. If a school does not have a fixed admissions deadline but instead uses rolling admissions, the same rules of the road apply. Submit your application and all the supporting materials as soon as possible.
2. Give recommendation forms to your child's teachers early.
Don't hand the teacher recommendation forms to the teachers the week before they are due. That's discourteous, to say the least. Don't forget to put a stamp on all the return envelopes. Teachers will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Recommendation forms take time and care to complete. Give your child's teachers as much time as you possibly can to accomplish this task.
3. Schedule testing a month or more before the deadlines.
While you can schedule testing at the last minute and in some cases even do walk-ins, last minute test registration is not recommended unless you have no other alternatives. Bookmark the test schedule for easy reference. Buy the practice test materials. 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 reliable guidance as to what your child has learned to date. The admissions staff know how applicants will perform at their school based on a reading of their test scores.
4. Speak to coaches a year in advance if applying for a team sport.
If you are angling for a position for your child 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 they can offer your child when the time comes. Don't assume that every school excels in every sports offering. There are many variables. Some schools are well-known for their hockey programs; other schools have first-class swimming programs. If your child needs and expects a very high level of training and time in a particular sport, 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 never a good idea. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to applying for 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 a scant two months until Thanksgiving. Time becomes a precious commodity in admissions offices towards the end of the calendar year. Be smart and prepared to get your school visits over as soon as you can., preferably over the summer. 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 admissions at Exeter are extremely competitive. That fine old boarding school receives many more applicants than it can take. That is why it is so important to develop a list of schools spanning three categories:
1) the schools which are a reach because they are very selective;
2) the schools which you are confident will accept you;
3) the safe schools which you know will offer you a place.
Quite candidly, safe schools often are the hidden treasures in the private school world. They have everything you could want in a boarding school. All they lack is that the name recognition which the top ten boarding schools have.
8. Schedule an overnight if possible.
The video tours are appealing. Walking the campus from top to bottom in a morning or afternoon was marvelous. Now, have your child 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 offers. Watching students interact in the washrooms and at the breakfast table can be instructive. An overnight will seal the deal.
9. Discuss any special requirements such as boarding your horse, dietary needs, and health issues, etc.
Most boarding schools can and will accommodate any special requirements which you and your child might have. For example, if you are a rider and want to bring your horse to school with you, most schools with equestrian programs will gladly accommodate your wishes. The same is true of most dietary needs within reason. Most schools can handle standard medical requirements. Always inform the admissions staff that you will require special treatment for your child's needs. It makes more sense to understand what the school can and cannot do for you well before you get there.
10. If you are an international student, plan the visa application process carefully.
Applying to an American boarding school takes plenty of lead time for international students. There are dozens of details which are not a part of the standard boarding school application process. That's because the U.S. Government will require you to have a student visa for entry into 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. This short video explains the process.
Finding and identifying the right boarding school for your child is a time-consuming process. The ten items which I have mentioned in this article are the most important parts of the process. Success is in the details. Stay organized. Observe the deadlines. Before you know it, you will be sending your child off to school.
Questions? You may contact me via Twitter. @privateschl