If you are thinking about sending your child off to boarding school, you should try to start your school search process as early as possible. Finding the right school takes time. The process itself is not difficult; however, it is time-consuming. For example, if you are considering getting your child into school for 10th grade, you should begin the process in the spring of 8th grade. Standardized admissions testing typically will occur in December of 9th grade. Most boarding schools have application deadlines at the end of January of his 9th grade. Schools send out acceptance letters in March of your child's 9th grade year.
Many parents think that they will have plenty of time to get everything done, but the truth is that the 18 month time frame which I am recommending flies by very quickly. Before you know it, the application deadline is around the corner. With that in mind, let's review why I feel that you need 18 months for your school search.
1. You need time to visit the schools.
Visiting schools is time-consuming. It is not enough to visit the schools virtually, although if you live abroad, that might be the only viable way of visiting schools. You must experience the school. You need to use your own eyes and ears to help you decide whether your child will be happy there for the next three years. Possibly four if he stays for a PG year. You wouldn't buy a piece of real estate without seeing it. Same thing with choosing a boarding school. Visit it. Experience it.
2. You need time to complete the applications process.
You will need about 4-5 man hours to complete the applications process for each school. You have a Parent's Statement to complete. It requires thoughtful prose because you know your child better than anybody. You also need to request official transcripts and obtain teacher recommendations. During the school visit, you will most likely have an admissions interview scheduled. Allocate a morning or an afternoon for that important part of the admissions process. Then registering your child for the standardized admissions testing should be done ahead of time. The SSAT and ISEE are the most commonly used admissions tests. Review the test dates and register as soon as you can for a test site near you. Use our Admissions Checklist to keep track of everything. It all takes time.
3. It's a good idea to plan visits around other travel plans if possible.
By starting your school search process eighteen months before the fall in which your child starts school, you can coordinate your school visits with other events on your schedule. For example, if you intend on travelling to attend a wedding in June, it makes great sense to arrange a visit to any schools on your list which might be in the area. Perhaps your job will take you to part of the country which has a couple of schools that you feel are worth a visit. It makes sense to check them out while you are there. If these schools meet your requirements, you can schedule a formal visit with your child at a future date. This short video shows you Fryeburg Academy in Maine. The video is great but a visit will let you experience the school and all it has to offer.
The advantage of starting the search process well in advance is that you won't find yourself in full panic mode trying to get everything done at the last minute.
4. Starting eighteen months in advance gives you time to make any course corrections which you find necessary.
One of the realities of the modern private school search process is that most parents think that they can find all the answers they need just by doing some research on the Internet. When I recommend that they use a consultant, most parents bristle at both the expense. But they also take exception to the suggestion that perhaps they don't know what they are doing. Let me put it to you very plainly. Unless you have members of your family who work at or attend a particular boarding school, you really cannot know for certain what the school's admission standards are. Most boarding schools have videos on YouTube. Start with these. For example, this short video introduces Lawrence Academy. When you decide to learn more about a school, contact it directly and ask questions.
Starting the school search process well in advance will give you time to make the inevitable course corrections once you realize that you are in over your head and need expert guidance. Sometimes parents simply assume that their child will get into a highly competitive school. After all, her grades are excellent. She has played viola since she was three and she is a champion rider. Unfortunately, the admissions staff has other considerations, including a large applicant pool for a limited number of places. It will be a disappointment when the school rejects your child or if she is lucky, perhaps the school will put her on a waiting list. A consultant will advise you as to the probabilities of your child being admitted to a specific school. Your consultant will also counsel you to apply to several schools, one of which will be a safe school while the other two or three will be more competitive. This approach means that your child will be admitted to a private school which meets your needs and requirements.
5. Starting the school search possible early allows your child to become used to the idea of his going away to school.
You know your child better than anybody. So, this may not be an issue in your home. Many children are uncomfortable with the idea of leaving the home with its familiar surroundings and routine to which they have grown accustomed. If you know that your child will not be enthusiastic about going away to school, it makes sense not to overwhelm him with a hard sell approach. Gently expose him to the advantages one at a time over a period of weeks and even months. Take him to see a game or other event at a school near you. Before long you will overhear him telling his friends that it was his idea to go away to school. Once your child owns the process, you become the facilitator. At that point, you just have to take care of all the details which I mentioned earlier. You might want to consider having him attend summer session at a school on your short list. Here is a quick look at The Loomis Chaffee School's Summer Program.
Start the school search process early. Stay organized. Trust your instincts. Everything will work out for the best.
Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl