We parents are always full of questions about boarding schools. We are aware of residential schools, but we are not familiar with how they operate. We also want to find out how to apply to boarding school and whether we are eligible for financial aid. Here then are my thoughts about some of the more common questions I receive.
Should I read my child's admissions essay?
Like a good attorney would answer, "It depends." I am a firm believer in not writing your child's admissions essay. Reading it is another matter. By the way, the admissions essay is the exercise which appears as part of the application. Typically you will see an instruction requiring the candidate to write answers in her hand. The essay must also be her original work. Madeira's essay form gives you a good idea of what is required.
Take time to explain to your child that what she writes and how she presents her ideas add up to a very powerful impression on the school's admissions' staff. Unlike a test or examination, there are no time limits when she writes her essay. She can even do a rough draft if she likes and then make a fair copy, as the English say. That way the content not only represents her best effort but the presentation shows her at her best. She wouldn't turn up for the interview wearing grungy clothes, would she? Therefore, she shouldn't submit an essay on a formal application which looks untidy. That to me makes no sense.
Should I buy SSAT/ISEE practice test materials for my child?
While standardized admissions tests are only one component of your child's admissions portfolio, these tests help the admissions staff determine whether your child is capable of doing the academic work at their school. Since all applicants have to take the standardized admissions test, your child will be subject to the same criteria and standards as all the other candidates for admission. Standardized admissions tests level the playing field.
It just makes good sense for you to invest in some SSAT/ISEE practice tests. You have a selection of online materials as well as books from which to choose . Buying the practice tests is just the first step in the admissions test preparation process. What you hope to accomplish is to make the test format and conditions so familiar that your child will sail through the real test with confidence and ease. Encourage your child to work each section of a practice test without any time constraints. She must become familiar and comfortable with the layout of the test as well as the material contained in the test. Knowing what to expect will give her the confidence she needs to do her very best on the day of the test.
Schedule a practice tests under simulated test conditions. In other words, have her take a timed test in a quiet area of your home with no distractions. Don't allow her access to her cellphone or tablet. Turn off the television. I recommend that she take at least two practice tests under simulated test conditions. If she does that, when the actual test day arrives, she will relax and do a good job.
Do I have to visit schools?
Absolutely. Unequivocally. Yes, you must visit the schools on your short list. Why? That's because the videos and websites which the schools produce do not tell the whole story. They are excellent marketing materials which put the best possible spin on their message. However, you are a parent. You need to see for yourself the campus and the staff to whom you will be entrusting your precious child for several years.
The key to finding the right school is finding the school which is the best fit for your needs and requirements. Doing your research and due diligence is part of the process. Visiting the schools on your short list will confirm or raise questions about your findings. If possible, explore the campus when school is in session. Try to arrange an overnight for your daughter.
Following the visit each of you needs to make notes and then compare your notes. After you have visited the three or four schools on your short list, then have an in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of each school.
Can I find a school at the last minute?
In a perfect world, you will allow yourself ample time to find the best private school for your child. Identifying schools is time-consuming unless you already have children in private school, or they are legacies. Beginning the process approximately eighteen months out will give you plenty of time to get everything done. In other words, you need to start your school search more than a full academic year before the first day of classes.
What do you do when circumstances conspire to disrupt that well-organized, ideal schedule? I am thinking of last-minute situations where you get a new job or a posting overseas, for example. You won't get much notice for those events. If you are lucky, you might get ninety days notice.
Don't panic. Identify a couple of boarding schools if the move is here in the United States or Canada. Why should you look at boarding schools? Boarding schools make great sense if you anticipate more career moves over a span of three to five years. Ensconcing your child in a stable, caring boarding school community avoids much of the upheaval and stress which teenagers go through when they have to move. Moving is tough enough on us adults. It can be rough on children who become very attached to friends and their familiar surroundings and routines.
The admissions professionals at most boarding schools are accustomed to dealing with last minute applications for good reasons such as yours. While there are never any guarantees, it never hurts to ask.
What about accepting an overseas job posting? That happened to us years ago. Overall, it was a worthwhile experience. Most international corporations have an expatriate benefits package which will include schooling for your child while you are abroad. Most major cities will have schools which cater to the expat community. Your human resources professional will have a list of schools and contacts. You will have to complete the customary application and testing requirements. However, that all can be done in a matter of weeks, not months.
Do you have questions about boarding schools in particular or private schools in general? You can contact me via Twitter. @privateschl