Admissions: What Do Schools Want?

Updated January 12, 2018 |
Admissions: What Do Schools Want?

What do boarding schools look for as they review your child's application for admission? Everything. Well, probably not everything. But the more items on a school's admissions' checklist which you can cross off, the better. Since your child will most likely be heading off to boarding school in 10th grade, start thinking about the things boarding schools look for by the time your child is in 6th grade. Back to everything. Truthfully, acceptance at a boarding school is not based on any one thing. The school looks at each applicant's profile in depth. Decisions to admit students are made by a committee. That means your child's profile must impress several people with their varying perspectives.

Now, let's get one very common sentiment out of the way before we proceed much further. Many parents want their child to go to Exeter or Andover. Those are great schools, but they are extremely competitive, with acceptance rates of 17% and 14% respectively. Indeed, approximately 30 boarding schools have acceptance rates less than 30%. So, apply to an extremely competitive boarding school if you must. Just take the precaution of applying to several much less competitive schools. You can choose from over three hundred boarding schools with excellent programs, amenities, and reputations.  

Incidentally, compare that choice of schools with the educational opportunities available in your town or city. The best thing about boarding school is that you can match your needs and requirements for your child's education very closely. In most cases, you are not going to have to compromise very much, if at all.

Let's examine the attributes and characteristics which boarding schools expect to find in an applicant's profile.

Academic excellence

Most of us send our children to boarding school so that they can get the best education possible. While best education is somewhat subjective, what it really means is that your child will explore her academic subjects in greater depth and breadth than she would have done in her public school? Why? Because the classes are smaller, typically 12-15 students, and the students' abilities are more uniform than you would find in a public school. Consequently, the teachers can cover much more material. When I asked my eldest daughter how she was enjoying Shakespeare at her boarding school, she replied, "Which play, Dad?" Her point was that instead of reading one Shakespeare over the course of three semesters, her English literature class read one Shakespeare play per semester.

Admissions officers determine whether or not applicants can do the academic work their curricula demand. They want to populate their classes with students who can progress at the same pace.  To help them make that determination, they carefully review your child's academic transcripts. Experienced admissions staff are familiar with the academic standards at your child's current and previous schools. So, they know how an A at one school compares with an A at another. If they are not familiar with your child's schools, they will speak to the school directly to understand what the curriculum entails.

Teacher recommendations help the admissions staff understand what your child's learning potential. While you will never see the teacher recommendations,  positive, even glowing, recommendations will be a big plus in your child's admissions folder.
Most boarding schools require applicants to take one of the two standardized admissions test: the SSAT or the ISEE. Solid scores on the standardized test will confirm your child's ability to do the academic work at the school. Remember that each boarding school has its own admission standards. That means that the test scores, transcripts, and teacher recommendations which were acceptable at one school may well be looked at differently at another school.

A well-adjusted personality

Another attribute which boardings look for is a well-rounded personality. Document your child's participation in activities such as clubs, extracurriculars, travel, competitions, and so on. Don't overlook awards and prizes which she has won. You may not think it important that she won first prize in the apple pie baking competition at the Grange, but the school will note that accomplishment with great interest. Who know! Your daughter may be the next Ina Garten. All of your child's accomplishments and activities paint a picture of who your daughter is. The interview and her essay will also complete the picture. If your child has had some behavioral issues, deal with those candidly. Explain what steps you have taken to remediate those issues. Most boarding schools won't be able to handle those kinds of issues.

Meet the admissions' office objectives

The purpose of a boarding school admissions office is to provide a new class of students who can all do the academic work. As a practical matter, schools also look for students from families which have the ability to pay full. The financial aid pool of funds at most boarding schools is finite. So, when a student whose family doesn't need financial aid presents a profile which is excellent in all other respects, it is a definite plus. Most boarding schools have racial and socioeconomic goals when it comes to attracting new students. They proactively champion diversity by reaching out to families far and wide.  Listen to the Dean of Admissions at prestigious Phillips Academy Andover discuss the school's approach to need-blind admissions. 

The ability to deal with special requirements

Boarding schools generally offer such activity-rich programs that they are able to meet most student's requirements. Students with properly documented disabilities will find that most boarding schools comply with the terms of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Each school will determine whether it can reasonably accommodate an applicant's needs and requirements. Do not hesitate to ask or express your concerns whenever necessary. Your child's happiness in her new school trumps every other consideration.

The difference-maker

Experienced admissions staff look for personal characteristics and accomplishments which set an application apart from the others. Demonstrated leadership, winning a regional or national spelling bee competition, developing a popular app - the examples of difference-makers are limitless. If your child has a unique accomplishment or attribute, be sure to list it and mention it during your visit to the various schools on your short list.

Questions? Contact us at @boardingschoolreview


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Admissions Overview

This section provides a glimpse into the boarding school admissions process. From how to apply to the 10 things you must not forget, our tips and resources can be a huge benefit to successfully navigating boarding school applications. Find answers to the most common questions, learn when it’s too late to apply and get familiar with the Boarding School Admission Application