Advice for Athletes Applying to Independent Boarding Schools
You are considering attending an independent private boarding school as a student athlete. Perhaps you’ve even been encouraged to apply to one or more schools because of your athletic ability. While your family and the admission staff at the schools will help you through the process of applying, remember that you still have your work cut out for you.
You must complete the steps required of all applicants in a timely manner. You should express genuine interest in the school’s athletic program. And most importantly, it is your job to learn as much as you can about each school to be sure that it would be a good fit for you, not only in terms of athletics, but overall. Here are some tips for you and your family as you apply to independent schools and consider your options.
The Admissions Timeline
Ideally, you’ll begin researching and visiting schools in the fall, or about a year before you plan to enroll. While applications are most commonly due in January, it takes time before then to have completed any standardized tests and submitted any required transcripts and recommendations. (See more below.)
Make sure you and your family have in hand all the information you need to meet all application requirements of every school in which you are interested. Pay careful attention to deadlines for applications for admission and financial aid: they vary from school to school.
Even if you’ve been recruited or had contact with a school’s coach, it is the admission office you will work with to complete all the admission steps (for example to turn in your application and make arrangements for an interview). Throughout the process, it’s important to communicate with both the coaches and the admission office. Allison Price, director of enrollment and financial aid at Tatnall School (Delaware), cautions, “Families should not rely on coaches to get important information to the admission staff. Disconnects can occur when a family is only in communication with a coach, or vice versa.”
Being on Top of Your Game: The Basics of Admissions
All schools post their admission requirements and deadlines on their websites and likely on their social media outlets. (Many also offer videos on that can give you a sense of their students and campuses.) Admission offices can also answer any questions you have by phone or email.
While requirements vary from school to school, most schools will ask you to do the following as part of your application:
1. Take a standardized admission test.
The schools’ websites will indicate which test(s) they accept as well as information about how to sign up to take the test. Most of these testing services offer a study book you can order to help you prepare for the test.
2. Complete a school application.
The application will likely have you answer several brief questions to give the school an idea of your interests and goals, your character, and your strengths and challenges in all aspects of your life, not just athletics.
3. Provide your school transcript and recommendations from your current teachers.
Each school will provide specific directions for doing so. Think about asking for recommendations from teachers who know you well in terms of your character and your abilities. Give them plenty of notice, and thank them after the fact.
Questions, Questions, and More Questions
The school tour and interview are critical aspects of the application process, for the school and for you.
Beyond offering a school tour, many schools suggest (or require) that you spend a half or full day on campus, attending classes and events. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to be physically on campus – or if the campus is too far for you to go to, try to interact with as many people as possible. These experiences will help you learn as much as you can so you can make the best decision down the road.
If you are interested in participating in athletics at a school but haven’t had any contact with the school’s coaches, show your interest as soon as possible. Elise Morgan, associate director of admissions at St. Mark’s School (Massachusetts), advises that a student should reach out to
introduce himself or herself and request time with the coach, if possible, when he or she comes on campus. As she puts it, “Coaches want to hear from the student (not the parent).” You can also send your sports schedule in case the coach is able to get out and watch you play.
At most schools, an interview with the admission office is required. (If a school is located a distance from you, the admission staff may offer a phone or Skype interview.) This interview is a two-way street. You can ask questions to help you get a clearer picture of life at the school.
And the admission director will use this time as a way to understand your interest in the school and get a feeling for whether the school is a good a fit for you.
To make the most of your admission interview, put in a little prep time. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) offers a resource called “10 Questions Families Should Ask” in which they suggest that you come up with five to 10 questions that are most important to you and your family. (NOTE: NAIS also suggests you ask the same questions at each school you visit; this will help you compare what you learned about each school, and make the best choice.)
Here are some areas in which you and your parents may want to ask questions of the admission office:
For example, you might ask what courses students in your grade are required to take, and/or how classrooms are set up. Maybe you want to know how much homework is typical. You might ask whether there are faculty advisers to guide students, or how the school measures students’ achievement and progress – through grades, portfolios, etc.
• Communication with families
Ask questions that can help you understand to what degree – and how -- the school communicates with families.
• Residential life and school culture
For example, you may ask questions about how dorms are set up and supervised. You might wish to ask about the importance of diversity on campus, and/or what extracurricular activities are offered, beyond athletics, and how many students participate in them.
You might want to know, for example, beyond tuition, are there other expenses a student should expect? What are the options for financial aid?
If you’ve managed to arrange time with a coach or athletic director, make the most of this time as well. Ask not only about your sport, but about athletics at the school generally. For example you may want to know how many students on campus play on teams. (And think about whether or not you wish to be at a school where most students are athletes.) Ask about support for athletes and school-wide enthusiasm for games. In your particular sport, how many students play on the team and what is the practice
schedule? Do students continue to play in the sport after they graduate from the school?
Being a student athlete doesn’t guarantee you admission to an independent private boarding school. And athletic participation will be only one aspect of your time at an independent school.
So be prepared, be interested, meet deadlines, and ask lots of questions!