Every parent who considers enrolling their child in a private high school knows the challenges and obstacles inherent in that task. Elite private high schools are so-called for a reason. Even though private school acceptance rates around the country consistently range between 80-90%, not all applicants are successful. Private high schools often make a point of how selective they are, which is a part of their allure for parents and students. These elite institutions offer a slew of advantages to their students that are few and far between in the public school system. Not only are the educational programs and extracurricular activities world-class, but entrance into a prestigious private school ensures a potentially more fruitful and advantageous life later.
6 Actionable Tips for Getting Into a Private High School
When deciding whether or not to undertake the challenge of applying to a private high school, think of these statistics from the US Department of Education:
- The pupil/teacher ratio in average private schools is 11:9 compared to the 16:2 ratio in most public schools
- 40% of students enrolled in a private school attended a school in a suburban area contrasted with 30% of all public school students who go to school in a city
Getting your child into a private high school is a cooperative effort. Parents and children must work together to meet all the requirements or, better yet, exceed them. Luckily, all schools detail the application process that parents and children have to follow to be considered. But, to stand out of the crowd, parents and students need to focus their efforts on the six following areas:
1. Ask Yourself If This Is The Right School
Names like Choate and Gonzaga may excite with the promise and prestige that they carry but to make sure your child will thrive, you have to look beyond the surface. Although in-person visits now are tricky, you and your child should make every effort to familiarize yourselves with not only the physical school grounds but the academic programs, extracurricular options, and campus lifestyle. The investment of both time and resources that you are putting into this venture will all be for naught if your child does not acclimate to the school’s particular philosophy or standards, or academic offerings.
2. Go Further Than Just Good Grades
It goes without saying that if you are considering sending your child to private school, their academic prowess has already been established. But good grades are not all that admissions officers look at when evaluating an application (even though they do look at them). It’s important to give any potential school evidence of your child applying themselves academically outside of the classroom.
This can involve any number of things. It can involve after-school efforts like learning a programming language, participation in academic contests, or membership in skill-based clubs like math or robotics or learning a second language. For these activities to truly have an impact, it’s crucial to begin early. But even more important is that your child selects their preferred past-time, so they don’t lose interest and keep at it for the duration of their academic career.
3. Understand What Your Child Needs and Wants
Parents can often be so consumed with the end goal of getting accepted that they ignore or overlook other essential factors like if the school’s academic, social, and leisure offerings are what your child wants or enjoys. Before even beginning the application process, make sure that the school of your choice has well-rounded offerings that appeal to your child’s personality, ambitions, and interests.
Schools are more than upfront with the programs and courses that they provide. If your child is interested in athletics, make sure you choose a school that has a long athletic tradition and that emphasizes physical activity. If your child is more interested in the arts, find a school that has a lauded music, drama, or fine arts pedigree that would give them more opportunity to thrive. The same goes for any area of interest your child has, whether it is math and science or athletics and the humanities.
4. Gather Social Proof Of Your Child’s Character
Private schools do not only consider a potential student’s academic achievements and participation in extracurriculars. While all that is important, many schools also tend to consider a child with a few recommendations behind them. Traditionally, this letter of recommendation might have been from a teacher or other school officials.
Letters from esteemed members of the community, be it lawyers, businesspeople, or even government officials like a Representative or local politician, could be a huge boost to your child’s profile. Granted, it may be difficult to obtain such a letter from any of these individuals, which is why you and your child need to be involved in the community.
Networking within the circles of philanthropy and charitable groups, non-profit and community organizations can get you closer to well-regarded individuals who have the clout to impress admission committees. If there has been a long and verifiable relationship with that person, then asking for a letter of recommendation is not uncouth.
5. Make Sure Your Child Contributes to the Community
A letter of recommendation that is genuine and heartfelt can sway admissions officers, especially if it is backed up by real-world efforts. As much as you want to send your child to a well-rounded school, they too want to accept a well-rounded individual who excels academically but is also capable of showing compassion and humanity through good deeds.
While it is up to you to decide, or, at least, encourage, what type of community outreach your child participates in (volunteer at a nursing home, an animal shelter, or food bank), make sure it is something that your child is interested in, committed to and does so without faltering. There are, of course, several different ways your child can demonstrate a commitment to community betterment, but make sure that it keeps in line with their interests.
6. Help Them With Entrance Exams/Essays
One fundamental aspect of applying to a private high school is the entrance exams as well as essays that schools require. Depending on the school, the exam will be different—for example, the SSAT, which is exclusively for secondary school applicants. Depending on your strengths, you could always help your child practice and study taking the exam. But if you have some weakness, it is not uncommon to hire a part-time tutor to help with the trickier parts.
Conversely, when it comes to writing the all-important essay, there is a fine line that you must walk to make sure you don’t write it for them while also supporting them and giving them advice on what works best. Using a tool like Lumin PDF lets you read as well as edit any first or second drafts that your child has written. With Lumin, you can also leave annotations for your child to read so that they can improve sections that need more clarity or focus.
Credit: Getty Images/Buyenlarge/Carol M. Highsmith