Part II – RIISE Roadmap: Admissions – Filling Up The Gas Tank – What You Should Know Before You Apply

Part II

The Admissions Roadmap, Step I

Filling up the Gas Tank

The Things You Need to do Before you Apply to Independent School



Jason H. Caldwell

Director of Admissions

Horace Mann School


  1. Recommendations are in order within the next month or so. For Nursery (pre-K)-grade 4, speak with your child’s previous year’s teacher to ask if they would write a recommendation. 5th grade or above, your child should be the first person to ask one of their teachers and you should follow up. **note, most schools will require a recommendation from a current teacher as well. You should request this in October or November once the teacher has gotten to know your child.
  2. Testing. There are a number that are required and you don’t need to wait until you have submitted an application to the schools you love to sign up for them because most of the schools accept the same tests. For those applying to nursery (pre-K) school, there is no formal independent assessment. That said, for those applying to grades K-11, there is:
  • The Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA) is administered via ERB. It is an individual exam administered to students applying to grades K-4.
  • The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) are standardized tests administered by ERB and SSATB for students applying to grades 5-11.

You should sign up for the appropriate test immediately.

Once again, you do not need to wait until you submit you applications to sign up for the exams. I always advise families to have their kids sit for the exam in November or December. Why? One, it lets them have an easy transition into a new year of school without worrying about an additional test – sitting for a test in October adds an unnecessary level of stress. Two, in the chance that there is an emergency or illness, you give yourself a month or two to reschedule the exam. Most admissions offices need exam results by January 15th. While you could sign up for an exam that takes place in the beginning of January, you run the risk of a school not getting the results if you have to cancel or reschedule.

  1. A lot of people don’t think of the cost of independent school until after they have applied. Some don’t think about it until after they have been accepted. Some don’t think about it until after they have enrolled. The last group is sometimes faced with a huge problem. They didn’t have a plan to fund independent school. Whether you are going to apply for aid or not, a simple exercise before you fill out an application would be to include a monthly tuition into your budget to see how this would affect your family and your family’s spending habits. You need to know where the money is going to come from. Is it going to come from savings? Is it going to come from your salary? Is it going to come from your bonus or is there a grandparent that is going to help? If both parents are involved but not together, what are the obligations for both parties? For those applying for aid you should visit the School and Student Service website for financial aid (SSS) and do some research. This is essential as you think about funding your child’s education.
  2. After you read this blog, before you look at a school’s website, sign up for an open house, or speak to someone you know who sends their child to a certain school, I want you to do something. I want you to write down the ten essential questions you have about a school’s environment. I do not want you to ask one person all ten questions; certainly don’t ask your interviewer all ten –they might consider that overkill. Split the questions up and ask different constituencies at the school. Try to answer some of them by reading the materials on the website or provided in the admissions viewbook. Everyone’s essential questions are going to be different. There are really no FAQ’s, so come up with your own.


Now that I am a parent, I know what my questions are. In no particular order:


  • What is your school’s educational philosophy?
  • What do you love most about the school?
  • Is there anything you would change about the school?
  • For those applying for financial aid: What does financial aid cover outside of tuition?
  • What is the average class size? What is the average grade size?
  • When are activities offered during the day? What types of activities are offered at your school?
  • Where do the students come from geographically?
  • How accessible are the teachers?
  • For those applying to grades 6-11: What is the homework load? How do students manage their time?
  • Describe the orientation process for new students.


Good luck!
You are now ready to apply to independent school.


Hey Jason, thank you so much for sharing your detailed road map. I feel like I could do it all over again! But, since that’s impossible I am happy that the next generation of applicants have a good understanding of what they should be thinking about and doing before they apply. Here’s to a successful admissions experience!

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