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

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Written by
Jason H. Caldwell
Director of Admissions
Horace Mann School

Part I

As the Director of Admissions and alum of an elite independent school, I am intimately familiar with the admissions process and the stress and anxiety that go along with it. While for some, the process can be daunting, the truth is it doesn’t have to be. As I look back at my own journey during the admissions process for Horace Mann, I am blessed to say that it was a rather enjoyable experience. My parents, while new to the world of independent school at the time, did their research, kept organized and provided an environment for me that did not inspire fear and self-loathing, but rather excitement and enthusiasm (they were veterans by the time my brother graduated from Horace Mann). They kept the process fun.

Twenty-two years later, as the Director of Admissions of my alma mater, I have found that the families that are able to do these things (and some of the other tips I am about to share) find success in the pool. Does this mean that you are definitely going to get into the school of your dreams? No. Why? There could be a number of reasons. One, independent schools rarely have enough room to take everyone they want. Another is if you are applying for aid, you may decide the aid package may not be enough. Lastly, while no one wants to hear this possibility, it’s a real one – your child might not be a fit for the school. This is why it is important not to set your sights on one school. As you think about this process, it is important to identify 6-8 schools that you would be pleased to send your child to. So, how do you come up with this magical list of 6-8 schools to apply to?

As a beginner, you start with the basics…

  1. Visit the schools’ websites. This will give you basic information about the school and, most importantly, information about a school’s application process and important contact information. You may even have an opportunity to fill out something called an inquiry form. While some schools have abandoned them others have not. Electronic inquiry forms place you in a school’s database in order to send you mailings and e-updates about the application process and events taking place at the school.
  2. A lot of people like to look at lists or rankings of schools. While the rankings are somewhat informative, attending events is the best way to familiarize yourself with an institution. While it was an honor to have my school among the top three independent schools ranked on the Forbes Top 20 Independent Schools in the U.S., at that time it really didn’t speak to the soul of the school that helped shape my life and instill a lifelong love of learning. It gave statistics, but it didn’t give context. The only way to truly get to know a school is to meet the people that are a part of the community, often by way of school fairs and panels
  3. Admissions Fairs are great opportunities to meet admissions officers from a variety schools at once. Get a sense of the people who work at a school and ask some initial questions about a school’s environment. You won’t get every single question answered, but it’s a simple introduction to a school that you might be interested in. Of course, pick up materials that share insight into a school’s culture. Two big admissions fairs are the RIISE Boutique Recruitment Event and the Parents League Fair. Some fairs like RIISE are intimate and have 12-15 schools represented while others like the Parents League have 70-100. Bottom line goal at the fair is to get enough information to create an initial list of schools.
  4. How do you whittle down the list from the fair? Attend a school’s open house. Most schools hold open houses on weekends or evenings because they realize that a lot parents work. That said, some schools still only hold open houses during weekdays. Busy schedule? For two parent households, if you can, divide & conquer!
  5. A spreadsheet can be a helpful way to keep track of the admissions process (pen & paper work too!) For families with students applying to grades 5-11, the children should also attend the open house. Here everyone has the chance to explore the schools physical plant (space).
    *Note, if like many parents you worry how you will negotiate time away from the job at this stage when you haven’t even filled out an application or gone an interview yet, be frank with your employer.Explain to your employer that you and child will be going through the application process. Inquire as to which days during the week it would be okay for you to be absent and let them know that you will be using personal and vacation time. The sooner you do this the better.

Hear is an idea of time commitment (can vary per school):

Open House…1.5 – 3 hr
Interview for student and parent w/tour (gr 5-11)…1-2 hr
Nursery, Pre-K and Kindergarten (group sessions)…1/2-1 hr

Now, factor in travel time to and from the school. To be on the safe side request a half day from work for each visit. Depending on your child and their own particular needs, it might be a full day. With regards to parent interview, it’s always wonderful to have both parents in attendance. That said, schools understand the pressures of work. It won’t be held against you if one parent accompanies the child.

 Check back next week for Part II

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 5, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Informative & Introspective! Thank you Jason.

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