Applying to Private School? Be the Invisible Person in the Room.

by Neil Chyten

Imagine you are invisible, sitting silently, unobtrusively, in a private school admissions office during a committee meeting in which your application is being discussed. As your advocate summarizes your file, your accomplishments, your essays, your interview, your affiliations, your opportunities and accomplishments, your heritage, your background, your community, your school, and all the other factors the school finds important, do you find yourself being compelled to choose yourself amidst all the other students who are also being considered?

Typically, private schools receive 5 to 10 times more applications than they have spaces to fill. The more prestigious schools typically accept 10% or fewer of the students who apply. Despite the fact that in the crazy world we live in 10% seems like a high acceptance rate, it really means that 90% of students who apply are rejected. Of the factors that determine whether you will be in the 10% or the 90%, some are objective and some are subjective. Of course, to get into elite private schools you must have a high GPA and high test scores. But all the other factors must come into play as well.  

For one, you must have excellent recommendations. Of course this makes sense, because elite private schools want highly motivated and participatory students. They want the kind of students who will truly have a positive impact on other students in the classroom.

You must have significant experience with the kinds of activities that the school offers. For most private schools, activities round out and enhance the overall student experience. They are far more likely to accept a student who will participate in the kinds of activities that build school spirit and enhance the school’s reputation. These may include sports, teams and clubs, performing arts, visual arts, spirited debate, and community service, among other things.

It also helps to be socially motivated, as demonstrated by your commitments to local, national, or even international causes. Schools want to know that you will make a positive impact in the community, on people’s lives, on the region, or even on the world. These commitments could be to humanity, to animals, to the planet, to the environment, to a particular group of people, to science, or to a particular region. 

Of course, it helps to have talent in one or more areas. Schools are more likely to accept students who have an unquestionable skill that will enhance one or more aspects of the school experience. For example, many schools have orchestras or highly developed performing arts departments. Orchestras always need highly talented musicians, just as performing arts departments need top-notch performers. It helps to have a history of accomplishments, as well as video evidence and a willingness to audition.

Your private school application is the place to demonstrate that you belong at an elite private school. Yes, you must have all the objective factors such as high GPA and high test scores. You must have a significant accumulation of subjective factors as well. However, you must tie all these together and press your case for admission through your essays and interviews. Of course, this may sound more like art than science, but it is not. As with most things in life (including art!), there is a formula for success.  

So once again I ask you, the invisible person in the room, upon hearing your advocate boast about your eminent virtues, your formidable talents, and your immaculate character, do you feel compelled to accept yourself for admission to this elite private school? Do you feel strongly that a case has been made that you will strengthen the student body, be a positive influence in class, and make a difference in the local, national, and worldwide community? Or, do you fall short in any of these categories. Are your essays uninspired? Did you not make eye contact during your interview? Did you not do the most with the opportunities that you have been given? Did you not demonstrate resilience with respect to COVID-19, or did you give up when facing a difficult challenge?

To understand your place among thousands of other candidates, you must see yourself in the light of 1000 candles. You must not blindly and naïvely assume that high test scores and a high GPA are enough to get you in. They are just two candles, and two candles will only get you so far. Trust me, there are lots of excellent students just like you out there. Most will find themselves in the rejection pile. This is because it takes far more than hard work on school papers and tests to gain acceptance at an elite private school. So, show the school how you shine brightly in all the areas that matter. Show them you have heart and soul. Show them you have dedication and commitment. Show them you have perseverance and resilience. Show them that you have leadership skills and let them dream of how you, a future alumni of their school, went out into the world and changed it for the better.

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