by Neil Chyten (#1570)
Applying to private school has become every bit as competitive as applying to college. Therefore, knowing what private schools are looking for in candidates is a critically important part of the process. Since most applications are due on January 15 (there are notable exceptions), long-term strategies are no longer applicable if you are applying this year. In this article, we will address only short-term strategies for getting into top private schools. In future articles, we will address longer-term strategies.
Know what private schools are looking for. While it is true that private schools view grades and test scores as the two most important factors for admission, both the essays and the interview also hold significant weight. In general, schools are looking for both written and oral responses that reflect maturity, resilience, and commitment to activities. When providing answers either in interview or written form, it is important for candidates to demonstrate that they have a world view, rather than a local view. They should be aware of current events, and should have opinions on issues of importance.
Make sure your grammar is correct on all your written responses. Many international students make common grammatical errors that may be a red flag identifying difficulty with the English Language. Make sure to have all your essays proofread prior to submitting. Similarly, some strong accents can make it difficult to understand students responses during an interview. Get an objective opinion about your English speech ability, and if necessary, work on remediating any pronunciation issues that may be identified.
know that there are three major application services for private schools. They are:
- Gateway to Prep Schools
- Standard Application Online (SAO)
Each is slightly different in how it operates. For example, SAO gives you one set of essays for all schools, whereas Ravenna and Gateway have separate essays for each school. SAO is operated by the same company that administers the SSAT. Therefore, you can submit your test scores on the same website that you used to submit essays to your SAO schools. All of these application services can be somewhat confusing, so it is important to check with someone who is familiar with them prior to submitting your forms.
During your interview, there are several things you can do to improve your marks. For example, you should always make eye contact when answering a question. Also, you should not have long delays prior to giving your response. It is fine to think for a few seconds, but any more than that gets uncomfortable for the interviewer and may be held against you. Also, do not try say everything about yourself when responding to a single question. In other words, do not try to tell your life story. Let your story unfold gradually by limiting your response, which will give the interviewer the chance to ask follow-up questions. Stick to answering each question, and do not go off on tangents or in other directions. Most answers should be between 30 and 60 seconds.
When answering essays about why you want to go to a specific school, above all you should be honest. However, don’t mention rankings because schools do not appreciate it. Instead, find something that is unique about the school and write about it. For example, you could write about the Groton Circle, or the Hotchkiss sporting facilities or science labs. You can talk about how you like a small school environment or a large school environment, whichever the case may be. This may take some research, but the time spent will be well worth it since you will become a better candidate.
Apply to schools that are outside the same top 10 or 20 that everybody applies to. Those top 10 or 20 are the most competitive schools in the country, making them extremely hard to get into. Yes, if you are a top student, by all means apply. However, the number of applications that these schools receive is in the thousands whereas the number that they can accept is in the low hundreds. If your goal is to go to private school, then include safety schools in addition to dream schools. Ultimately, it is how well you do at your school, rather than the name of the school you attend, that will determine how you will be perceived by colleges down the road.