Exploring private school options in Chicago? School search experts Jay Annadurai, NPN Board Member, and Ryan Hannon, Director of Admissions of GEMS World Academy Chicago, share advice to help anxious parents sort out the world of private school admissions.
(1) Begin your research early
Start investigating schools a year or two before you plan to apply. Advance preparation takes the anxiety out of the process. Spare some time to research school websites, talk to other parents and utilize resources like NPN and Bubbles Academy. For each school, consider:
- What is their mission? Does it align with your family’s values?
- When do you begin the process? Determine the age of entry (the grade level with the most availability of spaces). Some programs begin at two-years-old, while others require a child to be four-years-old. The child’s age by September 1 is most often used to determine placement.
- What will be the best fit for your child? Understand different educational philosophies (to name a few — Constructivist, Montessori and Waldorf.
- What are the logistics of getting to school? Consider the school hours, location and transportation options.
- What are the expectations of parents? Do you want to be actively involved within the school community?
(2) Attend Open House & School Tour events
Open houses and tours can be offered year-round, but early September through December is peak school search season.
- Attend events and ask about items like: class size, student:teacher ratios, enrichment programs, teacher training, safety guidelines, sibling preference, and pick up/drop off procedures.
- Observe the classroom layout and work displayed — can you see your child learning there?
Speak up with questions, understand deadlines and confirm how to apply.
(3) Understand the admissions process
The admissions process typically includes three steps: (A) an application, (B) parent meeting, and (C) student assessment.
(A) Applications often include parent essays about your child, family and educational goals. Be concise, honest and focus on what makes your child unique (check your spelling and grammar too)! Submit school records, a recommendation letter and a birth certificate if required. Deadlines range from mid-November through early January. Some schools, like GEMS World Academy, offer rolling admissions year round.
(B) Parent meetings are your opportunity to share stories and highlight points that are not included in your application. Schools are looking for enthusiastic, engaged parents willing to make a long-term commitment to the school.
(C) To create a dynamic, well-rounded student body, schools may request a one-on-one student assessment, a play-based group observation or a classroom observation for your child. Don’t worry — admissions teams know that children can have meltdowns and are not always on their best behavior!
Parent meetings and student assessments can run through February depending on when the application is received.
Note: At most schools applying for financial aid will not impact admission decisions. Even if you think private schools are outside of your financial means, consider applying. You might be surprised by the aid offered to families of all economic levels.
(4) Know who is involved in the admission decision
Decisions can come from a committee of teachers, the Head of School, and Admission Directors. Schools are putting together an incoming class as a whole. They consider various factors such as ability levels, personalities, and girl/boy ratio. A rejection does not mean that the school didn’t love your family and your child.
(5) What to do after the results are IN!
Congrats — you survived the application process! Decisions begin arriving in mid-March. Families must accept or decline their offers within a certain period of time (usually two weeks).
- After initial offers go out, additional seats may become available as offers are declined. Wait-list movement can occur even throughout the summer. If you are wait-listed for your first choice, contact the admissions team to express your continued interest.
You’re now armed to tackle the world of private school admissions. Good luck and remember to cast a wide net so you can find the best fit for your family.
Thank you to Ryan & Jay of GEMS World Academy for their easy outline of the private school admission process.