Where do I start?
Word-of-mouth is the best way to learn about independent schools. Talk to co-workers, family members and neighbours.
Internet searches, educational directories and national organizations are great one-stop shops for information. Visit sites that accredit private and independent schools, such as Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) and The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS).
How do you schedule a campus visit?
Once you have a few schools of interest, schedule a campus visit by contacting the admissions office. Schools will schedule a personal tour or direct you to open house or information sessions. Provide a little information about your child, such as the grade they are seeking and specific interests so the admissions office can tailor the visit. Give your cell phone number so the school can reach you with last-minute information about your visit, such as school closures. For the most part, campus visits are scheduled within the academic day so families can truly get a feel for the school.
What happens on a visit?
You can expect to have a walk through the school, watch a few minutes of classes, and speak with the admissions office.
Some schools will have you speak with teachers or shadow a class. Many schools will use the time to conduct the child’s interview and do the student assessment.
Whether you’re just starting to research, seeing the school for the first time, or are partway through the application on a return visit, treat each visit as a chance to make a first impression. (Remember that while you’re looking at the school, they are considering you, too.)
Even if you’re in the early stages of your search, let your child know why you’re there; it’s important she or he is on board.
What are standardized tests and assessments?
There are different assessment tools for various age groups. For middle and senior schools, the most popular standardized test is the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test). The SSATs are typically used as part of the application process, not as a make-or-break component.
Preparation can ease nerves before an assessment, but too much prep can cause anxiety, which has the potential of producing a skewed score.
What is included in the application?
The application is another opportunity for the school to learn about your child and family. They will ask why you’re considering a new school and how it can best support your child.
Students’ essays are a first insight into their academic abilities. Answers should be thoughtful and edited, but a true reflection of their writing abilities and thought processes.
For many schools, the completed application will also include report cards from current and previous schools.
What questions should you ask school officials?
Throughout the research phase, your campus visit, and the application process, you’ll be inundated with information about schools. Know what your priorities are and ask specific questions.
Important things to consider:
- class size
- student support
- co-curricular activities
- structure of the academic day
- how families and the school communicate
- what’s unique about the school
Anything else I need to know?
Have fun! Selecting a new school can be daunting, yet exciting. Independent schools are eager to show how your family could make a great fit at their school.
Each school wants to ensure it will help your child succeed. If your child is not offered a place at a particular school, you should feel confident that your child’s best interests were considered, and the perfect school for them is very likely in their future.
The interview is a key opportunity for the school to get to know you. Students and parents may be interviewed separately.
Questions will pertain to the current school year, the student’s strengths and challenges, goals, and desire to attend the school. Depending on the grade, situational questions around decision-making and other non-cognitive assessment tools may also be used.
For parents, schools hope to ensure a strong partnership between the home and classroom. While it’s important to prepare, being honest is integral to the process.
When should you start the process?
Now is a great time! Many schools conduct most of their admission cycle during the fall and winter. Some have published deadlines, while others consider applications on a rolling basis.
Even for schools with deadlines, spaces can open throughout the year, as families inform schools about relocations and re-enrollment.
If a school doesn’t have a place in the desired grade when you call, go ahead with the application process to ensure you’re in consideration if a place becomes available – later that week or just before the school year begins.
Lydia J. Hawkins is Director of Enrollment at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Okotoks, Alberta.