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Results tagged “admission” from Boarding School Blog - onBoarding Schools

The deposit check has been mailed and the thank you notes sent. Our daughter is delighted with the outcome, and we are so grateful to our consultant who directed us to the school which has been our daughter's first choice all along and which we would never have found on our own.

The last step in the process was the school re-visits. Initially we planned to attend re-visit day at three schools just to be sure we were making the right decision. After two it was clear which school was the right one, and we canceled our third re-visit.

The first visit was to the school in California which we have all loved since our first visit. This school invites accepted students for an overnight, beginning with dinner. Our daughter was nervous but excited. From the moment we arrived our daughter was addressed by name. It was an impressive effort by the admissions office. She was quickly swept into a group of freshman girls with the other visitors and barely gave us a backward glance. The parents were invited to the headmaster's house for cocktails and a visit. While many of the other families were from California, we also met people from Chicago, Nevada, and New Jersey. The headmaster gave a powerful talk about what teenagers need from school and from adults to grow into responsible adults and about his vision for the school. As his views align with ours, we were very comfortable with all we heard. His wife, also an academic, was so welcoming and gracious and assured us that she would keep an eye on our daughter. The next day while our daughter shadowed her hostess, the parents were invited to attend classes, served lunch in the dining hall and met with the Dean of Studies and the Dean of Students then went to watch sports. While we may have been swayed by the sun, orange groves, and hibiscus, we remained as impressed with the school as we had been on our first visit. Once we were all together again, our daughter was ready to commit. The physics class had been "the coolest class" she had ever attended. The other students were wonderful, and the extra-curricular activities all met her interests.

We did re-visit another school the following Monday. This was a 9 to 2:30 visit which started with a panel discussion by some current students and faculty. The focus was much more on the day to day life of the school. Then our daughter attended a couple of classes while the parents heard more about the academics. At lunch the headmaster, a most impressive and humorous man spoke to the parents, and we had a chance to visit one-on-one with teachers.  We reconvened with our children for ice cream and meeting with the heads of various departments. While we were no longer seriously considering this school, the death knell was our daughter's report that students were playing video games during class and talking over the teachers. The second visit definitely gave us a clearer view of both schools.

It has been a fascinating process over the last nine months during which we have learned a lot about ourselves, our daughter and secondary schools. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share our experience with you.

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under the pen name "Boarding School Mom" and all family, child consultant, and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ's Boarding School Mom at [email protected]. 
Although geared for college admission, one recent New York Times article and a new blog on their site provide some good thinking and advice- parts of which are applicable to private school admission.

The article first- "Paying in Full as the Ticket Into Colleges," lays plain for all to see that, with tight financial aid offerings colleges are accepting more students whose families can pay in full. This has always been the case at or near the bottom of college applicant pools, but the practice is creeping further up the ladder into the realm of highly qualified applicants.

As we've always argued, you can increase your aid opportunities by applying to a school in which your abilities and desires place you toward the top end of the applicant pool.

The Choice: Demystifying College Admissions and Aid is a new NYT blog exploring college admission and financial aid through the voices of students and professionals. Even though it's geared toward college admission, the issues, experiences and thinking are similar to private school admission. Keep in mind that college and private school admission are not the same.  I recommend it as a thought provoking read. You'll find some thinking and commentary applicable to private school admission.

Photo credit: Gwen's River City Images
I read a couple of articles over the past few days that, combined, provide a good pictures of the thinking, priorities and sacrifices that families are grappling with in their 'public or private' school decisions. With a generally more conservative outlook about future earnings and home equity gone as a banking option families are struggling mightily to reach the best decisions about schools.

Two articles provide insight into the two sides of the education coin:

The New York Times article, "The Sudden Charm of Public School," looks at family thinking and finances that underlie a migration into the public school system by families who previously assumed that private school would be their choice. The exact numbers are unspecific and anecdotal, but the number of families thinking through this process is clear.

In the current climate can we, and, should we send our kids to private school?

From the NYT article:

"There is no way of knowing just how many would-be or current private school parents are turning to the public schools. But there is no question that the city's public kindergartens are experiencing a groundswell of interest...

The growing undertow from private to public emphasizes just how desperate some families have become.

Moving your kid out of private school is usually one of the last things to go," said Kathy M. Braddock, a partner at Charles Rutenberg Realty. "You give up vacations and cars and take away summer camp first.

But I hear people evaluating everything now. I know lawyers who have been laid off, Wall Street people, the Madoff victims. These are people who never thought they would be in a financial situation where they would have to start making certain choices.

...saying you're interested in sending your kids to public schools used to be a taboo among a certain group of people....Now it's actually kind of cool and in vogue."
The NYC Private Schools Blog paints the opposing view. In a post titled, "Private School Not a Luxury to Most," the author paints a picture of the willingness of parents to prioritize and sacrifice for private education.

Much of the article comes from a Wisconsin Rapids Tribune article looking at one mom's desire and willingness to sacrifice so that she can afford private school tuition and efforts of the area catholic schools to create aid and financing options. 

As Beckie Rogers told the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune:

"It's pretty much a given tuition rates go up every year...But as a parent, I prioritize and give up other things. This is a necessity for my family."
The reality of the public versus private equation in the current admission cycle lies somewhere in the middle. With no sound data, we don't know how many families will choose their public or private education options. We know for sure that economic stress has increased the value and importance of the public side of the equation. We know, with certainty, that uncertainty has private school admission officers working to demonstrate the value of the product and looking harder at their cost structures and aid and financing options than they have in quite some time.
Blue Ridge School recently added its Affordability Plan to the school's web site laying out their commitment to affordability.

It includes both philosophical and concrete examples of the school's approaches and commitment. Among other items in the Affordability Plan, Blue Ridge has increased its financial aid budget by 30% over the past two years and, one item that I really like, the school makes clear that the tuition, room and board are inclusive of all school activities- including textbooks. This is more important than it sounds; for years, many schools have used extracurriculars and books as profit centers- charging and billing for activities and bus rides.

I like Blue Ridge's willing to publish their positions and thinking. They use one of my favorite terms transparency. Transparency allows parents and families to make the best possible decisions.

Editor's Note: We're excited to feature a post by the Boarding School Mom's daughter. She offers her on the ground take on the boarding school admission process.

The applications are in, and there is little you can do but bite your nails and wait. However, the endless flow of questions is not over. This time instead of what to wear to the interview, when is the interview, what should my essay be, etc., the questions are did I do everything I could have done, did I do my very best work, etc. These questions can sometimes be more mentally exhausting and more worrisome then questions about the interview or applications. Most humans like to feel in control and these questions are putting me as from the control booth as we can be. This adds to your level of anxiety.

I'm not here to give you breathing exercises or say "yes" with a little bit of magic the questions will fade and you can sleep at night once more. However, sometimes when you realize that you're not the only one dealing with these issues; things can seem less intense or unreachable. For me the waiting has been more of an excitement than anything else. I want to know, but have not been nervous about finding out or scared about what the results will be. However as the deadline slowly approaches, I've become more nervous, counting down the days, and silently praying that everything will turn out right.

When the applications first go in, it's more of a relief than anything else as you feel free for the first time in weeks and your arms can finally rest. Your worries about getting carpal tunnel syndrome disappear, and you relax for the first time since September. However, by the end of January your mind starts throwing questions of doubt at you, and you lose your relaxed feel. From there you're simply sliding downwards. For all of February I fought these questions and tried to convince myself that I'd done my very best. I could manage to relax again during sports and at home, but school was still a tense mess. I felt like there was nothing I could do, and I was partly right. These feelings are completely natural. High school is a huge deal and going to the perfect place is something to fret over, but you can also fall back on the truth that you will be in your right place. It worked and once again I was completely relaxed just looking forward to finding out the results.  Then, the nightmares and horrible thoughts started. This time however they weren't fueled by my own over-excited imagination or my mind, but by other people.

You can't control what people say to you, but when every person you talk to asks you if you're nervous or if you've heard from schools, you start to become nervous and more edgy about finding out. The more people that asked the more anxious I became. The first time I freaked due to boarding school fears was when my report card came. At any other time, I knew it would have been excellent, but this time I was having visions of getting straight "F's" and my teachers writing terrifying comments. This was a completely nonsensical worry, because I knew this couldn't be true, yet in my frazzled state I'd almost managed to convince myself I was getting "F's". I am now worried that each letter next week will contain a rejection and am now in a feverish state about what's going on. However, I have managed to convince myself that I did everything I could. The one thing that I've found hard to accept, but know is true is that getting in or getting rejected doesn't change who you are. You are still the same great person it just means it wasn't meant to be and who knows like my brother it could turn out to be for the better! (read first Boarding school mom blog)

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under the pen name "Boarding School Mom" and all family, child consultant, and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ's Boarding School Mom at [email protected]. 
Photo credit: alexanderdrachmann

It's March 10th! Time for Decision Day Insights and Resources

Today's a big day. It's when boarding school decision & financial aid letters go out and/or arrive. You'll learn which schools you've been invited to attend; which schools where the fit wasn't quite right; and, perhaps most importantly, the size of the financial aid package.

Weighing the options, you might feel that you now have a more serious, focused decision to make than when you constructed your list of prospective schools.

You might be wait listed; you might have financial aid awards to weigh; you might have received acceptance to several schools. What to do now?

We've published several articles over the years providing insight and thinking into the "which school should I go to; wait listed, what should we do?" questions. As you take the next month or so to make your final school choice you might find them helpful.

The Admission Process: Decision Time!

Waitlisted at a Private School?

Tips for Students Accepted at a Private School

Photo credit: ocherdraco

A School Administrator Talks About Paying for Prep School

As Brian mentioned in the post before this one, late last week I sat down with two financial aid experts for a podcast that examined financial aid in an economic downturn. My guests offered sound advice for families considering financial aid options.

We're always on the lookout for additional FA articles & resources and Rob Kennedy, my friend at, offers a number of blog entries that focus on the topic.

I encourage you to visit his site and read through his writings. A good one to begin with is his post on Paying for Private School in Tough Times- a Q&A with Dr. Wendy Weiner, Principal of Conservatory Prep Senior High.

Rob asks Dr. Weiner about what parents of currently enrolled students should do if they find themselves in a position where they can't afford their tuition payments.   

Dr. Weiner discusses the need to maintain an open line of communication with your school (a point we always stress); should parents use college savings to pay for prep school; what are your contract obligations; and renegotiating aid based on a change in circumstance.

A Couple of Quick Items to Start the Day

If you haven't checked out the Carnival of College Admission (AQ hosted an edition a couple of weeks ago), I encourage you to visit Eric Perron's blog at Dreamstrategy where he's hosting the 11th edition of the Carnival: Carnival of College Admission - A College Information Dream... A Dream Strategy that is!  

Eric featured Leo Marshall's post, In Defense of Childhood. Many thanks to Eric and the folks at Dreamstrategy.

One more thing... Alltop, the online magazine rack, accepted onBoarding Schools into their education directory. The site, founded by Guy Kowasaki and the team at Nononina, aggregates content from all over the web. It's a terrific place to discover new blogs.
Jurist Levin Campbell retires at the end of the month after serving 40 years on Massachusetts and Federal benches. Certainly a fair minded and famously even handed judge, it's Mr. Campbell's relationship with Asheville School that brings this to our attention.  

Asheville recently joined the Twitter conversation and they 'tweeted'- a real time, 140 characters maximum post-  to their subscribers telling them the news. Tweets appear on the user's profile page and go to those signed up to receive their updates.

These short notes get the big picture out and allow users to follow-up later at their leisure. In Asheville's case, or, for any group, it's a quick, direct way to send the news and keep the community connected and talking.

If you haven't, checkout AdmissionsQuest's Twitter feed. It's a terrific way to keep up with the latest happenings at AQ.

Learn more about Mr. Campbell by reading the Boston Globe's "A Man of Honor."

Boarding School Fit: It's Complicated Matching Student & School

Editor's Note: A recent exchange between onBoarding Schools contributor Leo G. Marshall, Director of Admission, The Webb Schools and a reader requires its own space.

Daphne, reading Leo's post (In Defense of Childhood), wrote expressing concern that perhaps she had not structured her child's time or pushed and programed her child harder. Achievement, it seemed was all the boarding school admission officer wanted to know or hear about.

As Daphne wrote:

My daughter was faced with question after question about her academic honors and prizes, extra-curricular awards, athletic achievements, positions of leadership. Nowhere was she asked "What do you do just for fun?" And I was left feeling that maybe our not pushing her hard enough has put her at a disadvantage at this critical juncture in her young life.
Leo replies, the key to the process is understanding the variables, and more specifically, your student, the school and how the two might fit well together.

Subject: Re: [Boarding School Blog - onBoarding Schools] New Comment Added to 'In Defense

Dear Daphne,

I dare say that often the schools and colleges themselves are part of the
problem. From one side of their mouth comes such questions as you
describe as, of course, we are looking for students who will contribute to
our schools in meaningful ways. Everyone, for example, has to fill their
orchestra or their soccer team. At the same time,  every school shies
away from a student who is doing little at home other than sit in front to
tv or a computer game. Most will say they want creative thinkers who
enjoy learning for learning's sake but may not tell you what that means.

What schools sometimes suffer from is a lack of imagination about what
what kind of students they wish to have on campus. This is especially so
when schools are dealing with large numbers of applicants and they are
attempting to make some sense of the pool. It's then easy to fall back on
old notions of what constitutes achievement. Therefore, our job is to
articulate our thoughts about learning and what kind of students find
success in our classrooms. And this has nothing to do with rattling off
average SSAT scores, GPA's, or the recent winning record of the lacrosse

The whole process becomes confusing to parents who then decide that the
best way to ensure their child's chances for admission is to load them up
with activities and build a proverbial resume for their child. I am not
suggesting that parents shouldn't introduce their child to a musical
instrument or encourage them to play a sport. Many students lack the
confidence to give such things a try and we parents should be in the
position to offer encouragement and support. But when this is all done
simply to give that edge to a student - the result of which cannot be
predicted - without taking into consideration the child's real interest or
potential, the result is more tutors, more test preparation, more special
coaches, and exhausted kids.

This is also complicated when parents think there are only handful of
schools out there worth looking at and that is very often based on
perception of prestige, not whether they're the right school for their
child. I cannot tell you how many parents ask me about our track record
for getting students into schools like Harvard. Yet, when I ask them if
they know anything about the college or whether it might be a the right
place for their child, they look at me like I'm crazy. The same thing
happens when parents look at boarding schools. Thus, I suspect a number
of schools are overloaded with applicants who really know little about the
school except the name. Those schools in their attempt to manage the
numbers fall back on questions about leadership (I'm just not sure any
middle school child can tell me they have developed real leadership
skills) or whether they have recently discovered a new vaccine.

What is the answer? Well, there is no perfect school except the one that
inspires your child. There is no magic path to success via the name of a
school. Nobody is going to ask what your child's shot-to- goal ratio was
in middle school and no one cares what his SSAT scores was when he is out
there in the world. I do believe they will want to know if he imagines a
world as better place and that he enjoys being with others of all
persuasions and experiences. They will want to know if he has been asked
to question, i.e. to be an informed skeptic. They will want to know if
he loves reading and enjoys the thrill of competition but has kept losing
and winning in perspective. Schools like ours can help your child get
there but the work in front of you is to find which school can do that for
your child... and forget what your friends tell you.

Best wishes,

Leo G. Marshall
Director of Admission & Financial Aid
The Webb Schools
Claremont, CA
I recently received a call from a mother, a doctor, who wanted me to give her names of elementary schools in the area. After offering a list of public and private schools without suggesting which was best, I was then asked what I thought the best way to prepare her child for our school. I've learned from experience that this is essentially what we call the "red flag" question. To translate: 'Which school will guarantee my child will qualify for your school.' Of course, there is no such school since every school has its own strengths and philosophy about the ends of education but I was curious:

"How old is your child?"
"Oh, she's four."
"Yes, I want to be sure she's best prepared."
For what, I was thinking. "But, we are talking ten years from now. How could one possibly prepare for a school that might look completely different by then?" I knew what was coming so I continued, "I would hope that you simply let your child learn to play. Read to her. Let her dance. Encourage the joy of learning something new in the sandbox. Play music for her. Take her to the zoo but please do not push reading lessons on her or have her begin math tutorials."

"But I have had her with a reading tutor since 3."

She went on to tell me that all the educators she has heard have given her the same advice but that her friends have given her different advice. That of course begs the question, "Why would one lean on your friends who have no expertise in the field rather than listen to the experts?" She had no answer and we left the conversation at that. I am convinced I made no difference in her plans.

What has happened out there? I grew up in a time when one went home after school and played touch football in the street. I learned to love reading because my father would answer my many questions with "Well, let's look that up." And into the encyclopedia we went. That was followed by trips to the library where I was left to read anything I wanted. There were no Kumon classes; no standardized test preparation. When I learned to play the drums, I was allowed to spend hours in my basement attempting to duplicate the rock rhythms of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. I did not have to achieve level five or six or whatever is being sold out there to our budding pianists. I learned to love music because I was allowed to explore it as a distinct passion. My father put the drumsticks in my hand and let me take it from there.

My father was the supreme skater, a hockey player of enormous skill, but his attempts to teach me to skate were met with my inability to enjoy falling on a frozen lake over and over again. He never pushed me and when I found I could run fast for great distances, he would show up at my races, smile and leave it at that. We never discussed whether this was an activity that might get me a college scholarship (It didn't). He never insisted he meet with the coach to go over my training strategies or wonder if someday the Olympics were in my future. To this day, at the age of 59, I still love to run simply for the sake of running.

So what does this have to do with our misguided doctor? Well, I am sad to say that she is not out of the ordinary. My admission officers interview as many as four hundred high school applicants every year and we are struck by how over-programmed are these candidates. It's as if every child is expected to build a resume that will lead to some distant promise land that, in fact, may not exist. And I am convinced these children have no idea of what's happening to them. Could it be true that, perhaps, three quarters of all children are learning to play piano? Well, of course, I may be wrong and there is nothing wrong with that. But ask them if they just love to clink around the piano or improvise or just do it all for the love of it. Blank stares. What I am talking about, their eyes say. They are preparing for Royal Academy Level Whatever. Period.

We are seeing students attending after school tutorial sessions on a daily basis not because of some intellectual infirmity but because their parents expect them to get A's. We have a student in ninth grade who is taking pre-calculus because she's that strong in math, but what are her parents expecting her to do? She goes to a pre-calculus tutor on Saturdays. We have students attending PSAT prep classes which is a bit absurd because the PSAT is in itself a practice test for the SAT. Why would one take time to prepare for a practice test? And these are ninth graders!

Our good doctor intuitively knew what I was saying perhaps made sense. She had heard it all before from other educators. Yet, she has put her faith in others who know absolutely nothing of which they speak. Why? Well, she wonders, if I or my colleagues are mistaken then her friends' kids will get the upper hand, that little edge that will lead to that celebrity school or college. In meeting just such a parent our very wise head of school once asked a pointed question, "Well what, then, is the end game?" Stops them every time for they have no answer.

Maybe the answer lies with this generation of children who when they become parents decide they've had it with tutors, rote piano lessons, test preparation, soccer at age three. Maybe, just maybe, they will have their child simply go outside and do nothing but play. They'll be allowed to let their imagination run; climb a tree; sit in the leaves; make a snow angel. And there will be no purpose but the joy of having no purpose. I'd like to see that and, if I am still an admission director, I hope those children come to my school.

Leo Marshall serves as the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at The Webb Schools in Claremont, CA- a coed, boarding school offering grades 9-12.

My apologies for having dropped off the internet for a few weeks. We live in that part of New England that was left without power for almost two weeks in mid-December due to a particularly vengeful ice storm. The upside was that school vacation began seven days early. The downside was that we were distracted from writing blogs and focusing on school applications by stoking the fires and sitting in the car to charge our cell phones.  

Our daughter was scheduled to have her SSATs privately administered the day after the storm struck. She did that as the consultant had a wood stove and kerosene lamps, so we figured our daughter would at least be warmer than she would at home. However, she didn't score as well as expected, which we hope is due to the unusual circumstances and not an inaptitude for test taking. This meant that last Saturday, at the last possible session, she took the SSATs again. This also meant that a precious three hours were lost in the final weekend before applications were due.

Having decided to apply to five schools, none of which have similar essays, she got to work. We were impressed by her diligence in writing essays, editing and re-editing them. Her self-discipline and initiative were in marked contrast to our son's procrastination and seeming disinterest. She agonized over her most memorable day, what she hopes to gain from boarding school and which photographs to attach. My husband and I agonized over the parents' statements and breathed a lot in the face of helping her manage her anxiety over presenting herself as well as possible. As the deadline approached this week, we at last wrote the checks and sent the applications off.

The interviewing and applying has consumed such a large part of our fall that while we all feel much lighter having the process behind us, we will also miss the fun of learning about new schools. We have been blessed to meet so many interesting and impressive students and admissions officers during this journey. Now we wait until mid-March...

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under the pen name "Boarding School Mom" and all family, child consultant, and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ's Boarding School Mom at [email protected]. 

Applying On-line Doesn't Mean Waiting Until the Last Minute

Tamar Lewin published a piece this past Wednesday in the New York Times covering the clog of applications in the pipes of on-line application systems.

We know from experience that a good number of families wait to submit their applications until the last possible moment. (We used to run the on-line application system that many boarding schools use.) Families often assume that submitting applications on-line allows them to submit applications later in the process and that it will always be glitch free.

Wrong. Give two seconds of thought to the topics and we can all think of a few possible problems- families dealing with an internet connection issue, credit card processing problems, forgetting to press the all important save button. You get the picture.

While on-line applications offer all sorts of advantages- convenience, easy editing, etc. Don't wait until 11:59PM of the application deadline. Be prudent; give yourself some padding and extra time.
Twenty-two of my thirty-two years in independent schools were spent in day schools, some very good and some fairly mediocre, but all of them had good students with dedicated teachers. Their debate teams did well; the football teams reigned supreme. Most went on to colleges and parents were fairly pleased with their investment. However, it wasn't until I went to my first boarding school as an assistant headmaster that I realized that these are schools that take education to another level. And by that, I don't mean that boarding schools are repositories for more advanced placement or honors classes, nor am I suggesting that the college placement was any better. All of those are features of schools that can be found anywhere. Where a school defines itself is where its soul is, and the soul of a boarding school lies in its development of a unique community of adults and students all living together; sharing a common purpose as defined by the mission of that school. Such schools are places that are not defined by the culture of the immediate surrounding community but by the multitude of experiences of their students, many of whom come from regions of the country and the world unknown to the average independent day or public school student. Boarding schools are places where students develop an appropriate sense of independence that all parents inherently wish for our children. Boarding schools, by their very nature, encourage and guide their students to learn to develop those emotional intelligence skills we often find so elusive in a seventeen year-old.   

How these schools do this is something that can only be discerned by walking the campus and spending time listening and observing. Doing so, one will find, for the most part, motivated students with a common purpose happily engaged in the lives of each other. Artificial barriers to understanding and acceptance tend to disappear; social cliques can be rare; and intellectual risks can be taken without fear. The possibilities for expanding the education of a child beyond the classroom are enormous. As an example, I often think of a boy who came to us some years back as a sophomore from a local public school. We soon found that he had an extraordinary voice, but his talent had been unrecognized by his school. Freshmen rarely get recognition for their talents in large schools, often because they are too fearful to even attempt to share their talent. Yet, he was auditioning for our school musical and, yes, he had an extraordinary voice. He went on to become the highlight of our entire theater program and is now on a full scholarship studying opera at a conservatory back East. I do not believe this would have happened had he not transferred to a boarding school like ours.  

Imagine a place where your son or daughter rooms with a student from Malawi or Kiev. Imagine students with a range of religious backgrounds living in the same hall together. If we have learned anything of the events of this new century, it is that the days of cultural isolation are over - we are all so interconnected. It is inevitable that our children, when they become adults, will be faced with a completely different kind of world - a world that requires a different sort of individual. I am not certain children can learn that worldview without venturing beyond the block they live on. Boarding school students experience the world through classmates and teachers who come from cultures and places different from their own. They are poised for success in the new, global environment. Experience a boarding school and you will understand.  

Leo Marshall serves as the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at The Webb Schools in Claremont, CA- a coed, boarding school offering grades 9-12.
Editor's Note: We're thrilled to welcome Leo Marshall as a contributor to onBoarding Schools. Leo is the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at The Webb Schools in Claremont, CA- a coed, boarding school offering grades 9-12.

It seems inevitable at the end of any presentation about our school that we face questions about test scores. Perhaps, it's because we are selective (i.e. there are more applications than available space) that families are attempting to discern the exact requirements that might guarantee admission. They don't always have a clear idea of how all this works and can see test scores as, perhaps, the only hard criteria that they might understand. Unfortunately, most do not understand the purpose of admission tests or their place in the admission process.  

Admission tests like the Secondary Schools Admission Test (SSAT), which are required by virtually every selective boarding school, are what we call aptitude tests. They do not measure what a student knows about history or science, for example. Those are called achievement tests. What aptitude tests tell is exactly what their name implies: they tell us a student's relative aptitude for doing the kind of work necessary to find success in a college preparatory school. Every school, therefore, usually has a good sense of what scores predict relative success. A student's aptitude test results, however, are meaningless unless they are measured against a school's own criteria for what kind of student is best suited for the school's program. Now this is fairly maddening for the average applicant parent as none of us can say categorically that there is a certain score for all schools that can guarantee their child is qualified for admission. What we can say about the matter is that such scores are only one small, albeit important, piece of the admission puzzle.

Test scores tell us where the applicant falls relative to the competition and to students who have attended our school in the past and found success. But boarding schools look for much more than a test score. We look for students who can live in a diverse community of students and adults, students who have a certain amount of emotional intelligence that is not easily measured by any test currently designed for admission. We look for students who have not exemplified themselves solely by a grade point average but by what actually went into that grade average, i.e. mastery of a subject. We hope to learn that from the candidate's teachers. We also search for that student who will contribute to our schools in a profound way through, perhaps, a special talent or interest. Every school needs to fill its orchestra or choir, for example, and every school has sports teams that need athletes.

In spite of our efforts, however, to explain where scores fit in this list of criteria for admission, parents still insist on enrolling their children in test preparation courses at sometimes exorbitant costs. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that they sacrifice the necessary play time every adolescent needs in search of those elusive ten to fifteen points they think will make a difference in our admission decisions (which they won't). Instead of encouraging their children to read a variety of books, they believe memorizing vocabulary words will give their child an edge. The fact of the matter is that it works in the opposite way. When we meet a candidate whose entire after-school life centers on tutors for math, English, or SSAT preparation at the expense of engaging in that activity they find most rewarding, we become less interested in the candidate.

So, where do these scores fall in the whole scheme of things? At The Webb Schools, we know that typically a student should find success if they are in the upper quartile of those tested in a particular year. But after that we look at so many other things. Yes, we have turned down top test-takers and taken a chance on those with weaker scores because they just might add a unique spark to our community.  That is the art of admissions and, regrettably for that parent looking for a definitive answer to the puzzle, it is an art that remains abstract at best.

Editor's Note:  Visit The Webb Schools' (Claremont, CA) website to learn more about the school  and its programs.

There are a couple of final school visits to share with you, but as time is running short in the admissions process, today I want to move to the real work of the process- the applications.  We met with our educational consultant at the beginning of last week to winnow the list of schools visited to a list of six to which our daughter will apply. The goal was to have two "reach" schools, two "probably" schools and two "safety schools. While this sounds logical, in reality it may be just a mind game as our son was accepted into one of his "reach" schools and wait-listed at both his "probably" schools. After much discussion, our daughter decided to apply to five schools, which based on the feedback from the schools and our own instinct seems reasonable. It's been an interesting process as there are schools on her final list which I never would have guessed would have made the cut at the beginning of the process and schools to which she doesn't want to apply that I was sure she would love.

Over Thanksgiving, we sorted out all the reference forms with a separate folder for each subject, signed all the releases and stamped all the envelopes before putting it all in a big envelope for the administrator at her school to distribute. Two of the schools like an additional personal reference. This is a more difficult decision as we wanted someone who knows our daughter well but also whom we also feel will take the time to write a thoughtful and balanced recommendation. Our daughter chose to ask her riding instructor.  Our son asked a Boy Scout leader and a Sunday School teacher. I am a believer in accompanying the references with an effusive thank you note as writing all of them for the many eighth graders who are applying to schools must be a labor of love.

Our daughter is now on her own to write the essays while we write our own essays for the parent statements. In our house that means, I write and my husband edits.  It's hard not to provide input into their essays and hard to distill my child into a page on her strengths and weaknesses. Maybe AdmissionsQuest can tell us how the essays are weighted versus the interview and recommendations. It might relieve some of the pressure.
In our three years of interviewing, we just went to our first open house/visiting day and wished we had attended more. Our day at this pretty, well-kept girls' school began with a warm welcome by the admissions staff and breakfast in the dining hall. From the beginning I knew I would like the school as the fruit was fresh, the pastries delicious and the coffee served with real cream or milk, not those "tear-the-top off the plastic bottom" creamers. Poised, well-spoken students were working the room talking with families about their experience at the school. After an introduction by the head of admissions and the head of school, the parents were escorted to a panel discussion by students and faculty and for a tour while our daughters went separately for their own tour and panel.

We were so impressed by all the young women who spoke to us, most of all because while each was articulate and confident, they all seemed comfortable with their different gifts and styles. We were equally inspired by the faculty, all of whom spoke thoughtfully about the benefits of single-sex education and all clearly had warm relationships with the girls. On our tour confirmed that this is a school that is true to its mission and educating young women who will make a positive contribution to society.

The formal part of the visit concluded with a sit-down lunch with members of the administration and faculty and a performance by a student group. The head of school made a point of speaking to every family, which certainly made us feel wanted. After lunch our daughter had her interview during which members of the faculty were again available to talk with parents. Our investment of a day at this school was certainly worth it as we have a better understanding of the culture and philosophy of this wonderful school that we would not have gained had we just come for an interview.
Editor's Note: We're excited to feature a post by the Boarding School Mom's daughter. She offers her on the ground take on the boarding school admission process.

Going through the admissions process is stressful, not only for the parent, but also for the child. Many parents add extra pressure and stress, but also you hear stories about boarding school. So let me start with this: You are all great people, sometimes you freeze up and don't get to show the admission officer how great you are or sometimes you're just not the right fit for a school, but that doesn't change the fact that every person applying to boarding school is a special and wonderful person.

Having an older brother who's gone through the admission process twice, I knew what to expect, but each interview is different and you have to be prepared to react to each interview. There are millions of things you can do to help you be prepared. I'm going to share some of the things I've learned from personal experience with you now.

In my opinion the most important thing you can do (if you're a girl!) is lay out your outfit the night before. The morning of my first interview both Mom and I were in tears because neither could agree on an appropriate outfit. I can't guarantee no crying, but it's better to have the crying the night before. Lay out everything from your clothes to accessories. This will really help you in the morning: one it means you can get up later, and two it means there's less stress in getting out the door.

A lot of these schools are in really pretty towns so being early isn't a bad thing. As a kid, I get really anxious before an interview and start worrying about silly things like being late, so try to leave early to guarantee you'll be there on time and to help lessen the stress on your child. Another thing I've found helpful is if the school is more then two hours away and you have a 9:00 or earlier appointment, try to stay the night somewhere closer by if you can. We've done this several times, and it really helps. I don't feel as anxious if I know were nearby. Another great thing to do is print off directions the night before!!!!

Look over the view book and application materials the night before. I once talked to a retired admissions officer who said that to the admissions officer it shows you don't really care about their school if you ask a question that's answered in the view book. So look over the view book the night before and generate a list of questions for your tour guide and your interviewer. You want to be the one asking the questions not your parents.

Another thing you can do if you're stressed out about the interview is generate or find an online list of questions you think the admissions officer might ask you. Think about how you would answer them if you were asked. Even if they don't ask you those questions, having thought about your characteristics, things you like to do, and your school can help you in the interview or have a mock interview. Have a friend or teacher (noon-parent) conduct a run through interview. Experience helps so don't schedule your favorite school first. Save it for last and start with a school that is either a back-up or that you're not that excited about or a school you're comfortable at.

Get a good night's sleep! You want to be fresh and relaxed for your interview. I've woken up on an interview morning and felt like I could sleep for eight more hours. You do not want to feel like this. Go to bed early and try to get at least nine hours of sleep if not more the night before your interview.

These are just some things I have found helpful in preparing for an interview. HAVE FUN!

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under the pen name "Boarding School Mom" and all family, child consultant, and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ's Boarding School Mom at [email protected]. 

Editor's Note: "A Parent's Boarding School Admission Journal" appears every Thursday throughout the admission season. Check-in each week to read the Boarding School Mom's latest entry.

A lovely fall day found us in a suburban part of New England visiting two very different schools, both of which are viewed as very desirable. The outcome has posed a family challenge and one we'll be grateful to have the consultant aid us in resolving. Our daughter liked the first school and had a strong aversion to the second while her parents had the opposite view on each school.

The first has a decidedly academic bent with strong arts and weak athletics and a large day student population. It is a school where a student takes the prospective student on tour and a current parent tours the prospective parents. Our daughter really enjoyed the international student who gave her the tour. The parent who showed us around had an infectious enthusiasm for the school, and indeed I can see how our daughter might thrive there. However, the adult tour guide said two things that gave me pause. The first was that she didn't understand what people meant when they talked about the fit of a school as she thinks every child would fit at this school. Well into my third year of touring prep schools and having had children in both public and private schools for the last twelve years, it has become clear to me that schools have distinct cultures and personalities and every school isn't a match for every child, so this comment baffled me and made me feel she was perhaps naive. The next shocking comment was in response to my question about disciplinary policy to which she responded, "Well my son says that if you get caught smoking dope, you get spoken to; but if you're not nice to someone, you really get in trouble." Perhaps I'm too provincial, but this approach to discipline captured my attention. This was later explained to me as high achieving kids are terrified of getting in trouble, so they need to be able to make mistakes and learn that adults will still love them and that their lives aren't over. Framed that way, the policy made more sense and I am now open to a "multiple strike" approach. A friend touring this same school with her daughter was told that the school is better off without strong football and hockey programs as they would only attract aggressive students. As luck would have it, our friend's son is a hockey player at another school.

Next we visited a movie-set traditional and lovely school at which children of close friends are very happy. Despite no offer of coffee, tea or a cookie for which we were desperate having had not time for lunch after our first interview, we had a good tour with a lively and enthusiastic guide and our daughter's interview seemingly went well. My husband and I were thrilled at having another solid school on the "to apply" list. Our bubble was burst when our daughter got in the car and announced she hated the school. She felt the lovely façade masked a school where boys only want to be "jacked" (very muscular and fit for those of you who don't have teenage boys) and seen as cool jocks and the girls are pressured to be pretty and not seem smart. (For those of you who are interested in gender differentiation in prep schools and wealth communities Perfectly Prep by Sarah Chase is a fascinating book.) This was apparently triggered by a photo in a year book of a dorm with its male residents lined up outside without shirts yet wearing ties and by the tour guide who was expensively dressed but admitted to not being a very strong student. While we are sure the academics are competitive enough at this school that our daughter is probably somewhat mistaken in her read of the culture, she will not be swayed.

While at this last school, my heart went out to a small eighth grade boy touring with his father. Throughout our tour we noticed this child tagging along behind the tour guide while his father kept wandering off in search of cell reception. Back in the reception area, I began chatting with the boy as the father was still off on the phone. It turns out he is a second cousin to some friends of ours. When the time came for the admissions officer to interview the father, he was still out on the campus talking on the phone. I can only hope he had an emergency at home as an excuse as I have since found out this parent is retired. It seemed to me disrespectful of both his son and the admissions officer.

An interesting difference I've noticed this year from prior years of school visits is that the schools seem to be wooing us much more. All but one school interviewer has sent a follow-up note or e-mail to our daughter, and they seem to be much more in sell mode. While I thought this was because they feared fewer applications this cycle due to the economy, admissions officers deny it. At one school we heard that they expect applications to be up, however the admissions' process won't be as need blind as in previous years due to the reduced value of the endowment. Whatever the reason, it is very nice to have our visits and interest in a school acknowledged.

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under the pen name "Boarding School Mom" and all family, child consultant, and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ's Boarding School Mom at [email protected]. 

From the "Do we really need this/how far do we want to take testing?" files- the College Board brings parents and schools a new test, ReadiStep. As told to the New York Times by College Board President Gaston Caperton, the test provides a "tool that would help them determine before high school what measures should be taken to ensure that students are on the path to being college ready."

I'm not sure what the College Board wants out of its latest test offering for eighth graders, but the notion of an additional test- beyond school, district, state and No Child Left Behind measures is puzzling. The College Board argues that districts need a multiple choice test layered upon grades, comments, classroom behavior, writing, and teacher/counselor evaluations in order to give clarity to a student's achievement and standing.

You have to ask yourself, how much validity can this test hold when administered to 13 year old students whose brains are in the midst of, or have yet to go through, the brain rewiring of puberty? Sure a test can give you a quick-hit as to where a student and his/her test taking ability stands at the moment of the test. But, exactly how far for forward can a test administered to 13 year old project into the future?

Lee Jones, a College Board vice president asserted at a news conference, "This is not at all a pre-pre-pre SAT. It's a diagnostic tool to provide information about students' strengths and weaknesses." (New York Times article)

The test is described as low stakes and voluntary. But, if a school or district adopts the test and makes decisions based on test results, then how low stakes can the test actually be? If the test isn't of use, then why adopt it?

Again, from the New York Times Article, Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, said the new test had been developed in response to the demand from schools and districts, which he said had requested a "tool that would help them determine before high school what measures should be taken to ensure that students are on the path to being college ready."

Most eighth graders haven't taken Algebra I and have yet to grow into abstract reasoning and thinking. Again, why this test? Is it better than assessments already in use? Does it augment current assessments?

Susan Rusk, the coordinator of counseling for the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev and one of the test's developers tells the New York Times, that the test informs parents "kids are on track with the particular skills they would need as they go forward into taking the PSAT and SAT and being ready for college."

I know that I should stay away from sports analogies, but, here goes:

ReadiStep reminds me of the traveling sports teams for junior high and high school students- the travel soccer, baseball, swimming, etc. teams that compete for months on end fueled by parents driving their kids across the state on Saturdays and Sundays to play a game in a given sport every weekend. The playing mania welling-up from the belief that their kids may fall flat or become something less if they miss a single opportunity to compete.

I hear it now. If we don't take the ReadiStep, we might miss something.

If I were considering ReadiStep, I'd begin with these questions:

  1. Why an additional test? Would this new test be better? Is this the best way to gather any data that we want? Do we already gather this data?

  2. Would an additional- low stakes- test provide data and a perspective that we don't already gather?

  3. Would this additional test/perspective tell us something about a student that we do not or cannot know through our current system?

  4. Would this additional perspective/test be more accurate that the information that we currently gather?

  5. Would ReadiStep and its data add value to what we currently provide to parents?
Bluntly, it might be time to draw a line with the testing. Let kids get through middle school without a testing burden. Let kids and their brains grow, explore, play and learn through work and fun. The abstract reasoning and higher level thinking will come with time, development, and a commitment to their school work.

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