The Private School Application Process: Getting Started Part 1

When it comes to the private school application process, there are many details to juggle, papers to file, and deadlines to meet. One of private school admissionsthe biggest surprises for families is how early they need to start the school search process. Some parents start looking for schools in the same calendar year they want their child to begin only to find out that they are too late to the game. For example, if you want your child to begin in the fall of 2014, you must start the process by the fall of 2013. This is true for all schools that have a traditional application deadline on or around January 15. Schools on rolling admissions do not adhere to such tight deadlines – you have more time. Applications to those schools can be submitted up to the day school begins if space is available. Regardless of the time frame, you’ll want to start the search off right.

Create a List of Schools in Virginia, DC, or Maryland

The start of the school year or even a bit earlier in the late summer is the best time to start compiling a list of potential schools. You will want to create an initial list that is fairly vast. How do you know which schools to consider at first? Speak to your friends, acquaintances, and teachers in your child’s current school to get an idea. If you feel the need, hire a school consultant. Utilize a lot of resources because you will get many opinions. The point is that you want to consider a variety of schools in the beginning, anywhere from five to fifteen. The list can always be narrowed down the line.

The next step is to visit the schools’ websites and request a packet of information sent to your home. Many parents find that they can quickly eliminate a few schools from the online and print information they gather. A seasoned consultant can review your list. Did you include every appropriate school? Is there a great match that has perhaps been left out? Is your list reasonable or do you have too many highly competitive schools with low rates of admission?

Consider Crucial Factors of Private Schools

As you compile a list of schools that might meet the needs of your child, you’ll want to consider certain factors. Here’s a list to get you started:


Is the school close by or logistically feasible? Many students travel great distances for a good education, but be sure your quality of life isn’t too impacted by the commute. Consider that your child will likely stay after school for clubs or sports and that rush hour in this area can be a bear. More importantly, if a school is too far from where you live, your child may miss out on social opportunities on the weekends. This is something that parents overlook in search of a good education, but for most kids, a social life is equally as important. When friends are too far away, weekend get-togethers and even mid-week study groups are tricky. As far as daily transportation, ask the school about bus service (many provide it) or possible car pool arrangements. Most admissions directors will give you a list of families in your area that are willing to carpool.

Single Sex vs. Co-Ed

Preschools and primary schools (up to third grade) are almost always co-ed, but single-sex schools become an option starting in the fourth grade. Some students and their parents will quickly rule out a single-sex education, but that can be a mistake. There are many beneficial aspects of a single-sex school. For example, the staffs at all-boys schools understand that boys learn best with movement and hands-on activities. They are able to capitalize on boys’ high energy and learning style. The curriculum has been designed with boys, and the way they learn in mind. Some popular options are Landon in Bethesda and Gonzaga in DC.

Studies have shown that girls are more open to taking risks in math and science in single-sex environments. While girls are fully capable of conquering any subject, they often feel more comfortable doing so in an all-girl classroom. Many of the all-girls schools in the area have strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Programs that allow for girls to explore subjects that have been traditionally construed as male-oriented. In our area, Stone Ridge of the Sacred Heart in DC and Madeira in McLean, among others, are often considered.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Education published a study on single-sex public education. While the findings were inconclusive about the impacts academically of single-sex education on students, it did reflect a positive correlation between single-sex education and positive student interactions.

Even those in favor of single-gender education, such as the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, believe that simply separating boys and girls doesn’t guarantee academic achievement. While many pros and cons can be made for either case, ultimately, parents must still make the decision based on what’s best for their child’s particular learning style and needs.

Academic Challenge, Safety Net or a Balance of Both

Are you looking for all out rigor or would your child benefit more from a balanced approach? If your child is highly motivated, has a natural desire for learning, and is academically advanced, a school with a reputation for challenging academics might be ideal. In contrast, some students need a school that can provide lots of academic support, while others would do well at a school with a balanced approach.

Check back next week for five more factors that should be considered when coming up with a list of schools for your student!