Year after year, parents endure the nerve-wracking process of applying to private schools for their young children in hopes that their exhaustive legwork secures a spot at a school where their child will thrive. The clock on this annual cycle restarts in school Admissions offices around the world, and regardless of location, parents from Los Angeles to Lausanne feel a shared sense of trepidation around this high-stakes audition process.
Although the short-term goal is an acceptance offer, it bears highlighting that there are long-term rewards at play as well. The elementary school years are developmentally critical, which makes the project of selecting and applying to the right schools early on all the more momentous for parents. Indeed, raising a child means a long road of education, and while the popular emphasis may rest on secondary and college Admissions, there is a long line of neuroscientists, behaviourists and seasoned educators who argue that the beginning of the educational road sets the course for the rest. They reason that the human brain develops at a rapid pace between birth to age eight, at which point its window to make basic architectural adjustments becomes very slim. Consider, for example, the dramatic difference in ease and ability when trying to learn a new language as a child versus as an adult.
Here’s the bottom line: children are all the better poised to propel forward in their lives and education when they have the opportunity to learn and practice success-marking skills in their first eight years of life. Starting in their youngest classrooms, quality schools help children build their toolboxes with foundational cognitive, social, and emotional skills that empower them to be lifelong critical thinkers, effective communicators, and resilient problem-solvers. And, for what it’s worth, consider this note from Nobel prize winning economist, James Heckman, whose longitudinal research found that investing in high quality early childhood education pays long-term personal and professional dividends. Given that a quality school can help form such powerful building blocks, it is no wonder that parents feel pressed to take actionable steps early on.
As an Educational Consultant, families enlist me for strategic guidance in finding and applying to the right schools for their child’s unique learning style. With firsthand knowledge of how Admissions decisions are made, below are my top tips to help you maintain strong footing throughout the Admissions process at your prospective school:
1) Remember Admissions is a Process for a Reason
The Admissions process will take on different formats depending on the school, but parents applying at the elementary entry point can generally expect their applications to involve a campus tour, interview, essay, and child assessment, accompanied by a back and forth stretch of communications with the Admissions office. Generic and straightforward as the ingredients list may seem, each opportunity is designed to give space and time for schools and families alike to determine if they are good fits for each other.
Ultimately, schools want to admit families who align with their philosophy of educating, and who will act in a trusted partnership with the teachers and administrators for years to come. If the school’s core values and practices genuinely resonate with you, highlight those areas of common ground throughout your application.
2) Take Note of the Details
Where opportunity allows, try to get a sense of what makes the school unique. Is the atmosphere warm and inviting from the first entrance? Do teachers document student projects in the hallways? When you learned the science program brings in live animals to teach children about ecology, did it sound like something your child would enjoy?
Make note of memorable anecdotes as you see and hear about them, before they fade away into a general memory of the campus tour. Admissions Directors truly appreciate parents who pick up on the little details that set the school apart from others.
3) Be Mindful of Manners
Understandably, the stress and exhaustion of this process can sometimes result in parents forgetting their social graces, which consequently raises a red flag for schools. While you may be on campus to meet with the Admissions Director, be kind and courteous to everyone you encounter on the way there.
This may include the parking attendant, the receptionist, the custodian, and the staff passing by. Every person on campus composes the school community that could become your home, so it’s in your best interest to exercise the same rules of respect you teach your little ones.
4) Seek Input from Previous Teachers
Schools typically ask parents to describe their child in their own words. While no one knows your child better than you, it can be helpful to supplement your descriptions with observational notes gleaned from your child’s previous teachers. In some cases, schools may require an evaluation form or letter of recommendation from them.
Educators are well-trained in understanding a child’s temperament and developmental strengths, and their insight can help you formulate a clearer idea of your child’s unique learning style. Any information you can gather and share about your child as a person and student is hugely helpful to your prospective school, and it also bodes well for you as applying parents who are demonstrating deep care in your child’s education.
5) Be Involved in the Process
Savour this opportunity to be intimately involved in choosing the right school for your child. Later down the road when they apply to high school or college, they will be in the driver’s seat and won’t depend on you as much for this process. Use this time to truly determine if that school feels like the best fit for your child and family. Investing in this process may feel draining, but the rewards are priceless.
About the Author
Camille de Mondesir is an Educational Consultant and Admissions Strategist who attended International Schools throughout her upbringing, and is now based in Los Angeles.
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