There’s nothing that elicits more conversation among parents than a mention of applying to private schools. Few topics evoke such strong and varied emotions. Stress, anxiety, confusion, worry, fear, and even the occasional nightmare accompany the process these days. But it wasn’t always this way. It’s interesting to hear what parents have to say about the application process back in the 1970s. Yes, there were admissions tests, but if your child was reasonably bright you just filled out the form and put down a deposit. I don’t mean to imply that anyone could get into Hockaday, St. Marks, or Greenhill (ESD was just getting started) but it was certainly more of a parent’s choice situation, rather than the other way around.
The Admissions Process Today
Fast forward…and my how things have changed. Officially, the admissions season begins the September before you want your child to begin. The fall is filled with open houses, tours, and CATS testing (ability testing is done one-on-one with a psychologist) for younger students. Application due dates begin in November and run into January, depending on the grade you are applying for. Once the application is in, most schools require their own group testing on a Saturday morning for younger students. Some schools require a parent interview as well. For older (5th grade+) students, the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) should be taken in January. Older applicants are encouraged (and in some cases required) to spend a day at the school visiting, as well as interviews. And then it all comes to a halt, and you are left with the painful two-month wait. The top Dallas private schools have adopted a tradition of sending out decision letters the Friday prior to the start of spring break (usually in mid-March). So parents receive their letter on Saturday and must wait a week before they have contact with anyone at the school.
But do you have to be gifted?
In short, no. Certainly, schools want bright students, but your child needn’t be a genius to attend. Ruth Burke, Director of Admission and Financial Aid at the Episcopal School of Dallas, says independent schools “typically serve students who have above-average cognitive ability and have demonstrated above-average achievement – which includes, but is not limited to, gifted students.” Mrs. Burke notes that students who do well in independent schools have “a solid work ethic, intellectual curiosity, motivation to succeed, and support at home.” Gifted or not, students that lack these qualities may not find academic success at a top Dallas private school. Schools in Dallas such as ESD, Mrs. Burke says, take into consideration the whole child – intellectual curiosity, the potential for leadership, creativity, co-curricular interests and activities, special talents, and school achievement. She strongly recommends that parents learn the mission of the schools they are researching and be sure that they match what they are looking for in a school for their child.
How to tackle the Admissions process
Experts suggest an educational consultant help you through the admissions process. Consultants, such as myself, can suggest schools that meet the criteria that are important to you, your child, and your family. It’s important to give yourself plenty of time to visit schools and decide if they “fit” your child. Once your application is in and your child has been tested, it’s time to put it to rest until March. Then, hopefully, you’ll get the answer you’re hoping for in the mail. Have faith….there is a myriad of schools in Dallas to choose from. There is certainly a place for your child.
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