What is the High School Admissions Process Really Like?

Jan 11 2021


The high school admissions process can be  intimidating, especially for parents and students who have never gone through it or who don’t know what to expect from it. This often leads to frenzied questions: Can the application be filled out online, or is it only accepted by paper? What kind of forms need to be filled out? How do I get my child’s transcripts from their current school? Will there be interviews? What about financial aid?

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We’ve written this article outlining the typical high school application process to make it clear - there is really nothing at all to be nervous about. 

A Note About the Application Timeline

Before speaking to the high school application process, we thought that it would be a good idea to point out that the timeline for the application process can vary substantially depending on a number of factors. Different schools will have their own unique deadlines for application, so you will want to know these dates and keep them in mind as you begin to apply. 

A good rule of thumb is to begin the application as early as possible. If your hope is for your child to begin classes at the start of the school year in the fall, then you will ideally begin the application process in the winter or better yet, the fall of the previous year. 

Why so early? While you can, of course, apply in the spring or even the summer before the start of the year, we usually recommend you avoid waiting so long for two reasons. First, there is a risk that all of the open seats at your first choice school will already be filled, at which point you may need to settle for a different choice. And second, at most schools, financial aid and tuition assistance is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Waiting too long to apply, therefore, may limit or preclude financial aid should you need it.

What does the admission process typically look like?

Just as each individual school will have their own unique deadlines and dates for application, so too will their application processes vary. Still, though the precise order of these steps may vary from school to school, most independent high schools will require applicants to complete each of the steps outlined below.

1. Visiting the Campus

Parents and their children should visit the campus of each and every school that they are considering attending, as early in the process as possible. This gives you the opportunity to evaluate the school grounds, campus, and facilities, and to get a feel for the school’s culture and overall feel, which can help you narrow a long list of potential schools down into a short list of schools that you know you love. 

These informal visits can take many different forms depending on the school. At Friends’ Central, for example, we offer open houses as well as scheduled tours for families interested in learning about the school. 

2. Submitting the Application

Once you have narrowed down your list of schools to only those that you would like to attend, you will need to actually submit your application. While some schools may still accept paper application forms, most have transitioned to an online application, which parents can complete at their leisure.

Again, while the specific information requested from the application may vary, you will typically be asked to supply:

  • Your basic contact information: Name, email address, phone number, and mailing address
  • Your child’s personal information: Name, contact information, gender, birthday, ethnicity, and other demographic information
  • Relevant academic information: Your child’s current grade, the grade they are applying for, and information about their current school

You may also be required to pay an application fee. At Friends’ Central, there is an application fee of $50 which is used to cover the costs of evaluating applicants. 

3. Scheduling a Visit and Interview

Once it has been determined that there is, in fact, still space in the grade that your child is applying for, most schools will reach out to schedule a classroom visit and interview. 

This visit is designed to give your child a more in-depth look at what it would be like to be a student at the school, and often involves them sitting in on one or several classes. It may also involve taking some form of assessment; for example, classroom visits at Friends’ Central all end with an assessment of the student’s math skills.

During this visit, it is also not uncommon for parents and students to be interviewed by a member of the school’s admissions team so that they can gain a better understanding of your child’s interests, passions, and how they would fit in with the school’s community. This is also your opportunity to ask the important questions that you will need answered in order to make a decision about your child’s education. 

4. Submitting Official Transcripts, Recommendations, and School Reports

Any private or independent school that you apply to will require that your child’s current school send a copy of their official transcript directly to the admissions office. Beyond this, though, each school may have unique requirements about recommendations and other kinds of reports. If this is at all unclear, you should speak to a member of the admissions team for clarification.

5. Completing Required Testing

In addition to referencing your child’s school transcripts and records, most independent schools will require that your child complete an entrance exam, which will be used to determine what classes your child should be placed into. At Friends’ Central, all applicants to grades 9 through 11 must complete either the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT). Students may also submit results of a WISC V is required. This test must be administered by a licensed psychologist who is certified to administer the WISC V test. 

6. Acceptance

The school will use the information in your child’s application, their official school transcripts, their entrance examination, and their school visit and interview to make a decision about whether or not to accept your child. Some schools are more selective than others and it is fair to ask what a School’s acceptance rate is. Should your child be accepted, you will have the final decision as to whether or not you enroll your child at that school. 

You’re Not Going It Alone

Throughout the application process, it’s important to remember that you can—and should!—ask questions at any point during the application process. Your goal is to make an informed decision about your child’s education, and any school should want to help you with that.

In addition to the digital resources available on the school website, there are many human resources available as well. You should always feel free to reach out to an admissions counselor. After all, they will be your liaison, and even if they can’t answer your question, they can connect you to someone who can.

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