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Private School Applications: What You Need to Know

Private School Applications: What You Need to Know

The private school application process can be challenging, so we’ve simplified the steps.

Applying to private school in New York City can be an arduous process. Parents need to be available to take their kid on tours and help navigate the multi-faceted journey. That said, the rewards are immense—a hard-won acceptance at a prestigious institution can brighten any child’s future. We outlined the process which might be worth beginning as soon as this spring.

How to Research Private Schools

Emily Glickman, an educational consultant in NYC who runs Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, recommends families start their private school admissions-research 1½ years before the student will start private school. In addition to online research (on sites like and polling friends and family for recommendations, it’s important to see the school firsthand—which these days might be online or in-person. Keeping track of deadlines and dates is important—and many tutors recommend parents seek the advice of a professional guidance counselor and/or closely follow an admissions-process calendar.

The Private School Application Process

In addition to an online application, most private schools will require a student- and/or parent-written essay (depending on the age of the student), an interview with the student and parents, school records/transcripts, teacher recommendations, and a portfolio or footage of creative and extracurricular achievements. Most schools also require Education Records Bureau test scores. The complete application is typically due in January or February for the following school year, depending on the school.

Private School Application Essay

While the essay is not as crucial as it is on college admissions, it should be a substantial piece of writing clearly written by the student, not the parent (unless the school asks for a parent essay). Most applications will provide a list of prompts, such as Who is the person you most admire? “Helping your child brainstorm which topic to write about is a great way for you to be involved without heavily editing or actually writing the essay,” according to Kate Fisher, a Noodle Pros essay expert. Glickman suggests kids work on their essays during the summer, so it doesn’t interfere with schoolwork.

Private School Interview

Most schools will meet with the parent(s) and child at some point during the admission process. Make sure you know what to expect prior to the meeting, especially for young children, so you will be able to tell your child about the process. Child visits might be in a small group or 1-on-1 with an admissions officer. Some schools require children to separate from their parents, and students applying to older grades are often asked to visit with the current class during the school day.

Private School Entrance Exam

For pre-K to first grade, NYC private schools do not require a written test. For second through fourth grades, the test given by the ERB is now called the Independent School Entrance Exam Primary. For fifth grade and higher, the ERB test is known merely as the ISEE. The ISEE (and ISEE Primary) measure verbal and quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, mathematics, and writing skills. Most private schools now also accept another test, the Secondary School Admission Test, put out by a competing company. The SSAT is administered on three levels (elementary, middle, and upper).

Private School Tuition

If private school tuition is beyond your means, there are still several ways to make it work. You can apply for financial aid or scholarships—many schools offer aid regardless of the family’s income. There are also loans and payment services that can help you make the leap. Most experts advise parents to begin the financial aid application process as soon as possible. Private schools generally render their bills in early summer and late fall for payment within 30 days.

Offer Letters & Acceptance

Letters of acceptance typically arrive in March (schools with rolling admissions might notify you earlier.) It’s important to keep in mind that private schools are not required to accept any percentage of applicants, nor give a reason for rejection. If you were rejected from all the schools to which you applied, it might be worth looking at some others with rolling admissions that are still open.

If you were waitlisted, you will be notified of acceptance in April—after the school finds out who is coming. It might make sense to accept one of the other offers you have, although if the school where you were waitlisted offers you a place, you will forfeit the deposit already paid to the school you were not waitlisted at.

The good news is that at this point, the long process will thankfully be over and hopefully your family will be thrilled about your child’s new school.

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Shana Liebman


Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMP. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York MagazineSalon, and Travel & Leisure—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.

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