Five Things Families Should Know About the 2015-2016 Boarding School Admission Process: Advice from Two Admission Directors

While the opening of the 2015-2016 school year brings the end to the admission process for new students arriving on campus, it also signals the beginning of the admission and financial aid processes for families and students seeking boarding school admission for the 2016-2017 academic year.

With new families entering the admission process, it’s a good idea to see what a a couple of admission directors believe families should know, and pay attention to, as they prepare to work through the 2015-2016 admission and financial aid processes.

We asked Ben Douglass, director of admission, Saint James School, Hagerstown, MD, and Sara Lynn Leavenworth, director of admission, The Gunnery, Washington, CT for their advice.

You’ll notice some common themes running through the five thoughts from each- know your child, learn the schools, and financial aid. You’ll also find unique insights from each. Mr. Douglass observes that a family might need to file their income taxes early as part of their financial aid application.

Sara Lynn Leavenworth, The Gunnery

Sara Lynn Leavenworth, The Gunnery

Ms. Leavenworth of The Gunnery suggests:

1. Let your child answer questions during your tour and campus visit. Parents, resist the urge to speak for your child.

2. If your child has educational testing, or an IEP (public school students), present the information either before the interview or during the application process. You want to be sure the school you are looking at has the support your child needs to be successful. A school cannot make its best decision without all necessary information.

3. Not all boarding schools are the same and not all boarding schools look like their websites. Do your homework. Visit a few campuses. Ask questions.

4. Parents, don’t listen to what your friends say. Word of mouth is important, but there is a boarding school for every child. The boarding school your friend’s child attends may not be the right one for your child.

5. If you know you will need a significant amount of financial aid, be sure to apply to several schools and be sure to speak with the financial aid director at each school early in the process to communicate your needs. School financial aid budgets are limited. Too many families assume their child will be awarded what is needed only to be disappointed in the spring.

Ben Douglass, Saint James School

Ben Douglass, Saint James School

Mr. Douglass of Saint James School offers:

1. Know your child. Have an honest and realistic understanding of your child’s strengths, weaknesses, personality, passions, phobias, and preferences. With this understanding fully developed, make sure these important aspects of your child come across in the application. For the “best-fit” school, your child’s profile will be exciting and enticing!

Know the schools, their programs, their campus cultures, and what makes each unique. With hundreds of boarding schools in the United States (and even more abroad), each school will present your child with a unique experience.

When you couple knowing your child with knowing the schools, you’ll be in a powerful position to positively affect the course of his/her educational path. I honestly believe that there is a boarding school that fits every child- it is just a matter of making that connection!

2. Much like the college search process, it is best to limit the number of schools that your child applies to. Use your search process to find the best-fit schools, and then limit your applications to the top 8 or so. It is a good idea to have some “reach schools,” some “likely schools,” and some “safety schools” in your application pile.

3. When you narrow your list down to the schools that will receive an application, it’s a great idea for your child to arrange for a shadow day. The best way to really “feel” a school’s culture is to be a part of it– even if it is only for a few hours.

4. Know the schools’ application requirements and deadlines, and, then, meet them. Plan ahead so that you are not trying to squeeze in last minute campus visits and SSAT test sessions into an already busy teenage schedule.

5. Financial aid is a limited resource. If you’re applying for financial aid, meet the stated deadlines! It may require that you complete your taxes earlier than usual.

I like to think of the financial aid process as a job. Approach the process as if you’re being “paid” in financial aid dollars for your hard work; it is much easier to fill out financial aid forms when you are getting “paid” to do so!

Also, understand that financial aid is much different at boarding schools than for colleges, which can receive federal assistance. Financial aid at boarding schools is limited and is often the product of the generosity of alumni and current families to the school’s endowment and/or annual fund.

Finally, be prepared to sacrifice. You may need to hold off on upgrading your car, taking your usual family vacation, or putting on an addition to your house in order to afford boarding school for your child.

  • Cardigan Mountain School

    Thank you for this article!

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Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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