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School Choice: The Secondary School Search Process

by Beth Coyne, Assistant Head of School

How do you know if your child’s school is the right match to shape a lifetime of learning? You compare your options.

There are 300 boarding schools in the United States and even more day school options. We are fortunate in the Northeast with such a large number of nearby secondary school school options. Competition among applicants to attend independent day and boarding schools can be a factor, but there are many different schools to consider. From the local day options to boarding schools, families can choose to apply to schools based on size, distance, philosophy, and setting. 

Country School students follow a process of research, visit, reflect. 

Step 1: Beginning in late winter/early spring of 7th Grade, determine locations of choice. Remain local or travel regionally? Day school or boarding?

Step 2: Create a list of three-six schools, populated mostly by those that are in a strong admissibility range. Talk to admissions personnel at the schools you are interested in about the profiles of students who do well at their schools so you will know if it is a good fit. 

Step 3: Starting in the fall of 8th Grade, make appointments for tours and interviews. Try to time visits for days that your current school is not in session to minimize absences.

Step 4: Begin the application. Most schools have January or early February application deadlines. Completing the application can be the most time-consuming and laborious step in the process. Applications require general family information, student and parent essays, school transcript, varied recommendations (teachers, administrator, coach/instructor/advisor), and standardized test scores from either the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) or the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam).  

Step 5: Make a decision. Admission decisions are announced on or around March 10. Some schools will do this online or via email, while others stick with USPS. 

Accepted students are given roughly a month to decide whether or not to enroll. Schools invite accepted students for a second visit day. Use this opportunity to help make your final decision. 

A student who is denied admission to a school first and foremost needs support from their family and peers. Know that schools look long and hard at each applicant to determine good fit. In most cases, there are many more good-fits than there are available spots. Admission offices encourage families to call and inquire why the student was denied admission. 

The wait pool is the most complicated of situations. Students in the wait pool must indicate promptly whether or not they wish to remain on the list. Remain positive, let the schools know you are happy that you were not denied and you hope you will be able to move off the waitlist, especially if the school is your first choice. 

Step 6: Make your decision and accept the contract to the school of choice. Then promptly notify the other schools to which you applied and were accepted about your final decision.

Applying to secondary schools can be daunting, but with guidance, the process can also be very special and informative. It also serves as preparation for the college search process in four years’ time!

Join us at The Country School Annual Secondary School Fair on April 23 from 6:30-8 p.m. at The Country School. Over 50 secondary schools will be represented. RSVP