Applying to the Best Prep Schools

Posted by Andrew Jungclaus on 8/21/15 11:00 AM

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Organizing the application process is key!

Every fall, students from all over the world begin the long process of applying to America’s most elite, and best prep schools.  They choose places like Andover, Exeter, Groton, and Lawrenceville – among a host of others – for a wide variety of reasons.  Sometimes it’s to have a “home base” for a student whose family moves around a lot.  Sometimes it’s to open up college opportunities that might not have been as readily available at an original high school.  Regardless of the reason, however, making this decision and submitting the application is a multi-step process.  

Based on my experience working with students in New York and across the country, I’ve narrowed down what I consider the most necessary, actionable steps to take when applying to prep school:

Do a brainstorming session

It’s so important to actually sit down and think about what’s important to you.  Be clear, and when asking yourself about your motivation, don’t let yourself stop at “because I want to” or “because I hate my school.”  Sit with a piece of paper and give yourself twenty minutes or so to begin writing down every reason why you’d like a different high school experience as well as how you hope this new school will be different from other opportunities open to you.  Are you concerned about the level of academic rigor at your current school?  Are you thinking more about diversity of population, campus type, or financial aid?  Even something as mundane as the weather can factor in here.  Be honest with yourself!  The more candid your list of concerns and requirements is, the more logical your application list will be and the more convincing your essays will sound. 

Enlist the help of your support network 

At your current school, you’re going to need countless administrators and teachers on board with your plan.  They’ll be sending so many transcripts, sealing envelopes, and writing strong, heartfelt letters of recommendation that you’ll need a database to keep track.  These are all big asks, and they need to know why this is important to you and not just a whim.  Think about how to have a respectful, honest conversation with a few choice people from your school and plan to sit down with them.  In these conversation you want to be both humble and grateful for all they’ve done for you so far.  Something along the lines of: “I’ve learned so much here, but because I know I want to go to college in X or experience Y, I just want to do everything within my power to make that a reality.”

Contact the prep schools early

It’s even more important with high school admissions than it is for college to make contact with administrators at the schools you’re applying to – both early and often!  It should be easy enough to find the right folks to write to after a quick search of the school’s web page, but you’ll want to get on their radar early.  These applicant pools are smaller than those for college, and it helps to be known (for good reasons!) by admissions counselors.  There are a lot of options here, and some schools will have their own preferred modes of communication, but most usually involve making a call or sending an email to formally request information and an informational interview.  Some schools even require a campus visit and more formal interview where timing can be crucial, so the sooner you’re on top this the better.

Know what standardized tests to take 

This is one more thing you’ll need to look into well ahead of time.  Private high schools in the U.S. often require their own standardized tests for entrance, and being sure of what your ideal school requires before the application process begins will help you to stay on track from the beginning.  In fact, late summer / early fall is the ideal time – before school starts up again and scheduling becomes increasingly difficult -- to begin your SSAT and TOEFL preparation if you know you’ll need them.  So keep track of your schools’ requirements and get your plan together now!

Clearly the application process for the best prep schools in America like Andover, Groton, Hotchkiss, etc. is more demanding than simply deciding that you don’t want to stay at your current institution.  But now is the perfect time to start thinking about the future and getting everything in order.  Give a few of the above exercises a try and see if you end up feeling a bit more in control of your goal!

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our admissions tutors: Time Management for Middle Schoolers, Should I Get Academic Tutoring?, Homework Help: How Do I Write a Good Thesis?. Looking to work with Andrew Jungclaus tutor? Feel free to get in touch! Cambridge Coaching offers private in-person tutoring in New York City and Boston, and online tutoring around the world.

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Tags: middle school, high school