In this section, we provide advice on beginning the process of applications including lessons learned from experienced parents and a recommended timeline. In general, start the process early, keep your child’s happiness in mind, and talk with as many people as possible. Overall, it’s nothing to really get worked up about.
Parent Lessons Learned
We interviewed the parents of both private and public school students to more completely understand the applications gauntlet from those who had already been through the process. These parents were our clients at the time and represent a broad range of backgrounds. For example, we talked to a mother who was born and raised in Houston and another who had only recently been transferred to the US by her international company. We talked to the parents of children who are in the top 1% by test scores and others whose children were in special needs schools. Some parents described themselves as extremely religious while others said they preferred to have no religious affiliation at all. Despite these perceived differences and outlooks on life, they still managed to agree on many of the same things.
Here are the top five nuggets of wisdom that these parents provided us:
The Application Form
Most of the private schools in Houston post application forms to each school’s individual website, while a few private schools release paper applications upon request. As with colleges, private schools require an application fee (usually around $100) to be submitted along with the application form. The fee is non-refundable. Depending on the grade to which the student is applying, the application is filled out by the parent/guardian in regards to the student’s information, while the student fills out a questionnaire and/or writes an essay in response to a prompt found on the application. Although the format of the application form varies from school to school, the information required is generally:
Applications will only be reviewed once the student has also submitted the necessary teacher recommendation forms and release forms for transcripts, school records, and health records from the applicant’s previous schools.
Teacher Recommendation Form
Students applying to Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 5 must submit a Teacher Recommendation Form from a current teacher, while students applying to Grades 6 to 12 must submit English and Math Teacher Recommendation Forms. Some private schools require a Counselor/Principal Recommendation Form or a Special Interest Recommendation Form for upper grades. Each teacher recommendation form is confidential and parents and students are not allowed to view the completed form. Teacher Recommendation Forms paint a picture of the applicant’s abilities as a student and as an individual:
The teacher recommendation forms will also provide information regarding the student’s behavioral tendencies in the classroom, such as tardiness, aggression, and study habits. The only portion of the form filled out by the applicant’s parent/guardian is the student’s name and the list of schools to which the student is applying.
All private schools require applicants to submit results from specific standardized tests as part of the application process. The standardized tests are designed to test the ability and knowledge of each student and to demonstrate to the school the applicant’s mastery of the material. Testing normally occurs at the school to which the student is applying. Private schools prefer that testing occur on their grounds, but will approve testing with an outside source with legitimate credentials and a licensed agent proctoring the test.
Students should prepare well for ISEE and HSPT exams as they are scored relative to the peer-testing group; we discuss preparation for these exams in the next section. Conversely, there is very little that students can do to prepare for the OLSAT, WPPSI, and WISC exams, as these are primarily IQ tests and do not measure a student’s previous academic achievements.
ISEE – Independent School Entrance Exam
HSPT – High School Placement Test
OLSAT – Otis-Lennon School Ability Test
WPPSI – Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence
WISC – Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children
Catholic high schools for boys generally require the HSPT and Catholic high schools for girls generally require the ISEE. Other private schools in Houston require the ISEE. For schools that require it, the IQ test that the school selects is based on age.
Transcripts and Records
Applicants must release any and all records to the private schools to which they are applying. These records include official school transcripts, test scores, and health records. Generally, the transcript should reflect the last two academic years as well as the applicant’s current fall semester.
Get to Know the School – Shadowing, Tours, and Open Houses
The application process is an exchange of information between the student, the parents/guardians, and the school. While the application form and the student interview paints a picture of the applicant for the school, events such as “shadowing,” tours, and open houses paint a picture of the school for the student. These opportunities should be seized upon to fully prepare the student to choose which schools to apply.
In the professional world, newly hired employees will “shadow” or follow one of the company’s veteran employees to get a feel for their new job and the job’s environment. The same is true for private schools. Depending on the school, the applicant will “shadow” a faculty member during various stages of the application process to get a glimpse of the school’s environment and operational practices. Generally, parents/guardians are not included in the “shadowing” process. The applicant might also be paired with a volunteer student to be shown around the school. The applicant might observe or participate in a classroom in action, be given a tour of the school’s facilities, meet with other faculty members, and/or be introduced to clubs and organizations hosted by the school.
Tours and Open Houses are also important in determining to which schools a student should apply. The parents/guardians and the applicant will experience the school firsthand and meet with the faculty and administrators who would oversee the applicant’s education. Tours might include focal points such as the school’s classrooms, athletics facilities, libraries, and science labs, much like when a student participates in “shadowing.”
The Student Interview
The ultimate goal of the student interview is for the school to personally see what kind of student the applicant is and what characteristics the applicant might bring to the school. Private schools do not release exact details on the questions asked during student interviews to prevent parents/guardians from conditioning the applicant. However, preparations can be made so that students are ready for any and all questions sent their way (similar to preparing for job interview):
Student Practice interview questions:
Article last updated on March 5, 2014.
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