Your children have homework, and in the private school test prep and admissions process parents have homework too.
First, you have to research what test the schools require for admission. Most private schools require the ISEE for middle school admission, and the SSAT for high school admission. This can vary from school to school. Some schools will take either test, you need to look on the web sites of the schools you plan to apply to and see what they require. There is also the Catholic High Schools Entrance Exam, which many Catholic school require for high school admission.
In the Boston area, the Catholic high schools often use the ISEE for middle school entry and the HSPT (High School Placement Test or Catholic High Schools Entrance Exam) for high school entry. These schools also use the results of the HSPT to award scholarship money and place students in advanced classes. We often have students currently enrolled in a school come for HSPT prep, so that they can increase their chances of being awarded scholarship money in high school.
Do your homework on test prep programs. Do not go it alone; respect the test! These tests are hard, and the material is well beyond grade level for most students. The timing is also fast, and many good students have trouble pacing themselves when they take these tests. Test prep can make the difference between success and failure in this process.
A good test prep program will have tutors with years of experience teaching the test material, and the techniques. A program that just teaches the tricks of the test, or how to guess is not a quality program. Look for programs that have their own curriculum to teach the test material. Most of the test prep books on the market are incomplete, or provide limited material. Ask about success rate and average scores for students who have gone through the program. It is shocking how many test prep programs do not track their results. If they cannot provide you results and reference, then they have something to hide.
Once you have the test prep sorted out, you need to hone your list of schools. We recommend our clients apply to no more than 5 schools, and at least 3 schools. The schools should not all be stretch schools for your child. Think about the impact on their self esteem if they get 3 rejection letters. You should always have a safety school in the mix, so that your child can feel good about being accepted to at least one of their target schools.
Make a list of all the things you want in a school, and use this list to help you choose your schools. Think of this exercise as analogous to when you bought your house. You likely had a list of must haves (neighborhood, price range, number of bedrooms, etc.) and a list of like to haves (central air, modern kitchen and bathrooms, landscaped yard, pool, etc.). Now narrow down your list based on which schools have the must haves, and which schools have the like to haves. There is no perfect school, just like there is no perfect house, so you will have to make trade offs as you go through the process.
Next, research the schools by spending several hours on their web sites taking copious notes, and then by visiting the schools and talking to parents and students. I suggest that families pick an event that is open to the public at these schools (a sporting event or a concert or play) and attend the event to get a sense of the school “unscripted”.
Open houses at private schools are sales presentations, and while they are very valuable in helping families learn about the school, they are scripted events with an agenda. Visiting the school when it is not being showcased for the public is a better way to get a sense of what it is really like to be a student at the school. I suggest families listen to how parents, students, teachers and staff interact with one another at these events, to get a true sense for the culture of the school. It can be very eye opening to visit this way, and it is a very different experience from the open house.
Finally, talk to as many people associated with the school as possible (parents, students, teachers, staff, alumni, etc.) to find out what they like (and do not like) about the school. Ask them what is special about the school, and what they wish they could change. Find out what kind of student is a good fit for the school. Ask them why they chose to be associated with the school. Then take all this feedback, which can be overwhelming, and sort it based on what is valuable to your family.
If you do your homework, you will be rewarded!
Boston ISEE Prep
www.bostoniseeprep.com - Test Prep for the ISEE & Latin School Exam
Boston Tutoring Center
www.bostontutoringcenter.com - Tutoring Grades K-12
Boston Private School Search
www.bostonprivateschoolsearch.com - Your Resource for Private School Admissions
Follow my Blog - http://privateschoolguru.com/blog/