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Better Late Than Never? How to Tackle a Late-Stage Independent School Search

COVID-19 introduced a number of challenges for our educational system last spring. Parents found themselves thrust into position as the guiding force for their children’s daily educational activities and engagement, a role that many felt under-qualified to manage. While some parents who had never considered nor trained to become homeschoolers welcomed this role because it gave them a front row seat into their children’s classrooms, for many parents (and students), it was an operational nightmare –one that many fear is about to repeat itself again in the fall of 2020.

Concerned that their children may have not learned enough from the online “adventure” of the spring, some parents are considering alternatives for the fall, including homeschooling, online schools, charter schools or, in some cases, independent (private) schools, as those institutions often have more flexibility in how they approach education and instruction as noted in a recent article in the New York Times

If you are considering a move to an independent school for the coming school year, it may seem that you are too late to begin the process; however, some schools will consider late applications. As an educational consultant who works with families in search of K-12 options for their children, I encourage parents to be thoughtful and consider the needs of the whole student and family whenever they’re considering changing schools, especially at this relatively late hour. 

Here are some of the questions you may be asking yourself:

Will my child need to take the SSAT and/or ISEE? 

The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) and Independent School Entrance Examination (ISSE) are standardized tests often required by independent schools. However, because of the testing disruptions caused by Covid-19, some schools are waiving their testing requirements for incoming applicants or will use school-based testing instead. If the schools you are interested in do require or recommend testing, both agencies are offering at home options and the SSAT will be able to connect you with a flex test provider who can offer the test in a safe, socially distant format.

Good to Know… The SSAT can serve as a helpful, objective tool for parents to have as they learn more about their student’s learning, even if they wind up not submitting the results to any schools.

Why do some independent schools have open spots for students at this time of year? 

In any given year, schools may find themselves with a few openings late in the process as families move for a job or decide to change education plans. And this year, many schools find themselves more willing to accommodate late applicants due to budget shortfalls. With these changes, some schools have openings and may be seeking to balance classrooms in terms of gender, race, cognitive abilities, and personality types before the start of the school year.

Good to Know… While there are traditionally openings in “expansion years” (when the size of the class grows) like the start of a new division (typically kindergarten, 6th and 9th grades), there are almost always some openings in other grades and it is worth the call to see if a school might consider a late application.

Can I afford private school tuition? 

Many families have faced job loss, furloughs, or pay cuts as a result of the challenges brought by COVID-19. Some schools have acknowledged these challenges by increasing financial aid awards to families and offering flexibility with payment plans. Establish a budget to see what your family could afford, and see if the school has a plan that meets your needs.

Good to Know… The admissions office at every independent school has a financial aid specialist who will be glad to answer your questions and concerns. Simply asking the question will not be held against you in the admissions process or the awarding of aid.

If I find a school with a spot at this late date, should I just grab it?

One independent school does not fit all: just because a school is willing to accept your student and still has space does not mean that it is the right school fit for your child. You should still approach the search – whether you are early, late or right on time – with the student at the center, seeking a ‘just right’ fit for your family.

Good to Know… Even though you may feel rushed to complete the application process quickly, do not miss the chance to do a deep dive into what each school has to offer and how well those opportunities suit your whole student. You may find the right school requires waiting – and might be worth the wait! 


Certified Educational Planner Theodra Washington of the Metropolitan Educational Consulting Group has over twenty years of experience working with the independent school admission process including five as the Associate Director of Lower and Middle School Admission at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC.


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