The private school admissions process typically starts about a year in advance of enrollment. Schools hold open houses in the fall, when parents and potential students can visit the campus and learn about the programs offered. Application deadlines vary, but most are due in December or January, and acceptance letters are typically mailed in March for the September semester.
So, how does the application process work? Depending on the school, applicants may be required to fill out forms or write essays, while others may require formal interviews or observation sessions. Performing arts schools often require an audition, either live or prerecorded, and all schools will ask for transcripts and other scholastic performance records.
At the elementary school level, the student will typically be asked to visit for an assessment with teachers and administrators, who will study the child's academic skills as well as his or her social interactions with others.
Though private schools are largely conflicted on the issue of standardized testing, many schools require students to take one of two entrance tests. These include the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) and Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE), both of which test a variety of subjects and academic skills [source: National Association of Independent Schools].
In some areas, private school acceptance rates are astronomically low. Los Angeles private schools, for instance, have an acceptance rate of just 37 percent, while in Manhattan, some schools accept as few as 4 percent of applicants [sources: Rivera, Green].
Fortunately, most schools aren't nearly this difficult to get into. If your child isn't accepted into your first choice private school, there's a good chance it isn't your fault. Many private schools work to achieve a diverse and balanced student body in terms of gender, race, socioeconomic status and a host of other non-academic factors. This means that your female child may be denied admission simply because too many girls have already been accepted for that year. Admission preference is also often given to legacies, donors or to children who have siblings already attending the school [source: Rivera].
Private school administrators urge parents to treat the private school admissions process as a two-way street. Instead of tailoring your application and interviews to fit what you think the school wants, be honest about your child and his or her interests, skills and abilities. You're much more likely to find a school that's best for your child this way. And after all, isn't that the point of this whole process?