With interviews, essays, tours, and more, private school admissions can seem a little intimidating. But this carefully designed, deeply intentional process gives schools a genuine, holistic understanding of applicants and what they need to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. More importantly, it allows students and families to thoroughly evaluate the private schools they’re considering, too! And that intel can be invaluable when making this weighty decision. Keep reading to learn more about the varied and vital elements of the private school admissions process.
Visits and Tours
Whether a formal part of the admissions process (as they are at Commonwealth School) or not, an applicant’s visit to a private school might involve attending and perhaps even participating in classes, going to all-school events, touring facilities, having lunch, or simply spending time with a student or a faculty member. They’re the perfect opportunity to ask questions and learn more about day-to-day life at the institution.
Even if not required, students (and families) should take advantage of this sneak preview of the private high school experience. And some admissions committees do take note of those students who show consistent and considerable interest in their school—whether by touring, attending an in-person or virtual event, or requesting a viewbook. After all, private schools want to admit students who are enthusiastic about attending!
An interview is part of the application process at most private high schools, and it’s an important way for admissions committees and applicants to connect and get to know each other. Admissions staff members or faculty interviewers will meet with applicants and their families, virtually or in person, to better understand their goals, motivations, and background. Questions might include which subjects applicants enjoy and why, how applicants spend their time away from school, and what they’re looking forward to most in high school. These conversations are designed to give private schools some insight into applicants’ character and to give students a chance to reflect on what attending the school will mean to them.
Among all these disparate pieces of the private school admissions process, there’s the application itself, with its fairly standard biographical information—name, address, current school, siblings, etc.—and perhaps some short-answer questions. (Many Boston-area private schools, including Commonwealth, use a common application tool called Ravenna.) Commonwealth’s application form itself is rather brief, asking applicants to respond to just a few short-answer questions.
As you would with any piece of the admissions puzzle, give your applications the time and attention they deserve. Read directions fully. Respond to short-answer questions thoughtfully. And edit the entire application with fresh eyes to make sure it is clear and free of errors. Asking a parent, older sibling, or teacher to review your work can help.
Writing Assessments/Application Essays
The goal of any application essay—at private schools like Commonwealth and elsewhere—is to give the admissions committee a sense of both the applicant’s personality and writing abilities. How they express themselves and what makes them tick. Prompts might lead applicants to explore challenges they’ve overcome, how they spend their spare time, and what makes them excited to come to school every day.
Commonwealth is unique, too, because, rather than agonizing over essays on their own time, applicants are asked to write during their official day visit with the school, including an analytical essay and a quantitative writing exercise. This mimics the in-class writing experience, giving the admissions committee an authentic sense of a student’s abilities. Overwhelmingly, applicants report this as a more pleasant application essay-writing experience!
Students come to Commonwealth and comparable schools precisely because they crave academic rigor. One of the most consistent predictors of success in academically challenging high school course work is previous academic performance; hence, requiring a transcript as part of the application process. But the admissions committee wants to get a sense of the student’s academic interests as well as their performance. Does the transcript reflect a breadth and depth of intellectual passions? Has the student grown and pursued challenges over time? If grades faltered at any point, have they made progress in improving?
Committees are looking for a genuine academic snapshot of the applicant—their aptitudes, interests, strengths, and even weaknesses. And it can be helpful to remember that private schools can provide the personalized support that allows each student to thrive.
Recommendations help give admissions committees a holistic view of each applicant, and they should be completed by people who can speak to different facets of the student’s interests and disposition as well as academic performance. For example, Commonwealth requires three recommendations from current teachers: one from an English teacher, one from a math teacher, and one from the applicant’s head of school, principal, guidance counselor, or placement counselor.
Standardized Test Scores
Though Commonwealth, like many private schools, made standardized test scores optional in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we strongly encourage them for the current admissions cycle and typically require applicants to submit results of either the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) or the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE). Just one piece of the application puzzle, these scores provide the admissions committee with a standard metric for evaluating applicants.
There you have it: the most important elements of the private school admissions process. Fortunately, most of these application requirements can be uploaded directly into Ravenna, making applying all the more streamlined. And if you have any questions along the way, do not hesitate to reach out to the admissions office. They are as eager to help you through the application process as they are to welcome you to their dynamic campuses.