This year-long private school admissions timeline will guide you through everything families need to do and when they need to do it, from finding the perfect school(s) to enrolling.
Tours, interviews, essays, and more: applying to private schools is an involved process. But with a little forethought, and the admissions timeline below, families can navigate it with ease. Beginning your private school search and admissions process one year in advance of enrollment—typically by August of the year before matriculating—is advisable. This protracted timeline will give you ample opportunities to learn about the private schools that interest you and ample time to complete applications thoroughly and thoughtfully.
Keep reading for a month-by-month breakdown of what applicants and their families need to do and when they need to do it.
August (one year before enrolling)
Admissions tip: Cast a wide net. The benefit of starting your private school search in August (or earlier) is that you have time to thoroughly explore and research your options—and to narrow them down later.
- Start by brainstorming your wants and needs in a private school: location, a particular music or athletic program, day vs. boarding school, etc. can all be effective filters. That being said, while you may have some nonnegotiables, try to keep an open mind at this stage of your search to get a sense of the full breadth of the schools and possibilities available to you.
- Begin researching schools. A simple Google search can be surprisingly fruitful; e.g., “private schools near me,” “best STEM high schools in [state],” etc. You might use websites such as Private School Review and Niche as jumping-off points as well.
- If possible, talk to people in your network who have private school experience: alumni/ae, current parents or students, those who work or have worked in a private school, even friends of friends! Some helpful questions at this stage might include:
- What was the most helpful in your private school search?
- What academic/intellectual, interpersonal, extracurricular, etc. criteria did you consider?
- What do you wish you had known before starting?
- When did your private school search timeline begin?
- What was the search and application process like?
- Request information from the schools that pique your interest (and perhaps even some that don’t!) to explore your options and collect data points you can compare.
- Familiarize yourself with the experiences that private schools offer. Videos, social media, student publications, and blogs will immerse you in the life of a school.
Admissions tip: Try to end this month with a “short list” of schools—those you’re interested in applying to and want to investigate thoroughly. Remember, though, that there’s no magic number of schools to apply to!
- Register for standardized admissions tests, if necessary, including the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test) or ISEE (Independent School Entrance Examination). These tests are often administered at local independent schools—in fact, Commonwealth offers the SSAT—providing yet another opportunity to interact with private schools in your area. While the pandemic led some private schools to temporarily become test optional, it can be helpful to take an exam in the event one of your top schools requires it. You can also control which schools see your scores (more below).
- Make an application calendar and to-do list so you never miss a step or deadline. Note, most private school application deadlines fall in January or February of the year you wish to enroll.
- Keep track of your observations as you get to know each private school better. These notes can be invaluable if you find yourself trying to choose between two (or more) acceptances later in the admissions process. (Might we suggest a spreadsheet where you track each school, their application deadlines, admissions point of contact, and other application requirements?)
Admissions tip: Focusing on your short list of schools, this is the perfect time to take advantage of every opportunity that will allow you to develop an accurate sense of what it’s like to be a student there, from admission events to virtual visits.
- Attend admissions events, whether they are hosted by individual schools or larger fairs held in your area:
- Information sessions and open houses: Prioritize attending open houses and information sessions for the institutions on your short list. (You should be able to find upcoming admissions events on school websites.) These events might include panels with current students, teachers, parents, and admissions representatives; sample classes; and Q&A sessions. And, with the proliferation of virtual events, it’s easier than ever to attend at least one event for every school that interests you.
- Collaborative events: Another pandemic adaptation was the advent of the collaborative virtual admissions event. Commonwealth, for example, has joined with eighteen other local institutions to form the Boston Independent School Collaborative, which offers virtual information sessions that guide families through the admissions process.
- Admissions fairs: Though there are far fewer in-person school fairs than in pre-COVID times, you may find lists of fairs on websites like Private School Review; through regional organizations, like the Association of Independent Schools of New England (AISNE); and with simple online searches (try looking for “private school admissions fairs near me”).
- Visit schools, in person or virtually:
- Virtual tours: The now-ubiquitous virtual tour will give you a sneak preview of life inside a private school. They may not capture the full personality of an institution—even 360-degree tours can seem a little flat compared to the real thing. But they’re a low-impact, low-pressure, and low(no!)-cost way to experience a school.
- In-person tours: Prioritize visiting your top choices, and rest assured that schools have reimagined the visit experience to ensure it’s safe and comfortable for all.
- Take any required standardized tests. You can designate which schools will receive your SSAT or ISEE scores when you register for the tests, and you can elect to send scores to additional schools later, too. You’re welcome to take either test more than once. Testing in October (or November) gives you ample time to decide whether retesting in December or January makes sense as well. Just be sure to register at least three weeks in advance of your desired test date to avoid late registration fees.
Admissions tip: By now you should have a largely final list of schools to apply to. This is the time to begin checking off those application requirements in earnest, keeping in mind what admissions committees want to see.
- Draft application essays, if necessary. Schools will vary in their particular prompts and short-answer questions, but they all hope to glean insights into students’ motivations, background, and goals in attending their institution. Of note, applicants to Commonwealth School complete their essays live during their post-application day visit, which more closely resembles the classroom writing experience.
- Fill out the application form, taking care to complete each section carefully. You might also share the application form and final essay drafts with a trusted editor who can review them with a fresh set of eyes.
- Start financial aid applications, including gathering any necessary tax information from the past two years.
- Reach out to possible recommendation writers, typically core subject teachers. (Commonwealth asks for recommendations from an English teacher, a math teacher, and a school administrator, such as the head of school, principal, guidance counselor, or placement counselor.) Be sure to give them a timeline and general specifications about how/where to submit the recommendation.
Admissions tip: The end of the year can be a harried time for students and families, but following the steps on this timeline will keep your private school applications on track.
- Request transcripts from your current school. If the schools you’re applying to use the Ravenna platform for their application, you can complete and submit to your current school one transcript request form for multiple schools. They’ll send them directly to the private schools you’re applying to.
- Participate in school visits or interview days, if relevant. At Commonwealth, the in-person visit day, conducted after students submit their application, is a critical component of the admissions process, allowing students to preview what their future here might look like and allowing admissions officers to get a genuine sense of their personality and passions.
Admissions tip: All of your research and planning has come to this! Most private school application deadlines fall in January and February, though some schools have rolling deadlines, and others may consider applicants on a case-by-case basis.
- Apply! If you haven’t already, it’s time to send in those carefully crafted applications and supplemental materials—transcripts, recommendations, writing samples, etc.—by their respective deadlines. Keep in mind that application forms and financial aid forms may have different deadlines as well. Many schools, including Commonwealth, use the application service Ravenna, while others might use the SSAT’s Standard Application Online (SAO) or other products. Confirm with each school you’re considering what their application requirements are. Commonwealth’s admissions deadline, incidentally, is February 1 for domestic applicants and January 1 for international applicants.
- Send standardized test scores to schools, if you haven’t elected to do so already. Both the SSAT and ISEE allow you to send scores electronically to any school you wish, including scores from specific test sittings, if you took them more than once. Use school codes to make sending standardized test scores easier. Commonwealth’s SSAT school code is 2542; ISEE, 220222.
- Send a note of thanks to anyone who has helped you on your admissions journey thus far, such as recommendation writers, interviewers, and admissions representatives (a thank you is certainly not required but always appreciated).
- Follow up with recommendation writers, if needed.
- Continue attending open houses or other admissions events offered by the schools on your short list. For example, Commonwealth has hosted fun and festive game nights for prospective students in December and January!
Admissions tip: Make sure that each school you’ve applied to has received all elements of your application.
- Finish applications for financial aid, if relevant, using the previous years’ tax forms.
- Submit any applications with February or rolling deadlines. Schools that use Ravenna allow you to check your account to ensure that each school you’ve applied to has received everything they need. You can always follow up with the school’s admissions team with any questions about outstanding application items.
Admissions tip: Private school admissions teams are poring over your applications, and most will release their decisions mid-month. In the interim, pay attention to any correspondence you may receive from a school about when and how they release decisions, making sure you know your login information to any application portal (to Ravenna, for example).
- Prepare for admissions and financial aid decisions, which are usually released around March 10. Do you already have a sense of where you will go if accepted or are you relying on another visit? If not, now is the time to give serious thought to this question.
- Attend revisit events, which allow you to experience the schools on your list with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. They’re also a great time to start connecting with possible future classmates.
- If you’ve been waitlisted, complete any requested next steps; these are usually shared along with the waitlist decision. And you can always follow up with the admissions team if you need clarity.
Admissions tip: If you’ve known from the outset which school you want to attend and you now have an acceptance in hand, congratulations—you can complete the necessary enrollment steps and relax! Many families, however, find themselves deciding between a couple acceptances or navigating waitlists. In any event, early April is for considering your options and making thoughtful decisions based on all the work and research you’ve done thus far.
- Reflect on your options, referring to notes and research materials as needed.
- Choose the school that’s the right fit for you and your family. Accept their offer of admission, complete enrollment forms, and send in your deposit. Most New England private schools will have a decision date, usually around mid-April.
- Complete any needed steps in the financial aid process.
Admissions tip: Regardless of where you enroll, you should be proud of reaching the end of the private school admissions timeline and all the work that preceded it!
- Complete course registration. Now is the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with your new school’s academic catalog and curriculum, particularly any courses just for first-year students.
- Attend events for new students and parents. Distinct from orientation, these events foster connections with the entering class and allow you to see the school as a member of their community. For example, at Commonwealth, our New Parent Gathering gives families a chance to get to know each other as well as the faculty and staff who will soon be guiding their children, while New Student Day allows students to meet their future peers (over cupcakes, of course) and some of the key faculty and staff members they’ll be working with in the year ahead. Like many private schools, Commonwealth also administers placement tests during these events to determine the math and language classes students will be taking in the fall.
- Determine summer reading recommendations or requirements. Commonwealth students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to recommend books perfect for high school students' summer enjoyment, which are then curated by our librarian. Recent book recommendations for rising ninth graders include In the Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez), Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen), The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Díaz), Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett), Gun Island (Amitav Ghosh), and The Saskiad (Brian Hall).
Admissions tip: Enjoy their summer! Some students take part in academic enrichment activities that might help them prepare for the school work ahead, but these are typically not required. Students should spend the months before enrolling engaged in the activities that bring them joy and fulfillment.
- Complete back-to-school forms and other requirements, such as proof of recent physicals.
- Attend new student orientation, often several days filled with fun and informative activities designed to empower students for the year ahead. Commonwealth’s new student orientation typically includes a scavenger hunt and ice cream social; practical sessions with our Dean of Students and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and tours of our building with current student guides.
- Get excited for the academic adventure that awaits...
Regardless of where you are in this private school admissions timeline, don’t hesitate to ask questions! Every student and family has unique needs, and admissions teams are happy to help and provide individualized guidance.