How to Stand Out in Your Independent School Applications

Stand Out in Independent School Applications

Independent school applications are lengthy and time consuming. They are also critically important, as they are the main way that schools get to know applicants and make decisions about whether to accept the student to their school or not.

You will likely be competing against hundreds of exceptional candidates, all of whom have the same stellar credentials. So how do you make your application stand out among the crowd?

I have talked with dozens of independent school admissions officers and asked them what they really are looking for in applicants. Here are the top 5 tips they recommend for making your application stand out at each level. 

Elementary Schools

1. Show how you will be an engaged partner with the school.

Schools want families who will be open to giving and receiving feedback, and families who are open to collaboration with the school. Give examples of how you have collaborated and partnered with your children’s school and teachers in the past.

2. Mention specific details that you noticed or liked about the school.

Admissions teams want to see evidence that you have done your homework and know what makes their school unique. Mention details from the school tour, the school’s mission statement, or a conversation with a staff member.

3. Have a clear point of view.

Schools are looking for families who are a good fit with the school’s culture and values. You will be asked what other schools you’re applying to, and admissions teams want to see consistency in your list. If you are applying to a wide range of schools with vastly different philosophies and styles, this could be a red flag, as it makes you seem unfocused and unclear on your priorities. Try to pick a small number of schools with similar values and pedagogies.

4. Focus on who your child is NOW, not who they might be in the future.

Remember that people who post reviews tend to feel very strongly in one direction or another– they usually either really love the school or really hate it. So you probably will not get a super balanced perspective on a school by just reading parent reviews. Look for trends or patterns that appear in multiple reviews rather than one-off experiences from a single disgruntled parent.

5. Express a growth mindset and willingness to keep learning yourself.

You don’t need to know everything right now, but you need to be willing to learn. Talk about how you’re excited to learn and grow alongside your child.

Middle Schools

1. More is not better when it comes to activities and extracurriculars.

Go deep, not wide. You don’t need a laundry list of activities. Instead, focus on a few activities that you are genuinely and authentically interested and involved in. Students who suddenly join 5 new clubs and teams in the year before they apply is a big red flag. Schools are looking for authenticity and will definitely be able to tell if you are doing activities just for your resume.

2. Express interest in getting involved with the school’s offerings in multiple ways.

Schools are looking for students who will engage with their programs, whether that be art, music, theater, sports, or student leadership. Students who are very active in club sports or activities outside of school may not be as attractive to schools since you will presumably spend most of your time with those teams rather than participating in school-sponsored activities. Schools are looking for students who will engage with the school in multiple ways and can balance these varied commitments. That doesn’t mean you have to come in with a long history of being involved in various activities, but you do need to have a growth mindset about trying new things.

3. Demonstrate flexible thinking.

Schools want to see evidence that you are capable of thinking critically and abstractly. Applicants who are very concrete in their thinking can be a red flag. Show a willingness to think outside the box and take multiple perspectives.

4. Be transparent.

Share openly about any accommodations, special needs, or learning differences. In most cases, these will not be a barrier to admission, and the school will appreciate being able to effectively plan and be proactive about supporting you. If you don’t reveal this information, the school will still figure it out in the application process, and then they will be more likely to say no because it looks like you were trying to hide something.

5. Follow directions.

Only submit what’s asked for. The fastest way to annoy an admissions officer is to submit extra or unasked for documents, such as extra letters of recommendations, test scores that were not required, or portfolio components beyond the requirements (if any).

And there you have it! Following these steps will help take your applcations from good to exceptional.

Looking for a complete guide on how to find the perfect fit school and get accepted?

I’ve created a comprehensive online course called School Selection Success. It’s a complete blueprint of everything I teach my clients, condensed into actionable step-by-step video tutorials exclusively for Bay Area parents.

You will learn how to find the best elementary and middles schools that fit your family’s values, and the exact steps to maximize your chances of getting accepted.