We have interviewed some of the most prestigious private schools in Massachusetts to learn the key factors in how they make their admission decisions. Read on to see what your child needs to do to become the best possible candidate.
Private schools typically weigh grades as the main factor in their admission decision. Admissions officers want to see that students consistently challenge themselves, are taking high-level courses, and that these challenges pay off. Some fluctuation in grades from year to year is not a disqualifying factor, but schools would rather see a student who consistently shows an interest in specific subjects and pushes themselves to take the most challenging courses available in these subjects.
Some schools weigh grades more heavily than others, such as Phillips Andover. Although the Andover admissions committee has no minimum grade or score requirements for acceptance, the average Andover student maintained an "A" average at his or her previous school. Pingree ranks the most important factors for admission in the following order: grades, then recommendations, then test scores, and then extracurricular activities. As you can see, to get into a top-notch private school, the expectations for grades are high.
Test scores tend to be the most or second-most valued piece of the application. Private schools want to see that students will be able to express the knowledge that they have gained through their schooling in a standardized format, to be quantitatively compared with their peers. Private schools, including Phillips Andover and Pingree, recommend that students take the test twice, and then the school will accept the best score of each section of the test. Private schools typically recommend students take the test in October and then December, or November and then January, to give the students a break between test sessions and offer them a chance to learn the skills they need to improve their score.
On the SSAT test, Phillips Andover expects students to score in the 93rd percentile, Pingree expects above the 75th percentile, Newton Country Day expects in the 80th percentile or above, Cambridge School of Weston expects between the 80th and 90th percentile, and Brimmer and May expects scores in the 70th percentile or above. Private schools prefer not to see a large spread between test scores, such as a high Math score and a low Verbal score. They want to ensure that their students will be able to manage a rigorous course load without falling behind in any particular subject.
Private schools want to make sure that your child’s admission essay reflects their skill level as well as their knowledge of the topics about which they are writing. Most importantly, private schools, such as Phillips Andover, want to assess your child’s ability to communicate clearly. They also want to make sure that the essay from your child’s ISEE or SSAT test sounds like it comes from the same student -- if the admission essay reads like it was written by a much more advanced student than the ISEE/SSAT test essay, private schools become wary. Phillips Andover also requires a writing sample from the school, so they can compare all of the essays and see what your child’s true abilities are.
Interviews and School Visits
Phillips Andover recommends that students do interviews during the summer before they apply if possible, and even visit schools in sixth and seventh grade. Pingree also appreciates students visiting early on. Private schools take a record of your visits and can tell that your child has a strong interest if they show up early and often. Brimmer and May appreciates when students do their interviews early on, because admission officers are more “fresh” and eager to learn about the applicants. Cambridge School of Weston believes starting in the summer allows students to present their best selves, before they are bogged down by schoolwork in the fall.
Alexandra Berube, M.Ed., is the owner of Boston Tutoring Services, LLC. (www.BostonTutoringServices.com), and is a Massachusetts Certified Teacher. One of her areas of specialization is Private School Admission, including the admission tests (ISEE/SSAT/HSPT). She has extensive experience in curriculum development and differentiating instruction based on the individual needs of students.