A Tale of Two Educational Consultants: Private School Admissions Q&A Session

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Originally published at Hayutin & Associates

We recently sat down with Jamie Bakal and Priya Nambiar, two independent educational consultants, to discuss some recent trends in private school admissions in Los Angeles.

HAYUTIN: How has the landscape of admissions changed over the past 5 years?

Jamie Bakal (JB): What changes constantly is the group of schools in which most people are interested. One year, you have a trend toward something more traditional and rigorous, and then a few years later you have a trend toward something more project-based, experiential, or progressive. What admissions officers are looking for now is different than 5 or 10 years ago, in terms of diversity of every kind (e.g. what a family looks like, parent’s careers, socioeconomic status, etc.).

HAYUTIN: Are you seeing more anxiety in the process as a result?

JB: Absolutely, particularly for secondary school.

HAYUTIN: Less so with kindergarten? Where do you see the pressure points?

Priya Nambiar (PN): For kindergarten, we’ve got a younger group of parents. Parenting is different than it was 5 or 10 years ago. At the kindergarten level, we are seeing more parents choose the public and charter school option. The price point for private school is rising every year, and some parents are choosing to put their resources in middle and secondary school if there is a great public elementary option.

HAYUTIN: Do you think families that start in public tend to stay in the public school system?

PN: Some stay; many private schools are opening spaces in 6th grade. While some families may choose to stay in public, there are certainly more options now to transition to private school in 6th grade.

JB: There are still many families who want to give public school a shot. That said, some families figure out early on that they are just not getting what they want, particularly in 4th grade, when class sizes increase.

HAYUTIN: Are there any new trends in the school admissions process in terms of how schools run their tours, interviews, and prospective family events?

PN: Admissions offices choose their best teachers, their best students, and put their best foot forward for open house events, as this is where families can hear about curriculum, activities, and philosophy. It’s important to go on campus for admissions events, but I also recommend that my clients go to campus for non-admissions events so they can see what the parents and students are like on a normal day.

HAYUTIN: How can parents stay involved but not over-involved in the whole process (essays, interviews)?

PN: I feel that especially for the older kids, this is a great way for parents to role-model how to do a large project: organization, staying present, research, reviewing, and really thinking positively about each experience; then, come together as a family. It can be an amazing experience for parents and children to go through together.

HAYUTIN: How should a family decide how many schools to apply to?

JB: Most families defer to me to determine the number of schools to which they will apply, and I always use their public school or a parochial as a backup. Depending on the family and their situation, I usually suggest a family applies to somewhere between 3 and 5 schools. I suggest they compare every private school they are considering to the public option. See a lot of different schools, and if you like it more than your public school, apply.

PN: Boys tend to apply to more schools because there are more single-sex options for girls. I agree with Jamie that if the public option is great, then any additional schools the family applies to should offer something more.

HAYUTIN: Should parents consider any interview preparation for their children?

JB: Almost all of my clients ask for advice on how they can best prepare for the interview. There are lots of blogs out there with different advice about what narrative to create, but I tell my families that the best narrative is the authentic one.

PN: I think the interview is one of the most important parts of the application. In all the other parts, students can get support, but the interview is the one time when students can shine alone in front of the admissions officer. It’s an authentic time for them to show their voice, just like the ISEE essay. I do recommend preparing for the interview so the kids get used to talking about themselves. Many students are not used to talking about themselves…so I do think a little bit of practice would help. Not to develop a perfect narrative or to craft perfect answers, but so they can remember their major activities, interests, and accomplishments and talk about them comfortably.

HAYUTIN: What exercises should families use when talking together about pros and cons of various schools before or after school decisions are released?

PN: I coach my families that before they visit each school, the student should look for three positive things about the school and formulate three questions. I also like the idea of keeping a notebook or Google Doc of pros and cons of each school.

JB: I give my clients a notebook to organize their thoughts throughout the process. I think it’s really useful for parents and kids to see their thoughts in once place.

HAYUTIN: How can parents message to their children who has what say in the final decision about school options and ultimate decisions?

JB: I believe the child’s voice is incredibly important, especially for secondary school. However, I don’t think it should be the child’s decision. Some kids want to attend a particular school because that is where their friends are going, and they don’t have the brain development to fully understand the big picture. On the other hand, some parents only like a school because of the name brand. It’s tricky to navigate.

PN: The child’s opinion is very important, especially as they get older, but it’s the parent who should make the final decision. I think parents should come together as a family, think about it, and then make a final decision with the child’s input.

HAYUTIN: How can parents talk about wait lists and rejections with children?

PN: There is so much that is out of your control with this process…right off the bat, we should talk to students about how this process isn’t just about them and whether they are qualified. Oftentimes, there are really qualified kids who must be waitlisted due to lack of space.

JB: It’s a great opportunity for parents to model patience, calmness, and resiliency. Demonstrate the ability to fail at something and get back up again…use everything as a learning experience.

PN: Well before admissions decisions are released, it’s also important for kids to fall in love with more than one school. I find it really dangerous when families only have one school that they love.

~Q&A hosted by Matthew Hayutin and Courtney Wittner
Hayutin & Associates