Guess post written by Linda Talton, founder of School First
Independent school expert Linda Talton answers all our questions about the most recent admissions cycle, which proved to be particularly competitive for high school applicants. What happened, what factors were involved, and how can we prepare to ensure the best outcomes for our students?
Was high school admissions more or less competitive this year?
The 2022-2023 admission season was an incredibly challenging one for families applying to 9th grade for the Fall of 2023. There are a few reasons for this. There was a rise in both the number of applications and the quality of the applicants. Additionally, many families that would have only applied to public schools included independent schools on their list of school options due to their lack of confidence in the public school process and the fear of not getting their top choices through the DOE. The pandemic has also made it very clear that as a result of being well-resourced, independent schools had greater success at keeping students engaged and on track academically, even while learning remotely.
Which types of students did well and got a lot of offers? Which types of students felt marginalized or did poorly in the process?
As in previous admissions cycles, students who did well this year and received multiple offers were extremely well-rounded candidates. These applicants displayed leadership skills and are involved in extracurricular activities that they are passionate about and can speak extensively to. A strong academic record was also a must this season. This is always the case, but because of the high number of applications that each school received, it was even more important that students stand out academically without blemishes or red flags on their transcripts. Teacher recommendations have also played a greater role in the past few years. This is partially due to the fact that students were unable to visit schools in person, and recommendations are a great way to get insight into how students show up in the classroom as well as teacher and peer relationships.
Which schools really emphasize SSAT or ISEE? Did kids with high standardized test scores do better than those without?
About 30 percent of independent schools still require the ISEE or SSAT; for most others, submitting these test scores is “optional.” For the schools that require scores, the tests do matter and can absolutely be an important part of a students admission file. Because of the pandemic, admissions offices are having more conversations about students experiencing anxiety around test taking, and seem to be a bit more forgiving. This is most likely a temporary development in the world of standardized testing and admission placement exams. For the moment, schools seem to be placing even more importance on their in-house assessments (if they have them) for writing and math. Applicants will be in a good place if they have a combination of high test scores and do well on the in-house assessments. If they also have a great interview, they are guaranteed to have several options when decision letters come out. Two out of three of these things need to happen to gain admission to any of the independent schools.
What types of students are you seeing get waitlisted? Do you think there will be a lot of movement from waitlists? Why or why not?
Many more students received waitlist letters this admission season. This was a result of schools receiving a record number of applications. So often, receiving a waitlist letter is not a reflection of an applicant’s ability, but just a matter of simple math. Schools are simply unable to admit all of the applicants who would, all things being equal, be successful at their schools. If your child is on a waitlist, do not hesitate to reach out to the school periodically to find out if there has been movement and to assess the likelihood of your child actually getting admitted. Waitlists do in fact move. However, this admission season there was less movement than usual, leaving many students without a school at the end of the notification period.
What happens if you don’t get into any schools you’re really excited about? What are some next steps when you get denials and/or waitlists only?
If you find yourself in the situation where you have received only waitlists and denial letters, remain in contact with the school where you have been waitlisted. Write a letter to your first choice school to let them know you’re still really excited to attend. Before giving up, wait until they tell you that you have been admitted or that they have closed the waitlist and do not anticipate accepting any more students. New York City has many wonderful independent schools that may not have ended up on the list of schools that you initially applied to, but could still be a really good option for your child. It’s fine to do more research after the notification period has come to an end and find out what other schools out there are still accepting applications. There are often some smaller or less popular (not less good!) schools that will still consider and accept applicants throughout the spring and summer. These schools sometimes end up being the best fit!
What is some advice you would give to currently 7th graders who will apply next year, given this year’s results?
For students entering 7th grade who plan to apply to independent schools, our advice is to begin test prep during the spring of their 7th grade school year. This will allow ample time for test prep over the summer and the first half of 8th grade. They should also focus on putting in their best efforts academically in 7th and 8th grades, since these are the reports that matter most for admissions and will be shared with schools. 8th grade English and Math teachers will be the ones submitting teacher recommendations, so relationships and academic performance in these classes is extremely important. Finally, a robust list of schools is key. Students who applied to many schools, along with the other factors mentioned throughout this article, were the most successful this admission season. Absolutely add your favorite schools to your list, but also add some others that you would still be willing to attend if you were admitted. With a little research, it is highly likely that there are more schools out there that fit this description than you initially imagined. New York City has some of the best independent schools in the country, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong!