Finding the "Right" Prep School

Finding the "Right" Prep School

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The process of selecting an independent (prep) school can be a positive growth process. With the right frame of mind and the use of abundant and easily accessible resources, the outcome will be successful. There is no doubt that schools want students (and student-athletes) who are aspirational and hard working. The fact that you play for a school or club lacrosse team means that you are goal oriented. As a lacrosse player you will have a passion and a talent that will add another layer of connection and expectation with the school you attend.

Know that, ultimately, the “best” school will be the “right” school for you academically. This is how a successful admissions process is defined.

Let’s go into this discussion with a few basic assumptions. The admissions candidate has at least one compelling reason to begin the search for something more in their educational experience. And, every independent school is a good school…a school that has an academic focus, a capable college office, connection with parents, an inclusive and safe culture, smaller classes and a commitment to socio-economic diversity. School admissions offices want to be partners with you in optimizing a candidate’s chances for success. We are not “gatekeepers.” We are educators.

How does one differentiate schools? This can be a challenge given that many school mission statements appear similar.

Start with your goals. Parents, what do you want for your child? Then frame the discussion. Students, what is the optimal environment for your academic, athletic and personal development? For example, are you an independent learner or do you need more structure and support?

Quantifiable factors in school selection:
Enrollment size
Day or Boarding/Day (and the % of boarding students)
Coed or single-gender
Facilities (not just the lacrosse fields)
Course offerings and programs of distinction
Learning support, if needed
Location or proximity to home
Athletic requirements (multi-sport athlete or specialization)
Art, music, drama offerings
Club offerings

Tuition Cost: It would be easy to dismiss the independent school discussion because of tuition costs. No doubt, every family has to make a decision regarding how to spend their discretionary income…sometimes at a sacrifice of something else. Schools recognize this. Therefore, never let cost deter you from applying. Schools have financial aid officers who are there to help you navigate the process and who reinforce the mission for a socio-economically diverse school. Good admissions candidates who are self-advocates will always have options. Of note, secondary schools do not offer athletic scholarships; financial aid is allocated based on a family’s need. Some schools do offer merit based aid.

The Importance of the Campus Visit: The campus visit will be one of the qualitative parts of the school selection process. A family can start by joining an Open House or Preview Day and get a “gut feeling” for a school. Typically, a campus tour and interview lasts about two hours. Go when school is in session so that you can get a true sense for the school life and culture. Trust that we want your visit(s) to be positive!

Questions to ask schools:
What are the admissions deadlines? Do you have rolling admissions?
What type of student flourishes at your school?
What skills does a student need to have before enrolling?
How would you define a successful experience for your students?
What programs of distinction do you have?
How does the school communicate with parents?
What is the importance of standardized test scores in the admissions process?
Of note, if financial assistance is going to be a factor in the process, bring it up during the school visit. Ask about the financial aid application process.

Finally, the lacrosse (or any other skill or passion) discussion: Because lacrosse is really important to you, request to meet with one of the coaches. At some point, this will be an important factor in the school you ultimately select. Will the coach stay for your years at that school? Is there a tradition of program success or will you be joining an up-and-coming team? What is the philosophy of the JV program? Where have graduates gone and been successful? Ask yourself, what do I want? Do I need to get playing time on the varsity immediately or do I view my lacrosse experience with a growth mindset?

To all, do your research, have an open mind, do not rely on other people’s opinions (remember, every student-athlete has his or her own unique needs and goals), and trust that there will be a positive outcome as the result of your good work.

A prep school experience can be transformational.

Peter Gilbert
Salisbury School