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Mastering the Private School Application Process

So you’re looking at boarding schools, trying to figure out how to make the most of your high school experience. If you’re a student, the private school application and admission process — and the choices of schools out there — can feel challenging. If you’re a parent … well, it’s challenging for you, too!

Like any big project, it’s more manageable, both mentally and logistically, if you break it down into smaller tasks. And if you’ve got a team of experts on your side, offering suggestions every step of the way. Northfield Mount Hermon’s admission team can lift some of the weight off your shoulders. They’ve assembled a ton of advice for students and families that’s helpful no matter what boarding schools you’re looking at.

So let’s dive in: Here are four things you should be thinking about as you navigate the application process. 

The recommendations

You need them from adults in your life who aren’t your parents — your teachers, counselors, coaches. Their insights are a window onto who you are and what you’re capable of. Choose the people you’d like to ask to write on your behalf as early as you possibly can. If you haven’t done it already, do it now! Give them time to think about what they want to say. 

Most boarding schools are looking for recommendations from your current math and English teachers. Ideally, these teachers get to see the real you in school — beyond your test scores. It’s not just about the teacher whose class you aced. It’s more important to find a teacher who can provide a unique insight about you. Think about a class you struggled in at first, but then you turned it around or a class you worked the hardest in despite earning a less-than-perfect grade. Resilience and determination are hugely valuable qualities, and admission officers know they’ll serve you well at a rigorous college-prep boarding school.



The essay

Admission officers use essays to assess your writing skills and your potential. They want to understand the influences that have shaped your life — your values, goals, and passions, your intellectual curiosity. They want to see who you are beyond your transcript and scores, even beyond your recommendations. By trying to understand what’s at your core, they can envision what kind of impact you will have on a school community.

A strong, thoughtful essay can move you up in the competition.

You won’t get admitted to a boarding school on your essay alone, but if you are a “borderline” candidate, a strong, thoughtful essay can move you up in the competition. Likewise, a bad essay can be harmful; it sends the message that you either have weak skills or don’t care enough to do a good job. Form and content are both important. Can you develop your ideas in a clear, organized manner? Can you express your thoughts thoroughly and effectively? Some of the best essays are written about day-to-day things, so don’t worry if your topic feels mundane. Effective essays should tell the reader something about you that they don’t already know. 



The application

Boarding schools choose students as if they are choosing someone to join their “team.”

Your application is how you can showcase your skills and aptitude — how you demonstrate that you’ll be a valuable member of that team. Do some research about each school you apply to. Is there something about yourself that will seem relevant to a particular school?

Remember, your application is a story. People will be investing their time to read it and understand who you are. So do your best to get organized as you begin the process, and then be thorough, thoughtful, and honest as you make your way through it. Do a little at a time. Don’t save it until the last minute! 

If you have questions about your application, contact a teacher or counselor at your current school, or — even better — contact admission counselors at the boarding schools you are applying to. It’s their job to help you.



The interview 

If you are nervous about the interview, that’s a good sign: It means you care about doing well. Every admission counselor at every boarding school understands this. But there’s a lot you can do to get yourself ready for the conversation. 

  • Be ready to smile, make eye contact, and participate in a conversation, whether it’s online or in person. Think of the interview as building a relationship. 

  • Talk about something at the school that excites you. Show your enthusiasm.

  • Show your interest in learning, too. Talk about what educational challenges you’re looking forward to.

  • Say thank you! To the interviewer, to your student tour guides, to anyone at the school whom you meet. Respect and good manners go a long way.