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• Most schools advise parents to start at least a year in advance. By August, start a list of potential schools for the next school year. Off the top of your head, you might be able to come up with three or four schools. But there are 123 private schools in Hawaii. For a quick overview, see our comprehensive guide to Hawaii private schools.
• If you’re really planning ahead, you should know there are certain windows of opportunity in the private-school application process of which you’ll want to take advantage. Kindergarten is obviously a time when schools take in a lot of new students. Not everyone knows that many schools often add students in the fourth grade, an excellent option, because, at that age, your child does not have to take the Secondary School Admission Test. Seventh grade used to be a major entry point. It still is. However, with the growth of the middle-school concept, sixth grade has become a time when schools add significant numbers of students. If you’re interested in high school, ninth grade is the easiest time to enter. However, many independent schools take students throughout the year, at any grade level, as long as the school’s classes are not too full. This is known as rolling admission.
• By September, begin gathering materials. Most schools are glad to mail you catalogs, applications and other materials. At this stage, you can’t do too much research. Check the schools’ Web sites, and the site of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (www.hais.org). To help focus your thinking, you can use our “What are you looking for?” guide.
• One way to take a look at many private schools at the same time is to attend one of the HAIS School Fairs. The first two fairs are for kindergarten through twelfth grade. The first is on Sept. 9 at the Pearl Country Club (98-535 Kaonohi St.) and the second is on Sept. 17 at the Koolau Country Club (45-550 Kionale Road). Both events start at 6:30 p.m. The final fair includes preschool through 12th grade, on Oct. 4 at 1 p.m., and is located at Kapiolani Community College. For more information, call 973-1540 or visit www.hais.org.
• By October, you should have narrowed your list of prospective schools. To how many should you apply? The consensus of most experts is five. That should leave you with plenty of choices when the acceptance letters come in.
• With your short list, you can start looking into specific school admissions and financial-aid requirements. Don’t wait too long, especially if you are interested in kindergarten. Some schools have early kindergarten application deadlines. For instance, Punahou’s is Oct. 15, Iolani’s, Oct. 30. For kindergarten applications, most schools require: 1) teacher references, 2) testing, usually done by the school itself, and 3) an activity session and observation.