Applying to Private School

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The quest to find the right school for your child and get her or him enrolled can take at least a year. We’ve developed a 12-month timeline to assist you every step of the way.

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

August: Start Your Search

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 124 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 is a major entry point. 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.   

September: Make Some Serious Selections

By September, begin gathering material. 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 ( 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 three HAIS School Fairs. The first and last are for preschool through 12th grade, and will be held on Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Japanese Cultural Center and on Oct. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Koolau Golf Club in Kāneohe. The other fair is for prospective students from kindergarten through 12th grade. It will be held on Sept. 22, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., at the Pearl Country Club. For more information, call 973-1540 or visit

Punahou School

Photo: Courtesy of Punahou School

October: Take a School Tour

By October, you should have narrowed your list of prospective schools. To how many should you apply? The consensus of most admission directors 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.

For older students, October is the season for open houses (some schools extend their open houses until November). Try to attend them all. You’ll get lots of advice from other people, but, remember, you want to know whether a school fits your child, not someone else’s. There’s no substitute for firsthand knowledge, so go, and take your child if possible.

In addition to open houses, check whether the schools you’re interested in allow prospective students to spend a day on campus. Some schools don’t give this option until a student is admitted, but it never hurts to ask.