Applying to Private School: A Timeline
Thinking about private school for your child? Finding the right school for your child and getting her or him enrolled can take at least a year. Here is a 12-month timeline to make sure you don’t miss a crucial deadline along the way.
photo: courtesy of Punahou School
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 more than 100 private schools in Hawai‘i. For a quick overview, see our comprehensive guide to Hawai‘i 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. Sixth grade is a major entry point and, 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 full. This is known as rolling admission. Be sure to check with the schools in which you’re interested to find out their major entry points.
Make Some Serious Selections
By September, begin gathering material. Most schools are glad to mail you catalogs, applications and other materials. At this stage, there’s no such thing as doing too much research. Check the schools’ websites, and the site of the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools (hais.org). To help focus your thinking, you can use our “What Are You Looking For?” guide.
Every Saturday from Sept. 12 to Oct. 3, from 9 to 10 a.m., HAIS will host a webinar series that includes a 30-minute presentation followed by a Q&A. Sessions will deal with financial aid, the SSAT admission test, how to use the Standard Application Online, and kindergarten and elementary school admission. For more information, call 973-1540 or visit hais.org.
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 admissions directors is four. 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, Mid-Pacific’s is Dec. 1, Le Jardin Academy’s is Dec. 15 and Punahou’s is often in October. For kindergarten applications, most schools require: 1) teacher references, 2) testing, usually done by the school itself, and 3) an activity session and observation.
In general, fall is the season for schools’ open houses. Some schools may hold virtual open houses this year or require individual time slots. Check with each school to see what it is doing and try to sign up. 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 involve your child if possible.
In addition to open houses, check whether the schools in which you’re interested 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.
If you are aiming for fifth grade or above, your child will probably need to take the Secondary School Admission Test, or SSAT. The test includes math and verbal skills, reading comprehension and a writing sample. Check with specific schools, but your child will likely be required to take the SSAT in the fall.
The SSAT is offering tests at home this summer. You can get information at ssat.org or by calling (609) 683-4440 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern time). Registration is done online, closes three weeks before each test date and costs $144. Late registration (available online only) is open for one week after regular registration closes, and costs $45 more; after that, rush registration is $85 more, and is available until three days before the test date. Walk-in and standby testing options are not offered. Be prepared at least 30 minutes before test time.
If your child does not have much experience with tests such as the SSAT, you might want to provide some kind of practice beforehand. There are numerous preparation options, from the official study guide available at ssat.org to formal tutoring with diagnostic testing. It’s also possible to take the test a year in advance, without sending the scores to a school; check with specific schools about their requirements. Additionally, some schools accept more than one set of SSAT results; again, check with each school.
Mail Your Application
By the end of December or early January, you’ll have completed and mailed your applications (see more information about the Standard Application Online at hais.us). But remember, deadlines range from October (usually for kindergarten) to late February. You’ll want to create your own calendar to keep track of what’s due and when.
Inquire About Financial Aid
It’s easy to get caught up in the application process, but don’t forget to ask about the financial-aid process. Many Hawai‘i private schools will require you to complete SSS (School and Student Services) Financial Aid forms. While the form is the same, schools establish their own due dates, which can be from December to April. Since most financial-aid forms are due before April 15, you’ll need to send a copy of your tax return later. Read more commonly asked questions about financial aid, here.
For families applying to Catholic schools, another source of aid may be the Augustine Educational Foundation. For more on the group, see augustinefoundation.org. Aid applications are available online at the foundation’s website and from all Hawai‘i Catholic school offices in early January. Applications must be returned by the middle of March. There are other aid sources for Catholic school students as well.
After you submit your application forms and perhaps your financial-aid packet, you’ll have a little time to collect supplemental materials, such as transcripts and teacher recommendations. Most schools use a common recommendation form created by HAIS, copies of which are available on the HAIS website. In addition, if your child is an athlete, get a letter from his or her coach. A musician? Then the band leader or music teacher. Your child does volunteer work? Get a letter from the organization. Make it as easy as possible for these people to help you. Give them stamped, self-addressed envelopes. Remember to check with the school to make sure the materials have arrived.
The Interview Process
Virtually all schools will then schedule an interview with your child. Try to remind your child to take the interview seriously, without making him or her too nervous. If your child is applying for sixth grade or above, the school may schedule a writing exercise on the same day as the interview. Although schools take the writing sample seriously, there is no need to hire a tutoring agency to prep your child. Read more interview tips from admissions directors, here.
Many schools like to interview parents as well. Here’s the catch: They won’t call it an interview. If you’re told, for instance, that you can schedule a meeting with the admissions director to discuss the admissions process, by all means do so. If an admissions officer says, “Why don’t we just sit down and talk while your child finishes up the interview or the writing sample?” make no mistake: That’s an interview. Your best strategy is to talk honestly about what you want for your child. Again, remember to relax. You are talking to an admissions director, not a dean of rejection; the person sitting across from you is genuinely interested in your child.
The Waiting Period
Once your application process is complete, the best thing to do is sit back and relax. You’re going to need a little patience. Admissions offices across the state are going through huge stacks of folders and need time to make good decisions.
Around this time, schools make their decisions and send notifications to parents. Even though there is no standard date for schools to mail out acceptances, expect to receive a letter on or around the school’s reply date. If a school’s reply date is April 15, expect to receive a notification on April 15, so don’t drive yourself crazy hanging out at the mailbox.
The Final Decision
If your child is accepted to more than one school (probable if you’ve applied to four or five), now is the time to arrange formal campus visits, if you haven’t already done so. The best is a whole day in which your child can visit a school, sit in on classes and meet other students. This is also a good time to listen to your child about which schools feel most comfortable.
You’re Almost Done
There’s one more step after your child is admitted. You have to say yes—usually in the form of a check for several hundred dollars. You don’t want to send money to one school while still considering others, so it’s best if they all have the same decision day. For most HAIS schools, the common-reply day, as it’s called, is April 15 (sixth through 12th grades) and May 10 (kindergarten through fifth grades), but not all schools honor these deadlines.
As soon as you’ve settled on a school, don’t forget to check if summer school is required for new students. Some schools make it mandatory for all new enrollees; some recommend it, while requiring it for only certain students; and some only encourage it. It can be a good orientation to a new school.
If You’re Wait-Listed
Some students may be placed on a waiting list. Find out whether attending summer school can help their chances. Usually by mid- to late summer, waitlist students are notified of their status. With most schools, waitlists are not continued from year to year.
You Did It!
Celebrate your child’s new place in a private school.
What if you just moved to Hawai‘i or can’t follow this timeline for some other reason? Help is on the way. See below!
It’s never too late!
What happens when you’ve missed the regular deadlines?
So you’ve missed the deadline to apply to a private school. Maybe you’re a military family and you’ve arrived in the Islands after a school’s application deadline. Is all hope lost? Probably not. While some schools adhere to strict deadlines (especially for kindergarten), many schools allow students to apply throughout the year. Some schools have rolling admissions, even accepting enrollment up until school starts, as long as there’s space available. But what should you do if you’ve missed a hard deadline? Contact the school’s admissions office to explain any extenuating circumstances or inquire about open spaces. It can’t hurt to check.
SSAT dates for 2020 and 2021
Aug. 29, 2020
Oct. 3, 2020
Nov. 7, 2020
Dec. 5, 2020
March 13, 2021
May 8, 2021
June 5, 2021
You can get information at ssat.org or by calling (609) 683-4440 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern time). Registration is done online, closes three weeks before each test date and costs $139. Late registration (available online only) is open for one week after regular registration closes, and costs $45 more; after that, rush registration is $85 more, and is available until three days before the test date. Walk-in and standby testing options are not offered.