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.
Applying to private schools
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 ( 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 the HAIS Education Fair. The fair is for prospective students from preschool through 12th grade. The fair will be Saturday, Sept. 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. It will include breakout sessions on applying to independent schools and financing your child’s education. For more information, call (808) 973-1540 or visit



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 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, Le Jardin Academy’s is Dec. 15, Mid-Pacific’s is 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.


In general, fall is the season for schools’ open houses. Check with each school to find out specific dates and try to attend. 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 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.



Test Time

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.


SSAT tests are administered at Hanalani, Hawai‘i Baptist Academy, ‘Iolani, Island Pacific Academy, Le Jardin Academy, Maryknoll, Punahou, Saint Louis, St. Andrew’s Priory, and Trinity Lutheran of Wahiawā on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy on the Big Island.


You can get information at 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. Arrive 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 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 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 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.



Finishing Touches

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?

SCalendaro 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? In this economy, probably not. While some schools adhere to strict deadlines, many schools allow students to apply throughout the year.


Navy Hale Keiki School has a rolling admissions process. Parents can call the admissions office to talk about timelines for applications. Mālamalama Waldorf School accepts 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.


“There are many times that current applicants do not complete the application and enrollment process, which allows room for others to submit a late application,” says Jennifer Ayala, director of operations at Waolani Judd Nazarene School. The difficulty of creating an entire class from scratch often makes for strict kindergarten deadlines, but other classes may be still available. “We are reasonably flexible and will consider most extenuating circumstances, as long as we have space,” says Hongwanji Misson School Vice Principal Teddi Yagi.


It can’t hurt to check with the school’s admissions office.


SSAT dates for 2019 and 2020

  • Oct. 19, 2019

  • SSAT deadlines

    Nov. 16, 2019

  • Dec. 14, 2019

  • Jan. 4, 2020

  • Feb. 8, 2020

  • March 7, 2020

  • April 25, 2020

  • June 13, 2020



You can get information at 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.