Applying to Private School: The Timeline

Getting kids enrolled in a private school can take at least a year. Here’s a timeline to ensure you don’t miss a crucial deadline along the way.



Start Your Search

→ Most schools advise parents to start at least a year in advance. Summer is the perfect time to come up with a list of potential schools for consideration. 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. To explore them, use the “Find a School” search feature on the site of the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools and our guide to Hawai‘i private schools.


→ If you’re really planning ahead, you should know about the windows of opportunity in the private-school application process. Kindergarten is obviously a time when schools accept many 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. 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

→ In early fall, begin compiling a list of important admissions dates and deadlines, which can vary greatly between schools and even by grade level. Check the schools’ websites and To help focus your thinking, you can use our “What Are You Looking For?” guide.


→ In general, fall is the season for school open houses. The HAIS website is a good starting point for exploring open houses, but be sure to sign up on each school’s website to secure a spot. You’ll get lots of advice from other people, but remember, you are searching for a school that matches your child’s learning style and aligns with your family values. 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, and perhaps families, to tour their campuses and classrooms, or spend a day on campus. Some schools don’t off er this until a student is admitted, but it never hurts to ask.


→ To connect with a variety of schools in one place, come to the free HAIS Education Fair on Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. With more than 40 private schools represented, the fair gives families the opportunity to meet with admissions teams and attend informational sessions on topics including financial aid and testing. For more information, visit


→ By late fall, you should have narrowed your list of prospective schools. You may be asking yourself, “how many should I apply to?” The consensus among admissions directors is five so that even if your child doesn’t get into all of them, you’ll still have a variety of choices before you.


→ With your shortlist, you can start looking into specific school admissions and financial aid requirements. Don’t wait too long, especially if you are interested in kindergarten, since application deadlines can be early. For most grades, schools will require: 1) teacher references, 2) testing, usually done by the school itself, and 3) an activity session and observation or individual student interview.


Test Time

→ If your child is applying for fifth grade or above, he or she will probably need to take the Secondary School Admission Test, or SSAT. The test includes sections for math and verbal skills, reading comprehension and a writing sample. Check with specific schools to see if your child needs to take the SSAT in the fall.


→ If your child does not have much experience with tests such as the SSAT, you might want to provide some kind of practice beforehand and review the offi cial study guide available at Some schools accept more than one set of SSAT results; again, check with each school.


Submit Your Application

→ Keep an eye on application deadlines. Remember, deadlines range from October to late February. You’ll want to create your own calendar to keep track of what’s due and when. Most admissions officers are happy to answer questions at any time throughout the process, especially if the school you are applying to uses a specific platform for its application.



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 too. Many Hawai‘i private schools will require you to complete a formal financial aid application administered by a third-party provider. The forms, due dates and tax return requirements may diff er among schools, so be sure to verify requirements with each school. Read more commonly asked questions about financial aid.


→ For families applying to Catholic schools, another source of aid may be the Augustine Educational Foundation. For more on the group, see Aid applications will be available in early January online at the foundation’s website and at all Hawai‘i Catholic school offices. Applications must be returned by the middle of March. There are other aid sources for Catholic school students as well.


→ After you submit your admission application forms and perhaps your fi nancial-aid application, be sure to keep track of when the schools require supplemental application information such as school transcripts, teacher reference forms and current year report cards. Some schools will allow additional extracurricular forms from your child’s coaches, volunteer coordinators or other organizational leaders. It is best to check with the schools as to what forms they will accept and in what format (online, paper, etc.).


The Interview Process

→ Almost all schools will then schedule an interview or activity session with your child. The intended outcome is that the school sees your child’s authentic self. 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 samples seriously, there is no need to hire a tutoring agency to prep your child. Read more interview tips from admissions directors.


→ Many schools incorporate parent interviews as part of their admissions process, although they may not label them as such. For example, if you are offered a meeting with the admissions director to discuss the admissions process, you may consider treating it as an interview. Similarly, if an admissions officer suggests having a separate conversation while your child completes their interview or writing sample, that’s an interview. Recognizing these opportunities allows you the space to share what your child is like while also asking questions about the school and deciding if it meets the needs of your child and family. Please know that the admissions director is genuinely interested in learning about your child and his or her potential. The person sitting across from you is not a “dean of rejection” but rather someone who is interested in learning more about your child and how he or she would fit into the school’s classrooms.



The Waiting Period

→ Once your application process is complete, the best thing to do is sit back and relax. While the process may seem long, each school is evaluating each application thoroughly and needs time to reflect on each component of your child’s application.


→ In the spring, schools will announce their decisions either electronically or by mail. But since there’s no standard notification date among private schools, be sure to check with each one on when to expect a decision.


The Final Decision

→ If your child is accepted to more than one school, you may ask the schools if it’s possible to visit the campuses and classrooms, and some schools may also off er shadow days to your child. This is a good time to listen to your child about which schools feel most comfortable.


→ Once your child is admitted, you need to make a decision. Most schools require a deposit, which can range from several hundred dollars to more than a thousand. You may be faced with having to make a decision about a school before hearing back from all schools, since notification dates and acceptance deadlines can vary.


Finishing Touches

→ As soon as you’ve settled on a school, don’t forget to check if summer school is required for new students. At some schools, it’s mandatory for all new enrollees; at other schools it’s recommended but only required for certain students; and some schools only encourage it. In any case, it can be a good orientation to a new school.


If You’re Placed in a Wait Pool

→ While being placed in the wait pool may seem disappointing, candidates there are often considered eligible should a space become available in the future. It’s important to provide schools with updated progress reports or report cards while you are in the waiting pool. In some instances, attending summer school or programs on campus may provide the school another opportunity to get to know your child. Once the new school year begins, if your child has not been offered enrollment, you will need to reapply to be considered for admission the following school year.



It’s Never Too Late!

What happens when you’ve missed the regular deadlines?

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 and financial aid), many schools allow students to apply throughout the year. Some schools have rolling admissions, even accepting enrollment up until school starts, as long as space is 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 or the next application window. It can’t hurt to check.