Applying to Private School: The Timeline

Thinking about private school for your children? Finding the right fit and getting them 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.


2021 Psg Courtesy Of Iolani School 2021 Students

Photo: Courtesy of ‘Iolani 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 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.


→ On Sept. 10, HAIS will host an Education Fair that includes sessions on key topics such as applying to kindergarten and elementary school, financial aid, the SSAT admission test, how to use the Standard Application Online and more. 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 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 admission 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. 1, ‘Iolani’s is Oct. 15, Mid-Pacific’s is Dec. 1 and Le Jardin’s is Dec. 15. Other schools, however, have changed to rolling enrollment, which means they will take applications until the class is full. For kindergarten applications, many schools require: 1) teacher references, 2) testing, usually done by the school itself, and 3) an activity session and observation. Also, keep in mind that schools require kindergartners to turn 5 years old before specific dates, which vary by school; those dates range from late June, before school starts, to December.


→ In general, fall is the season for school open houses. Some schools are offering virtual tours in addition to in-person tours. Check with each school to see what it is doing and try to sign up. Some virtual tours include a question-and-answer period with school staff or students, while others are prerecorded. 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.



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 measures a student’s math and verbal skills, reading comprehension and writing abilities. In 2020, many schools waived the SSAT requirement or accepted other tests in its place. Check with specific schools about their requirements for the upcoming school year.


→ To find out more about the SSAT this year, go to or call (609) 683-4440 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern time). Registration is typically done online and closes about three weeks before the test date. The test is also offered online for middle and upper level students to take at home. Go online for the dates for SSAT at home.


→ 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.


→ For families applying to Catholic schools, another source of aid may be the Augustine Educational Foundation. For more on the group, visit Aid applications are available online at the foundation’s website and from all Hawai‘i Catholic school offices in early January; they’re usually due by early 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

→ Almost all schools will then schedule an interview with your child. Some have been conducting these virtually during the pandemic and may continue to do so. Whether it is in-person or on Zoom, try to remind your child to take the interview seriously, without making him or her too nervous. And don’t try to add your input during that time or hover in the background if it is occurring virtually. 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.


→ 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. It’s best to set aside a whole day for your child’s visit so he or she can get a feel for the school, sit in on classes and meet other students, if possible. 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.



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.



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), 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. It can’t hurt to check.