Applying to Private Middle & High Schools

Parent Q&A

  • My son is applying to high school for 2019. He's in an independent school now and is an excellent student, plays a few sports (not a jock), and loves making things: stained glass, welding, forging, motors, models. He doesn't have a giant checklist of extra-curriculars. He's a good egg, and I hope he has choices. Lick was his first choice going into this journey; he's become aware that it's the most competitive in terms of admissions, and seems to be taking that to heart (odds are slim). He toured CPS and absolutely loved it. I was amazed at what he absorbed in the three classes he observed. I've heard it's a pressure-cooker, and am worried about that (admissions are also very competitive). He's looking at Athenian, although the distance from Oakland seems daunting. I'd love to hear about current experiences with any/all of these schools, and especially about how one affords them. Are they all need-blind in terms of admissions? Or does applying for aid affect schools' decisions? I would really like to learn how families afford it, personal experiences, and if possible, the pros and cons. Bishop O'Dowd is on the list, too. Nervous about the religious component. Thank you.

    My daughter is a sophomore at O'Dowd and loves it. There is something for everyone there. It is a big school but not too big. Our family is not religious at all and I have no problem with the religion component. There is no "pushing" Catholicism in either the religion classes or the all school masses and liturgies. The message is love and kindness and service to others. All freshman take a one semester class called Spirituality and Sexuality, which is basically sex and relationship education, and they learn about everything, including birth control and abortion. When it came to that part of the class my daughter said that the teacher just said that the Catholic church does not believe in this, but here are the facts, no preaching. Relative to the other private schools it is very affordable, especially considering everything that they have to offer. Every school is different when it comes to tuition assistance so you should reach out to the different directors of admissions with your questions. I think you will find that they will be very forthcoming about how it works and what you can expect. Good luck. It can be a stressful process at times!

    Our daughter spent her Junior and Senior years at Athenian, graduating in 2017.  I cannot say enough wonderful things about the school.  We too live in Oakland, and she took the Athenian bus from Rockridge BART to and from school, which made the distance to Danville less daunting.  We found the school to be inclusive and friendly.  It isn't a pressure cooker, but is academically rigorous.  Our daughter enjoyed the small classes, her friendships with her teachers, and the many opportunities to try new things.  Athenian has a Maker Studio.  They also require all Juniors to participate in a 26-day backpacking trip with their peers, which was a highlight. When our daughter graduated she only wished she had been able to spend four years there!


    We went through this process two years ago, so I know how stressful it can be. And yes, full tuition at independent schools is out of control. That said: schools are pretty forthcoming about what fraction of families receives financial aid, and how to apply for aid. They should be needs-blind for admissions purposes, but it's impossible to tell unless you work in admissions. I don't know if this helps at all - but after touring and talking to folks at several private schools, we honestly could not pinpoint differences at graduation. Yes, the Athenian school has that airplane - but unless you live on campus or near the school and can stay after hours, you just can't work on it. Yes, CPS has the small school feel and many kids end up with early admission to college - but you only get in if you're in the 92nd percentile (or higher) on the standardized test. Lick is super-competitive, but they are dead serious about how many kids they admit from any one school (and that commute is daunting!) In the end, remember that (1) kids graduate from all these schools, (2) HS is what you make of it, and (3) you have to consider your finances. Take a step back. You'll pay college tuition soon.

    Where I'm going with this: if you're considering O'Dowd, please give Saint Mary's in Berkeley a look as well. O'Dowd is a diocese-run school, whereas Saint Mary's is independently run by the Christian Brothers (they are a Catholic order, but they fundraise and run the school on their own.) It's a coed school, unlike DeLaSalle. We came from Prospect Sierra and didn't know what to expect about the religion classes, but they are not overwhelming, and my son loves his religion teachers. It's an academically rigorous school (college prep!) with plenty of honors and AP classes offered, and with the school administration actively trying to limit how many courses students take, so they don't burn out. The student body is intentionally diverse - racially and socioeconomically. There are plenty of clubs to choose from for extracurricular activities, or your son could start his own. Sports play a role, but this is not a "meat-head school" that offers full rides mainly to athletes. Tuition is around 18K. We don't have experience with tuition assistance, but many families have opted for Saint Mary's over O'Dowd because of what they received in assistance. It's at a 7-minute walk from North Berkeley BART. The best part: during Enrichment Week in March, teachers offer one-week programs that are non-academic. This includes trips, activities such as cooking, watching movies (on a theme), or local adventures such as ziplining, paintball, etc. Juniors and Seniors can take driving class or SAT prep. My son has travelled to New Zealand in freshman year, and to New York in sophomore year. This year he applied to go to Malta or France (no guarantees that he'll go, but everyone has the opportunity to apply.) These are all extracurricular and come at a cost, but we're talking about spending money on "experiences" rather than "things" or "high tuition." 

    Sorry if this is TMI about a school that is absolutely not on your list. However: if you are intrigued and/or have questions about Saint Mary's, I would be more than happy to chat.

    Good luck with High School admissions!

    Corina Jump

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How hard is it to get in to HRS or CPS?

Feb 2015

I am sure this question was asked in the past but, as a nervous parent, I am asking again. My daughter is in 7th grade at a good private k-8 school. She really wants to attend private school for high school and our local high school is not great. Of course we will take a good look at it but, at least for now, we have a strong preference for private school even though it will be a serious financial pinch for us. Here is the question: how tough is it to be admitted to CPS or Head-Royce? My daughter has good grades, but not all A's (plenty of A- grades too). She is strong in math/science and in Humanities/language. But she is not that crazy math genius doing calculus in 6th grade. She is a serious athlete and she loves drama and art. She is a regular, happy kid socially--not shy. These two schools are our top choices not only because they are excellent but also for geography. We really don't relish the idea of long bus or BART rides every day. So I know there are no crystal balls out there but, based on your experiences, does this sound like a kid who can get in to one of these schools? A serious, hard-working, smart kid, but not the one that every teacher knows is working several grade levels above their peers, etc. nervous parent

Dear Nervous Parent,

Relax, take a deep breath. As a mother of three, I understand your concerns. As a tutor who helps students prepare for tests required by those schools, I can tell you that your daughter doesn't need to be a genius to get accepted. You are ahead of the game. My suggestion is to spend time learning the application process for both schools and to prepare for it in advance. In terms of standardized tests, most schools have no preference between ISEE and SSAT, and I recommend taking ISEE because there is no penalty for wrong answers. As for essays/statements, this is something that your daughter can work on early, and revisit it a few weeks before the deadline to make changes and to write a final version. Again, you have enough time to do the research and to prepare your daughter for the application process. Please feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions. mother of three

On a pure numbers perspective, from what I understand, College Prep receives 300+ applications for ~90 spots each year. Depending on the year some number of those 90 spots are taken by siblings and legacies; in some years a pretty high number. Not all siblings or legacies get accepted either. It also appears that they like to accept from a broad range of schools. I've seen as many as 7-8 admitted from one middle school (The Academy or Bentley)in any given year, but rarely more than that and usually more like 1-3 from each school. So your daughter may also be competing against her current classmates in the numbers game.

Your description of your daughter is not unlike how I would have described my own daughter who attends College Prep. My daughter had similar grades maybe a few more B+'s than what you describe of your daughter. My daughter had solid ISEE test scores and I believe strong recommendations from her Math teacher. From her description her interviews went well as she also is not shy and was able to connect with the interviewers. She was accepted to Bentley, HR, College Prep and Athenian. From the little you provided I think that her chances are good. However, if I were you I'd probably add Bentley, Bishop O'Dowd (stronger sports scene than any of the other privates) and even Oakland Tech to your mix. My daughter has friends at all of those schools and they all seem to be having good, if not great experiences. Prep Mom

I have two kids who went to CPS. It is a very selective school, and successful applicants tend to be straight-A students, or close. Seventh grade grades are less important, and a few Bs when the kids are getting their middle school sea legs are probably not deal breakers. But eighth grade grades should be pretty solidly in the A range. The applicant pool and class in recent years has tended to skew female, which can make it still harder to get in as a girl. If in eighth grade your daughter works hard and still gets some B grades, the question may be less whether she can get in as whether it is the right place for her. All the kids at CPS are smart, and some are crazy smart. However hard she works in middle school, she can count on being in a more challenging academic environment at CPS. How will she feel about that? One of my kids was deflated by working hard for Bs at CPS; it undermined his confidence. The other was exhilarated by being in a class of brilliant peers and relished every second. Mom of Big Guys


How do average kids get into private middle school?

Nov 2012

We had not been considering private school AT ALL until last week when our son brought home a surprisingly dismal progress report and it occurred to us he may fall through the cracks at our lower-performing neighborhood middle school. He's currently in 5th grade and suddenly middle school is upon us. My son is well-behaved and quiet and I think the more outspoken struggling kids will get more attention than he will. But I wonder, why would any private school accept him? He's a nice kid, but average in many ways, and now struggling a bit academically. He's a white kid raised in a traditional two-parent family, plays one sport and one musical instrument (barely). What would he have to offer a private school?

And a follow-up question: would you state on the application that you think your son needs more one-on-one attention, or is that a red flag to the school that he's not a superstar? And another follow-up? Which schools in the East Bay might be a good fit for him? Mama worried about her boy

I think there are many independent schools with room for so-called ''average kids.'' I highly recommend you check out East Bay School for Boys . They're great with boys who may have fallen through the cracks in traditional schools. My son started there in 6th grade and is going to graduate this coming spring. EBSB is not just about academics, they really approach education as a ''whole.'' My son is confident, engaging, and loves school.

I also have an ''average'' student. From experience, let me tell you, the WORST decision we ever made was sending him to a private school! He sounds like your son--quiet, well behaved, not a stand out kid (but not far to the other extreme, either).... He was completely discounted in the private school, where teachers were not in any way trained or skilled in addressing the needs of any child who is not above the norm or who actually needs direct instruction. We transferred him to our rather poor performing middle school where he has thrived! Yes, the classes are large and no, it is not fancy, flashy, or upper crust. BUT, teachers DO know him, DO make an effort to grab him and draw him in, and DO stay in touch with me, with him, and with each other. There is a lunch math club, and teachers open their doors during lunch and invite students in to talk, work, or touch base. Our son went from feeling invisible in the private school to shining in his middle school, where he feels a part of the community and ownership over his own education. I am completely confident that he will be well prepared for El Cerrito High School, equally or perhaps more so than his private school peers. Wish I had stayed public in the first place!

I'll leave to others the direct answer to your question about getting into private middle school. But I want to point out that if there is any chance your son has learning issues, you will not want him in a private school, where they are not bound to provide accommodations or services. Which is not to say a particular private school might not do its best to work with your son, but it won't be legally obligated as public schools are. My daughter was a fair student in her public elementary school, with some attention issues, and I thought a small private middle school where the teachers would really know her would be a good choice. However, she continued to struggle and the school didn't do very much. I wish now that I had pulled her out after 6th grade and placed her back into the public school system where she would have had interventions sooner. (I did for high school.) This may not be your son's issue, but in case it is, I thought you should consider that there are some advantages to a public school. Anon

Our high-achieving but behaviorally-challenging child was turned down by FIVE East Bay private schools. The schools won't tell you, but the general reason usually is that private schools want kids who will not take up a lot of extra time with ANY issue. The reasoning: everyone is paying big bucks and doesn't want their kid to be short-changed for one minute by a kid who is taking up a chunk of the teacher's time. He is in an East Bay public school, and frankly, they don't want to deal with him either, but because he can get good grades (when he's not bored or tuned out... ) he's allowed to coast. The teachers are working harder to get the really low-achieving kids up to the middle. The middle learners can be moved up and along easier with minimum effort.

So if you want to go private, do not stress that your child needs one-on-one. Stress that he's well-behaved, quiet, average and keen to learn. That's exactly what they want. Jaded and Disappointed

I don't think you have to be an academic superstar to get into private school. My impression is that they are more concerned with behavioral issues than academics. If your son is reasonably well behaved and doing ok in school, he will get in somewhere. I suggest looking at the East Bay School for Boys. It's an amazing opportunity, the boys love it. Small classes and lots of fun hands-on work gets them jazzed up about school. (And to answer the question of ''what do we have to offer'' -- well, money, for one.) anon


When to start touring middle and high schools?

April 2012


Hi there, we are parents of a third it too soon to start looking at middle and high school options next year (fourth grade)? When did you begin to do your research and what's the general application cycle like? When do you submit your applications? Interested in public and private options

I would recommend parents tour middle schools without their child when the child is in 4th grade. Kids don't need the stress of school tours until the actual year they apply. I went to open houses (no tours) for a number of schools when my son was in 4th grade then in 5th I had him visit the ones I liked and then I got to revisit the schools for a second time and also take tours during the school day for more info. I wouldn't recommend touring any earlier than that because children change so much that your ideas of what will be the best fit will change. You are going to be pretty amazed at the changes in your child in 4th and 5th grade. Plus it might make you anxious as the kids will seem so grown up in middle school it will scare the pants off you! I was worried right up to the first day of 6th grade and my child just stepped up and was ready. It is amazing to watch. Things I looked for when I toured; class size, student engagement, how classes were taught, extracurriculars, homework (they'll all say 1/1/2 hrs. a night but some are more and some are less), how kids interacted with each other, if the school does community service, after school and sports offerings, etc. I wanted someplace that bullying would not be tolerated - some schools are quite lackadaisical about this and some really pay attention. Schools have personalities and school cultures, look for the one that fits your child. Middle school can be such an amazing time! best wishes in your search

We looked at public and private options as well. We started looking (just the parents--not the kid)in 4th grade. I'm glad we did start looking that early. It made 5th grade (when the kid is involved, at least for private) much more manageable and gave us time to figure out the public/private, including do we move, dilemna. The application season begins in the fall of 5th grade, and involves several steps for both kids and parents. I was glad to have narrowed the scope of schools we were looking at, so our kid didn't need to even more than she already had to.

We started touring middle schools when our kid was in 4th grade. It helped us figure out what we wanted in a school, what questions to ask, ease a bit of our anxiety. Some schools we visited again the following year, some we ruled out first time round.

You cannot submit applications early though - there is a window for every school year. There are no waiting lists based on early submission - each application, whether it's public or private is viewed for the following year. Private looks at a variety of factors - gender balance, number of openings, etc (you'd have to ask each school what they look for). Public is different based on city and neighborhood. Ellen


What GPA is needed to apply to CPS or Head Royce?

Dec 2010


Hi there, My kid is a good student in an academic private school. She is bright, engaged, hard-working, excellent in certain academic areas and relatively good in others. She has good grades, but they are not all As. Is 4.0 GPA necessary to be accepted at CPS or Head Royce? Is there such a thing as a minimum GPA to be considered for acceptance? What other factors do these schools take into consideration? We're debating if we should apply... Thank you! Anonymous

Call the College Prep and Head Royce admissions directors and ask about their admissions criteria. If you/she are really interested in these schools you should also attend an open house and take a tour. I'm a College Prep parent ('09 and '12), while the school is focused on academics, they are interested in a diverse and well-rounded student body. It's been a great academic experience for both kids, my older son was well prepared for a rigorous university experience. Good teachers, no teaching to the test. My older son did very well on college entrance exams without any external courses, just the prep he did with a book. The student body tends to be somewhat self-selecting, kids who aren't academic aren't interested in the school or leave shortly. The school also has strong music and drama programs. Can't speak to team sports, my kids weren't interested. Very few discipline issues, no campus violence. College Prep parent

Your child does not need to have a 4.0 GPA to apply to the Head-Royce School . HRS looks for a well-rounded child and promotes the same in its education. Neither of my 2 sons had perfect grades going in or while at the school. They did, however, get an excellent education and various nonacademic opportunities. No school is perfect, and neither are the kids that go there. Don't let the school's reputation stop you from applying--visit the school and judge for yourself. HRS mom


How to Choose which Private High School?

Dec 2009


How does a parent figure out which high school would be the best social match for their kid? Academically, my teen would do fine anywhere. She is very smart. Her issue is more social; to find her tribe, so to speak. How can a parent tell what the social atmosphere is at any given school? We are looking between College Prep, Bentley and Athenian. My daughter is into creative writing, science, Twilight and teenage boys. Plus, she seems to get along best with slightly older kids. Any suggestions????? Bewildered Dad

Wow - all 3 of those schools have different personalitites, I think. My kids both went to Bentley high school. My daughter transferred in as a junior, as did another girl that year, and they both fit in beautifully. The kids were very welcoming and there are tons of opportunities for them to find their niche. In my case, theatre was an interest for both my kids and Bentley is an excellent theatre school. My son came in a freshmen and flourished socially and academically and the social aspect was not previously his strength! Thet teachers are fabulous and the administration has changed since we were there and I think that's for the better.

At Athenian, your daughter would have to be ready to do the wilderness program in order to graduate. I think it's a week or 10 days but it's kind of strange, in my opinion. My daughter also was accpeted there but didn't really connect with the kids there during her 1 day interview day (or whatever it was). College prep I don't know much about. If you want more info on Bentley, feel free to email me. Judy

I don't know your circumstances or where you live but have you considered public school? I am an academic and have been very favorably impressed with the educational quality of both MLK and Berkeley High. I'm sure you know that many Berkeley High graduates go on to top colleges. Another plus is that both schools are a microcosm of the world outside--allowing students to cross barriers of race and class that might not happen elsewhere. I believe that public schools are a key component of our democracy so I've always sent my kids there. In spite of warnings from other parents, we have had good experiences. Berkeley High offers many AP courses, lots of different languages, interesting enrichment programs. There are smaller, specialized schools within the school which makes it easier to adjust socially. consider public school?

I want to recommend a phenomenal book that will help you decide in detail what you want in a school and how to decide whether a particular school is the best place for your daughter. It's ''The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence'', by Bryan Hassel and Emily Hassel. It uses detailed criteria to help you identify what are ''must haves'' and ''nice to haves'' in a school. I used their practical approach with our teenage daughter who was miserable in school and found the perfect setting for her where she now is thriving. You can find it online at The book we have is for the elementary years but it doesn't matter - the content applies to any child. Nancy

My son is a sophomore at Maybeck High and is extremely happy with his teachers and with the social life at the school. This is one of the best schools in the Bay Area. It's small and is run by the teachers as a co-op. It is truly a unique and vibrant place. We went to visit the various schools on our list to get the feel of their atmosphere. My son was able to participate in classes, and most importantly, talk with students and hear first-hand of their experience. His impression of the interview was also an important factor. It was his decision where to go, and I feel that letting him decide was the best guarantee of his present happiness and success. Rose

There are many things to think about when starting the HS search. You obviously know your child well and have determined that she will do well academically at most of the private schools, however the social aspect is your challenge. Have you asked her what school she prefers? Have you visited the different campuses? Is she into sports or clubs? For instance my daughter is now into forensics and debate and not all the schools have competitive debate teams. We are fortunate to have so many clubs so kids can find activities that interest them. We looked at the schools you mentioned but my daughter decided she wanted something larger that had more diversity and choices. She chose Bishop O'Dowd. There are over 50 clubs and a lot of sport (no cut teams in many cases) choices that can be tried. One thing to think about is that living too far away from the school makes it difficult to go to afterschool and evening events on campus. Happy Bishop O'Dowd family

I believe it's your daughter's decision, not yours. I set the boundaries, financial, academic, geographic, but allowed my kids to pick from within those limits. My kids were accepted to all of the schools you mentioned. They picked the school they thought would be the best fit for each of them socially and academically. They also considered how they were going to get to school. i.e. Athenian is a great school but the transportation felt overwhelming to them despite the fact that Athenian had a bus service and I work nearby. All of these schools offer the opportunity to visit and interact with the students (you can ask for a second visit). My kids chose College Prep because of academics and arts, they liked the other kids they met on their class visits and because they could bike to school. This gives them transportation independence and a daily workout. annon

We went through a similar decision a couple of years ago. Each of these schools has a pretty diverse range of student types and your daughter would probably find a fit at any of them.

To help your daughter explore the various social environments, hopefully she has had a ''shadow'' day at each school and gotten a preliminary feel for them through her visits. The admissions offices can put her in touch with current students who share similar interests and from whom she can get an insider's perspective. Lastly, encourage her to revisit each school she is admitted to during the week-long decision period. Lots of kids do a second shadow day after they are admitted--it helps them get a better sense of how they would fit, socially and ethos-wise, in a given school environment.

To help you as parents get a feel for the schools, take a tour yourself and talk to current parents. The admissions offices should be able to set these up. Most current parents will give you a straight answer about the social environment (kids' and parents'). Good luck! parent of two at independent high schools

Well, we just decided on a high school for our 8th grade son. Much easier than I'd thought!

He's quite advanced in math (he did calculus in 7th grade), so my wife and I worried our way through 5 schools: Lick-Wilmerding, College Prep, Maybeck, Athenian, and Oakland Tech. Before each visit, we told each school his love of math & science. Despite the request, only two of the schools showed him advanced math & science classes.

My son reported that it felt like an assembly line - a group of visitors stand around uncomfortably; eventually an admissions person gives a peptalk or there's a video/powerpoint presentation, and then you're taken on shadow visit with a kid that's interested in the school but rarely interested in you. After each of 4 shadow visits, he said some version of ''Uh, sure, I can go there. It's pretty good.''

At one school, however, the host student saw him at the entrance to the school, shouted out, ''Hey Dude!'' and jogged over to meet him. They hit it off immediately: talking about iPod apps, then chattering about math, then they headed to class together. There was no admissions counselor, no video showing the school philosophy, no introduction to the curriculum, no interview. Three hours later, my son comes back saying, ''This place is Da Bomb! Here's where I want to go to high school!''

When your kid connects with the school like that, there's no problem deciding! As you put it, he found his tribe. Happy Dad


Need advice about applying to private high schools

Oct 2006


I live in Richmond and have an 8th grade son. Since public schools is not really an option here, I've started the process of looking into private high schools. I've sent for applications, signed up for open houses and visits. Any other advice?
Anxious mom....

Dear Anxious mom..,

1. Ask your current principal if other students have gone to Private High School in the last five years and where they applied, were accepted and where they went. Internal recommendations from current families enrolled can also informally or formally influence the admission decision. Having current families speak for you if your student is waitlisted is also helpful.


3. Post which schools you are looking at on this forum to get specific advice and your email address if you wish to be contacted.

4. Apply to a fair number of schools. Even good students are not automatically admitted. Have your child study and be well rested for the test. If you have not taken these tests yet, find out which one(s) you need this week and register. Parochial schools usually need (COOP/HSPT) and the independent schools want the ISEE.

5. Make grids and check lists so you make sure that you have scheduled all your visits and interviews and get all forms and applications in ahead of deadlines. Informal sources say you have a better chance of admission and financial aid if you get your materials in completely and ahead of final deadlines. Make sure your student writes his/her own essay. Your child needs to provide original and thoughtful answers in their portions of the applications and during interviews. Schools can tell if a parent writes applications and even go so far as to collect writing samples. You can discuss the essays with them but don\x92t write them yourself. Same goes for interviews, make sure your student knows what an interview is, maybe do some role-play but don\x92t overdo it especially if you are anxious like you say.

6. The Marin private schools are actually closer to Richmond than many of the East Bay Schools and they all have private bus service. St. Mary\x92s in Berkeley, the Pacific Academy in Richmond are closer. We go to The Athenian School in Danville. It is a long trip every day but the academics, programs, teachers are fantastic. Since they are a bit far away they may not have the volume of applications that the San Francisco schools do. In my opinion the bus service from The Athenian School does the trick very well. I think it is a better commute than San Francisco, but I have known many students who have graduated that have gone to San Francisco, and Danville. Berkeley also has Maybeck, and Arrowsmith. Oakland has CPS, Head Royce and several others.

7. You can also look into transfer to El Cerrito, Walnut Creek, Orinda, and Lafayette Public Schools or look into the home schooling High School parents groups. Oakland and San Francisco also have public Schools of the Arts that require auditions.
private school parent

Please don't limit your search to just private schools. We decided to save the money for college when we saw how many great charter high schools there are. We chose Urban Renaissance in Oakland because their goal is to get every child who graduates into a 4 year college. Its small and personalized. Their project oriented curriculum is technology and arts based. My daughter is flourishing. When was the last time you got a call from your child's teacher telling you how great your child is doing in class? Others we looked at were OSA, College Prep., and Lighthouse. All were great. These are more competitive Jenny


Teen is procrastinating on filling out application



Hi Everyone, Happy new Millennium! My son has been given an incredible opportunity. I'm a low-income single mom, and my aunt has offered to pay my son's way to Putney H.S. in Vermont. I have discussed the reality of this with my 14 year old son. He is interested and says he wants to go but does not seem motivated to answer the questions (self reflective; difficult) on the application. I know that I need to step back from this and let him take the reins, but at the same time I don't want to sit back and watch him procrastinate his big chance away. Does anyone have any advice for a frustrated/confused mom. thanks very much.

Sometimes my teens have a strong desire to do something that requires filling out a form (get a job, play on a team, take a class, go to college) but they don't seem to know where to start. I think they get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. And often they won't or can't ask for help. I have tried waiting and have learned the hard way that deadlines might be missed that we both will regret. I would not assume delay getting the forms filled out means they don't want to do it. Once you've determined that he does want to do it, you should give him as much assistance as he seems to need

What a great opportunity! Perhaps your son is a bit conflicted, though. It sounds like he would be going away from you for quite a while, and moving to a whole new state (and in Vermont, it might also be argued to be a whole new state of mind!), where he doesn't have a base of friends. Is there someone else you trust that you could enlist to help? Perhaps if he had an adult buddy through this application process it would help--someone to call him up and ask if he's done the application, someone to read his rough drafts and comment, to offer encouragement and support. I'm sure you could do it, but he might perceive your wish to help as a desire to get rid of him--not the message you want to send! A neutral party might help. Another thought: Any way you could get him in touch with someone he'd be going to school with? Sort of a pen-pal to start, someone who could help him adjust in the early days that he's there? Maybe if he felt like he knew someone there, it might help him get through the difficult application process. Good luck to you both! Dawn

To the mom who's son won't fill out the application (this may be way off base, because maybe Mom and son have discussed this at length but one thought I had when I read Mom's concern was as follows): He may be excited about the opportunity but also hesitant to go 3,000 miles away from his primary parent. Opening a gentle discussion about the separation anxiety that Mom probably also feels may allow the son to express his own concerns. Our culture does not allow a space for teens to need their Moms, especially boys. He may need help holding the conflicting excitement about the opportunity and the sadness at the loss of living away from Mom. He may even be worried that Mom is going to be sad and he has to protect her from this. He may also have fears about leaving friends, pets, siblings, extended family. There are a wealth of options here. The bottom line is that the procrastination may be more about unresolved fears, etc. than a lack of motivation. -Shastine

To the frustrated, confused Mom whose son is procrastinating about filling out the application to Putney: If you want your son to take this opportunity you must make it clear to him that you believe it is the best thing for him. He should not feel that it is up to him to make this decision--it is not appropriate for a young teenager to make a decision of this magnitude on his own. You must also talk to him about how hard it will be for both of you to live so far apart. Make sure he knows you will be okay on your own in California. Make certain he knows that you will stay in touch and that you believe in his ability to make the transition to Putney. The issues of separation, of living apart, of each of you being on your own, must be talked about openly and directly. You might both be feeling ambivalent about the opportunity for him to move across the country and this might be what makes it hard for him to get down to the task of completing the application.

I believe that children still need guidance and sometimes a push to get things done even though they are teenagers. Don't back off. Help him understand the consequences of not filling out the application vs filling out the application. His lack of motivation could be spurred by fear. He could be thinking if I complete this, get accepted, I've gotta go. Pick his brain some to find out what's really going on with him. If he indeed wants to pursue this an idea to make the process not so burdensom (because filling out applications is a pain!) is doing it in small doses each day. Good luck.

Here's my two cents to the frustrated/confused mom whose son has been offered the chance to go to Putney. Maybe your son has mixed feelings about going; he wants to go, but isn't 100% sure he does. Talk to him about his feelings - why he would want to go, but also what's keeping him in doubt. Leaving friends behind? Family? Isn't sure kids there will like him, etc. Maybe this will help him make a more conscious decision. In my experience, sometimes kids sit back and let fate make decisions for them they feel ambivalent about - they do nothing (e.g., don't fill out that questionnaire), then the time for action comes and goes, and the decision gets made for them. Sue


Have a 7th grader - how do I start?

Oct 2000


Need some advice. We have a boy in 7th grade and we've been hearing how hard it is to get into private high schools since there aren't that many schools for the amount of candidates.

I just talked to a mom this morning who said that applications have to be sent in in the fall of a student's 8th grade year. Any words of advice on how to navigate the application process or make your kid more appealing to private high schools?


On navigating the process: We made sure our son was a part of the decision making process. He went to one of the preliminary presentations about the school and then went to a school presentation that just happened to be before the application process began. His feeling comfortable with the process and liking the school helped. Seeing the other students put on their poetry slam made a big impression. He also had to write a letter and could choose a letter of introduction or commitment. Since the references had to be current teachers, there was not a lot of worrying about picking and choosing. In essence, kids will be themselves and schools take into consideration grades, references, interviews, parent comments and any testing they may give. For us, making sure the fit was right was just as important as any other factor. Our school focuses on the individual student and their student body is very heterogeneous; accepting of different learning styles, personalities, race, gender, ethnicities, etc. Feel free to send a note if you have questions. I think applying to schools is harder on the parents than it is on the kids.

My daughter went to Berkeley public schools through the 8th grade. We then applied to many private high schools in the area (fall of the 8th grade year). I would be happy to discuss the big application process and any insight I might have gained. I feel it is too lengthy to write it all here. Feel free to contact me directly. My daughter now attends Saint Mary's High School in Berkeley. Lynn

Since your child is currently in the 7th grade, it wouldn't hurt for both him and you to attend the open houses offered through the Fall by just about every private high school in the Bay Area. You can call each school's Admissions Office now and request to be put on their mailing list, and let them know that you wish to attend their Open House presentation. Some schools offer a variety of dates, some just one, typically on Saturday or Sunday afternoons throughout November. This way you will have had a sense of the personality of a number of schools and will be a bit more familiar with the steps involved in the application process. And you may be better able to figure out which schools feel like the best match for your child's personality and interests.

Other than keeping up good grades in the 7th grade (definitely an important component of the equation here), the only major way in which a student could prepare for the admission process is by learning and practicing test-taking skills. Admissions directors can be vague on how important are the tests in relation to other parts of the admissions process, but this is an area in which you can at least make sure that your child is as well prepared as possible, much as I hate to write it. Cody's and other local bookstores carry books on how to prepare for the SSAT and the ISEE and other high school entrance exams.

Two other parts of the admissions process are the student interview and the personal essay. Parochial schools may also interview the parents. I would caution any parent to become too directly involved with coaching their children in either step, especially with the essay. While it makes sense to check for spelling errors and to help with proofreading, what the schools are looking for is the voice and style of young teenagers. Surely as admission staff read hundreds of those essays per year, they develop their own radar and can spot a heavy parental hand a mile away.

Finally, I would also take a good look at the public schools and speak to as many 9th graders (and their parents) as possible, both in private and public schools. Keeping one's options open is wise in this situation. Finally, what really helped our family as we dealt with the whole process last year was to establish limits and to stick to a relatively short list of schools. For one thing, interviews and visits to school have a way of interfering with the routine of 8th grade schoolwork. For another, rejection is awfully painful to 13-year-olds (and their parents!) and a high number of applications also raises the risk significantly. Laura


Start looking now for the school you and your son are interested. It helps you and your child feel what the schools has to offer. By the time he's in 8th grade, the two of you will be ready. This will give ample time to make the final decision. Each school requests an hand written questionaire/essay/paragraph about yourself (i.e. describe a person who has been a hero in your life, touched your life or the life of someone close to you and why you admire this person, why you apply, describe strong points about yourself, and so forth). Every school has different questions but are similar. Start working with thoughts he might want to say in his essay. When it time to fill out the form, he would feel more comfortable. Call the schools and ask to place your on their admission mailing list for '01 or when applications available. Having your own worksheet with all the schools helps tremendously. Have columns so all the infor can be on one sheet (if possible).

List private schools, address, phone and contact; Date/Day/Time; Student Parent Visitation Program; Preliminary Application Filing Date; Open House; Priority Filing Date for applications; Entrance Exmination; Notification Date; and Registration Deadline; and COMMENTS


  Ex: School Name: xxxxxxxxxxx    Sept 1      Wed.        Appl. Available     Addr.:                      Sept 22&29  Wed or Thu  Student Visit      Phone:       Contact:       Oct 13&28     Tuition Fee:                Oct 15      Fri         Filing Date          School Name: xxxxxxxxxxx    Aug 30      Thur        Appl. Available  

Check off each item once you completed the task. Xerox several copies of your admission form. Do not write on the orginal until you are ready to do the Final copy.


Most do their own admissions testing. So doing really well on the test is important. There are usually tours and admission interest days where you can tour and talk with admissions personnel and staff. They may provide an opportunity to interview your prospective student. Some schools give priority to siblings of students already enrolled. Some still have affirmative action programs and will admit for balance. Most are not need blind, but do have some limited amounts of finacial aid. Roger