Wait-listed at first choice high school - any hope?

Dear BPN,

Our son has applied to the Athenian School in Danville this year for high school and is wait-listed. His grades are outstanding, he has strong letters of recommendations, extracurriculars that he is genuinely dedicated to and apparently did quite well during interviews based on feedback -- but most importantly, every cell in his body is sure that the Athenian School is the right school for him. It all just clicked for him. At his last school, his main struggle was the traditional one-way academic instruction. He loves learning actively and curiously, so he didn't get stellar grades there. Not surprisingly, a couple of his former classmates who thrived in the previous school weren't really feeling Athenian when they visited.  

We actually decided to let him try a different school for eighth grade, and are wondering if that is the issue? Maybe the school thinks there is something funny going on there, but there really isn't, he was just deeply unhappy.  We realize it was an unconventional choice, but we also believe that there are times when change is required to get a different outcome. We explored the first choice 1) teaching our child how to "shrink" just enough to fit into the box and find whatever joy he can out of it, or 2) try a different environment -- also to make sure it isn't just him.  But when we saw his light start to fade, we went for #2 and had him try an experiential school, and voila!  Our bright, enthusiastic learner and performer was back!  There are many parallels between his current school and Athenian, which is why I think it clicked -- he now knows it when he sees it.  

Here's the thing: we know our son will figure out how to do okay wherever he goes.  He committed to that.  His attitude is that he hopes and dreams Athenian will give him a chance, but that everything happens for a reason so he'll accept the outcome. He's more mature now and can handle whatever environment, but we just hope he doesn't turn into the jaded student who is just going through the grind, like I was frankly.

Does anyone have insight into chances, or ways he or us as parents might have dropped the ball?  We are pretty typical suburban parents -- not in powerful or elite positions, nor are we underprivileged.  I wonder if we were supposed to hire a special consultant or missed some other strategy that parents "in the know" do.  We really let him handle everything because we wanted him to enjoy the fruits of his labor, fully expecting a different outcome based on what we saw. Now I wonder if we hurt his chances.   

Parent Replies

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I don't have any idea what the odds are of getting off the wait list, but I think you handled it perfectly.  You did not drop the ball or hurt his chances.  And your son sounds like a very sensible young man.  Take a deep breath and don't give up hope.  Regards, AboutTheSame

I don't know Athenian but my kids have applied to various private schools over the years. You might check in with the admissions director and let them know you are still very interested in the school should any spots open up.  There are a lot of reasons why your son might not have been accepted - too many siblings coming in this year, not enough girls this year, who knows.  It couldn't hurt to let them know you're still enthusiastic about the school! 

I would contact the admissions director and tell her/him about the your son's passion for the school and how he feels in his heart that it is the best school for him and why. This will put your son into the forefront of the admissions process. I don't know about Athenian's waitlist, but many waitlists move quickly. I would think he has a good chance of getting in, but it will help to establish a relationship with admissions, so they can understand your son's love for the school! Good luck!

Have your son write the Athenian admission director a letter about how he feels about Athenian, and why he wants to go. Schools want to know students want their school specifically. Best of luck. Sounds like you have a wonderful son! 

I don't know about admissions Athenian in particular;  I do know a couple of families who are very happy there.  Our family went through the private HS admissions process and it certainly can be grueling.  We didn't use any consultants, nor did anyone we know.  I think numbers applications may have risen again which makes everything more competitive.  At least last year we heard there had been a 20% rise in applications to the private HS in the area.  

One thing you did not mention was your son's SSAT or ISEE scores.  I hope he took one of the tests!  They are required for all the schools.  If he did not take the test, that would probably have cost him admission.  If you love the school you should call the admissions office and let them know how much you love it and why it is a great fit for your son.  Tell them you will sign a contract with them asap if a spot opens up.  If he did not take the ISEE or SSAT, you could ask if you could substitute some other standardized test score he may have taken in the past year.

Admission to private HS is very tough around here.  There are a lot of great kids and a lot of parents able and willing to pay.  The schools are all tiny.  The advice we got over and over again was to not put all our eggs in one basket!  We did take that to heart.  Your son can have a great experience at many different schools.  But if he loves Athenian and it seems right for him, it certainly can't hurt to keep trying.

Best of luck for you and your son.