There’s a kind of March Madness that has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with academics. That’s because this is the month when many independent schools determine their admissions for the fall. The waiting can be intense, but so can the reaction to the news itself, whether it’s positive or negative.
The national average private school acceptance rate is about 85 percent per year, making admissions a seller’s market in many places.
“It can be very challenging to get into a school of your choice. There are not a whole lot of private schools in L.A. for such a big city, especially for middle and high school students,” said Sandy Eiges, a Los Angeles admissions consultant. “Plus siblings, legacy and faculty members’ children take preference.”
With an annual tuition near $36,000 and an enrollment of nearly 1,600 seventh to twelfth graders, Harvard-Westlake School is one of the larger elite private schools in L.A. Though it offers 220 slots for entering seventh graders, there are three to four applicants per spot. The 75 open ninth-grade slots typically get four to five applicants each.
In New York City, just 12 percent of applicants are accepted to the 44-member student body at the $79,000-a-year THINK Global School, which includes boarding and worldwide learning excursions.
Helping children of all ages absorb the news of acceptance or rejection is a job for the whole family, experts say. Here’s some advice to keep in mind:
Be prepared. If you know that chances for acceptance at a certain school are low, have a backup plan.
“You always want to be preparing your children in advance for how this process works. You have to let them know that they are unlikely to get into all the schools they are applying to--and that’s part of the process,” said Devra Weltman Harris, a Los Angeles-based school admissions consultant.
Manage expectations. “If your child doesn’t get into a school that you thought was perfect, take a good look at what really is good for your child,” Weltman Harris said. “There is no ‘perfect.’ But there is a ‘good’ fit. It’s important to have realistic expectations of who our students are. Don’t put your own agenda on it too much.”
Be open-minded. “You might have your top two or three schools, and that is great. Hopefully, you can feel equally good if you get into any one of those three schools,” Eiges said. “It’s important to define success differently. Make it about getting into any of them.”
Monitor reactions. Your child may get into a preferred school while their friends do not. Reassure them they won’t have to lose touch with their friends and remind them of the need to react with grace and gratitude, particularly on social media where celebratory posts can cause hurt feelings for those who didn’t get accepted.
In annual remarks to prospective students and parents, Harvard-Westlake Admissions Director Elizabeth Gregory emphasizes appropriate reactions to acceptance news. “You have to celebrate your child whatever the decision is,” she said. “Most kids end up at the school that is right for them.”
Keep fears to yourself. Parents often become so attached to independent school communities that they are in more anguish this time of year than their kids are. But don’t let them see you sweat.
“Kids, especially those 13 and up, say to me that every minute of the day, they feel like their whole future is on the line. They feel like their only two options are success or failure. Don’t lay that on your children,” said Wendy Mogel, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist.
Rejection isn’t the end. “Kids take their cues from us, so it’s really important to stay positive and keep a healthy attitude about it all,” said Weltman Harris. No one wants to be rejected, but if you’re resilient in the face of bad news, your kids will be too. After all, falling down and learning how to get back up again is an important part of growing up.