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April 12, 2017

5 Strategies to Successfully Navigate the High School Admissions Journey

I have the honor of helping our 7th and 8th grade families take the next step in their educational journeys as they prepare to go to high school. As Admissions Counselor, I help students and parents navigate the competitive high school application process. Depending on the school, students must meet academic merit-based criteria, some require testing and essays, others require auditions and interviews. There are so many deadlines, interviews, and requirements to track; my job is to understand both the student and the prospective school and help families apply to schools in which their child will thrive.

My background as a founding member of AltSchool’s admissions team and former middle and high school educator means I have an understanding of all of AltSchool’s current students on many levels. Not only was I involved in meeting prospective students and learning about them before they began at AltSchool, I also was able to provide insights from an admissions perspective.

As I think about the families who will begin this process a few months from now, I would humbly offer this advice:

5 Strategies to Successfully Navigate the High School Admissions Journey

1. Start with a Conversation

Begin by talking through the following topics with your family:

  • Academics: What learning environment and culture would be best for your child? Consider what types of teaching styles and relationships resonate with your child and how the transition may be from your current school.
  • School community: What size school would be best for your child and family? Do you want a community that’s similar or different from your existing school? While this might be difficult to gauge before visiting schools, you can begin by reflecting on what values, traditions, and characteristics of social environments are important to your family.
  • Activities: What extracurricular activities are important to your child? Is your child interested in exploring new interests or developing existing passions? Consider each school’s programing for the arts, athletics, service organizations, and clubs.
  • Finances: Explore all options, including public and private. You may consider applying for tuition assistance for certain schools depending on your budget.
  • Distance: Think about how far you or your child are willing to commute and whether public transportation is an option.

By discussing what’s important, you’ll have a framework to check against for each school you consider.  

2. Reflect Throughout the Process

This can be a fraught experience, but I encourage families to see this as an opportunity to learn more about each other through both parent and student reflection. This is also a chance for students to learn more about what is truly important to them in the next phase of their education. If your family has discussed the questions above, reflecting, documenting, and refining these values will be paramount as you gain new information about each school. You may start the process, for example, and think a school is best based on its perceived reputation only to find that after touring it doesn’t have the learning environment that would best help your child be successful.

I encourage you and your child to take notes on each school during (if appropriate) and after each interaction—open houses, coffee visits, tours—so that you can look back and remember how you felt. As you move through the process, your perceptions may become muddled and your notes will serve as a reminder of your thoughts and feelings in the moment.

“Through this process, I’ve learned more about who I am as a learner.” –AltSchool 2017 Graduate

3. Get Organized Together

Speaking of taking notes, there is a lot to manage in the application process. It’s important for you and your child to determine who will be responsible for tracking specific school requirements, such as application deadlines, tour sign ups, open houses, test prep, and interview and audition schedules. Whatever system you choose—whether it’s a shared Google document, spreadsheet, or paper—share it with each other so everyone is on the same page and can help one another stay organized. You can organize your reflection notes and handouts for each school in a similar manner as well.

4. Cast a Wide Net

It’s best to refrain from narrowing down school choices until you and your child have had a chance to tour the school, meet teachers, parents, and students, and get better acquainted with the school culture. Be mindful of becoming overly focused on one school as there are a variety of fantastic schools that may be a good fit. Strive to keep an open mind throughout the process as each interaction with a school will give you more information about how the school aligns or doesn’t align with your values.

5. Speak Positively and Know That It All Works Out

As you can imagine, this is a high-stress, anxiety-filled time for everyone involved, and it’s important that you honor the range of emotions your child may be feeling. Speak positively about every high school, even if your family has decided it may not be right for your needs. Your child is listening to you and following your lead (even if it doesn’t feel that way all the time!), and a school that may not be the best option for your family could be a top choice for your child’s peers. Children thrive when their parents act as their advocates and partners, and model kindness.

Admissions teams at each school carefully consider the students and do their best to find students whom they believe will thrive at their school. They are unable to offer admission to all qualified students and therefore have very difficult decisions to make. Keep in mind that each school is like an orchestra—some years they need a trumpet player, other years they need a flute player. Your child can only be themselves and hope it matches what the school needs that year. And if not, rest assured that there will be a great match even if it’s not your number one choice.

“I'm excited about where I'm going to high school because I can really see myself there.” –AltSchool 2017 Graduate

As for me, it’s been a pleasure to introduce high schools to AltSchool’s unique and innovative educational model and see their positive response. High schools have even commented about projects our students have done here that stood out from other applicants. I’ll be cheering for our graduating students’ successes in high school and beyond, and am grateful for our time together.

Learn more about how AltSchool helps students grow.

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