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Getting to grips with the school application process

Choosing the best educational fit for your children can be a testing time and quite often there are a number of varying sources of information on just how the process from application to admission works for independent schools. This is often the case particularly with prep schools, when many children are entering the private system for the first time.

Stephen Spriggs of William Clarence Education talks to School Notices to try and shed some light on how the system works.

Baby steps: Starting out on the right foot

From the very start, it’s vital that you’re clear in what kind of education you are looking for from the prospective schools under consideration. Independent schooling is costly, from registration fees to extras for boarding and trips. Therefore applying to numerous institutions in a scattergun approach will not only cause divided attentions but can also lead to high costs as most schools require fees when registering.

Ask yourself some basic questions

Despite this seemingly simple task, there are actually a lot of options available when it comes to choosing a school. Consider these questions:

  • Would your child be more comfortable in a single sex or co-ed school?
  • Would they be happier with a boarding or day school?
  • Are you looking for schools specialising in certain areas or renowned for their SEN capabilities?

Where to begin: Forms, forms, forms

The pathway through the process appears straightforward: filling out forms, attending interviews, completing entrance exams and all the other particulars of a typical school application. The issue is, no independent school’s system will be the same, while they may be similar due to the end goals, most will differ in terms of which attributes they place a higher value upon, leading to a lengthy process for some.

All schools will require you to complete a registration form of some kind, and typically pay a non-refundable fee. In fact, many institutions will accept applications up to a year prior to the new school term.

Next steps: Once an application is successful

There is no hard and fast rule to gaining an upper hand in the whole process as each institution will have developed their own criteria for what they’re looking for. Pre-acceptance testing and possible interviews are quite standard these days for many schools.

You may find that results from any National Curriculum assessment don’t play any significant role outside of opening the door, and common criteria schools are looking for include:

  • Personality and ‘fit’
  • Academic and extracurricular interests
  • School mandated internal testing results
  • Monetary commitments
  • Reports and references

Most schools will also require you to enter into a binding contract covering a number of terms and conditions involving your child’s tenure with them. Among these may be parameters for leaving the school and forfeiture of term fees.

Extra tips on how to get ahead

One of the best ways of preparing for the road between applying and acceptance to a private school is often contacting the admissions team prior to beginning the process. While they may be required to withhold key information in order to avoid giving certain applicants unfair advantage they could offer a point in the right direction in terms of preparation and expectancies.

The internet also presents the chance to connect with parents of current or former students at each school who may also be prepared to help, though remember some procedures could have changed since their time in the system.

The truth is that private schools have no mandatory reason to accept any particular students and therefore depending on the entry age of your child, you may need to sufficiently impress the school via a combination of previous school success, positive extracurricular activities, personality matches and other possibly yet unknown criteria set by the school you’ve chosen.

Just remember throughout the journey, the most important thing is to find the right fit for your child, everything else should just fall into place.


Stephen Spriggs is founder and managing director of William Clarence Education, an education consultancy assisting families around the world with a variety of educational services including: School and university placements, home-schooling, international school placements, applications support and more. For more information visit their website here





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