The fall-winter semester is crunch time for school applications of all kinds. We’re here to share some middle and high school application tips to help you navigate this stressful process.
Create Your List of Schools
Typically, the most-considered factors when choosing a school are:
- Academic rigor
- Sports, arts, and extracurricular programs
- Teacher to student ratio
- Campus community
Hopefully, you and your student have also been able to visit some prospective schools in person. On-campus visits give students the best idea of campus community and school spirit. Since the pandemic, however, many schools also offer virtual campus tours, which still provide more of a view into school life.
We recommend applying to anywhere between 3-6 schools, choosing at least one ‘safety’ school, one ‘goal’ school, and one ‘stretch’ school. As you might guess, a safety school is one your student is assured entry into. A goal school should be the right match for your child’s academic skill level. A stretch school might provide an academic challenge for your student and/or have a lower acceptance rate. At the very least, we would recommend applying to one safety and one goal school.
Once you’ve assembled your list, you will likely need to create a parent profile on the school’s website. Through this portal, you can upload grade transcripts, optional test scores, reference letters, and school essays.
Most schools ask for a reference letter from students’ English and math teachers. Beyond that, some may ask for a school staff member, such as a counselor, or for a personal reference, like a mentor figure.
The last semester of the previous school year’s grades as well as the fall-winter semester of the current school year—whether it is fifth, sixth, or eighth grade—are the most crucial for applications. Consistently great grades over both are, of course, applauded, but improvement in grades over the two semesters also demonstrates growth and motivation.
Since the pandemic, most schools have made the ISEE/HSPT optional at least up until the 2022-2023 application season, with the exception of a few Catholic schools. If you want to take either test, we recommend starting preparations in the spring of the application year. However, it truly is optional; if your student isn’t the best tester, no need to force them to take the test. Some schools offer their own academic test in lieu of the ISEE/HSPT, so be sure to check the specific requirements of each school.
Creating the parent portal should also allow you to see the school’s essay questions. These can differ wildly, so create an account sooner rather than later to allow your student time to craft thoughtful responses to each.
Application Essay Writing
Single personal statements tend to have a word limit of around 500 words, and short answers tend to cap out around 300 words. Many applications provide prompts; in which case, the priority is to be clear, concise, and provide concrete examples. Some of these questions may be similar to the interview questions, which we’ll introduce in the next section.
For these essays, you can reuse answers, but make sure to edit them carefully and ensure you answer the question. If you blindly copy and reuse essays, schools may notice that you don’t care enough to take the time to tailor your responses to their school.
Be aware: schools may also ask parents to write statements, too!
Preparing for Interviews
We recommend that students attend at least one school event, such as an athletic match, art show, or play aside from the open house. This way, you have more to say about the school. Alternatively or in addition, read the school’s website and find specifics you like and can mention. You want to demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the school and truly want to go there. Having specifics in mind is key.
Some schools conduct group interviews for students. Consider asking what the structure of the interview will be and with whom, if this information isn’t already included in the application portal. Check if the schools ask for a parent interview, too.
Typical high school interview questions include:
– Tell me about yourself
Since this question is so open-ended, it can be hard to answer. However, just stick to a quick summary of yourself as a student: age, what you enjoy most about school, and two to three main extracurricular activities.
– What are your strengths/weaknesses?
Think of an answer for each, and always provide a concrete example to talk about. For weakness, also describe how you’re working to overcome it.
– Favorite subject, and why
– Least favorite/most difficult subject, and why
– What do you do when you’re struggling in a class?
Think of a specific example of a time you’ve had a hard time with an assignment, and how you solved it. Saying that you ask for help and/or find resources on your own is perfectly fine! Taking the initiative to talk to your teacher about challenging concepts, for instance, is a great answer.
– What extracurriculars do you participate in, and why are you interested in them/why do you enjoy them?
– What leadership roles have you held?
If you aren’t a captain, team leader, club leader/officer, etc., think of a time where you stepped up and took on more responsibility—for instance, in a group project.
– How will you contribute to the school’s community?
For instance, what teams or clubs you’d join (whether that’s sports, arts, debate, mathletes, etc.). How would you be a supportive and positive peer to others in your class and a good community member?
– Why do you want to go to this school?/Why would you benefit from attending this school?
As we recommended above, do research into each school and have some particular features of interest in mind.
– What do you do in your free time/What did you do over the summer?
Have you done any volunteering during the year or over the summer? Do you take lessons outside of class, say, to learn an instrument?
– Favorites: books/movies/TV series?
They’ll most likely ask for favorite books, but thoughtful, creative answers about a film or TV series could still be acceptable.
Finally, try to think of questions to ask the interviewer about the school. Draw upon your research to see if there’s anything you might want to know more about, especially related to any classes, teams, or programs you’d want to join.
Of course, these are just some examples to get you thinking. There is no telling what interviewers might ask you. Reflect upon examples of challenges you’ve overcome, your personal values and beliefs and how you developed them, anything you’re passionate about, etc. Prepare to adapt to their questions and be creative!
We hope these middle and high school application tips are helpful to you and your family during this process! Of course, if you need guidance at any point in the process—from determining best fit schools, test preparation, essay writing and editing, or interview preparation, we have excellent and experienced tutors available to help guide your family through this process. Contact us anytime!