The admissions process at private schools can feel overwhelming. Between the open houses, applications, reference letters, portfolios, tests, candidate interviews and a highly competitive environment, impressing an admissions officer enough to secure enrolment can be a lot of work—and cause a fair amount of stress—for parents and prospective students alike. Since every private school has its own criteria for what makes an applicant a “good fit,” there’s no surefire “one size fits all” strategy. While a strong academic ability is always critical, there are other things that, generally speaking, admissions teams frequently seek out as well.
Private schools are renowned for the qual- ity of their education, so it isn’t surprising that admissions teams want to find great students—which means more than just hav- ing excellent grades. “We strive to fill our classrooms with students who want to learn more and ask questions along the way,” says Ashli MacInnis, director of admissions at Toronto’s Branksome Hall. “We value cu- riosity, community engagement and open- mindedness; applicants’ creative, active and service-learning experiences.” Andy Hall, vice-principal at WillowWood School in Toronto, echoes that sentiment and says self-motivation and a desire to achieve are must-have traits in a prospective student. “It’s [them] wanting to do well for them- selves, not just because a parent wants them to,” he explains. “High school is challenging, and students must want to put the effort in.”
Whether it’s the campus community or the broader community outside the campus gates, private school admissions teams want to know that a prospective student will be engaged. “We seek candidates who wish to be fully immersed in our community, who want to embrace the full depth and breadth of our school's offerings,” says David Fischer, director of admissions at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto.
A candidate’s intangible qualities—such as kindness, a strong work ethic and a generosity of spirit—can appeal to admissions officers. “We look for students who make a difference in their own communities as well as the school,” MacInnis says. “And who do the right thing, even when no one is looking. A student who builds community by sharing and respecting all perspectives is a student who embraces our values.”
Nearly every private school requires prospective students to meet with the admissions team for an in-person interview. It’s an important way for school officials to better understand an applicant’s personality. Admissions officers are keen to see students open up about their hobbies, interests and achievements. “We advise candidates to be themselves and to speak authentically from the heart,” Fischer says. Anxious parents should also know that an iffy interview isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. “Everyone is different, and just because a student is nervous or shy, it should never be used against them,” says Hall. “More harm is caused by less-than-honest parents who [forge] the great-on-paper student.”
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