• Admissions: Planning & Perspective

    Independent School Officials And Consultants Offer Advice On Nursery And On-Going Admissions

    By Eric Messinger

    edu webAs the editor of New York Family, I’ve moderated numerous panels about independent school admissions, which have typically featured a mix of school heads and admissions officers focusing not on their schools, but on the admissions process. The events were always a hit with parents, and I think their greatest value was that parents got to hear a variety of opinions and perspectives, and similarities and differences large and small. That symphony of wisdom and experience is what we’ve tried to create in this story, in which representatives of 18 NYC independent schools and three local education consulting businesses (see the bottom of this post for the list of sources), share advice on nursery school admissions and independent ongoing school (K and up) admissions.

    Whether you’re interested in nursery admissions or independent ongoing admissions, I recommend that you read the full story, for there’s a lot of good advice that applies to both journeys. We have identified each source by either their school or professional affiliation. –Eric Messinger


    Please offer some “big-picture” advice on how parents should orient toward the nursery admissions process.

    Battery Park Montessori: You and your spouse will probably disagree. Choosing a school together might start to feel like picking a movie. There are going to be points of disagreement. Have a system for evaluating schools together. It is usually best to list separately what you most want in a school, and then share your lists… Create a structure that keeps you from arguing and helps you make the best decision for your child.

    Goddard School: Do not get hung up on trying to research, understand, and select the best “curriculum method” or teaching “philosophy.” Most of them, in practice, are more similar than different, and the key is that they all work just fine to help develop your child. Instead, look for well-run schools with well-qualified teachers. Also, be realistic with your family’s scheduling needs and lifestyle.

    Mandell Preschool: It’s important for parents to keep an open mind when visiting schools, as they typically find that the reality of many programs is different than what they may have expected from the “park bench,” which is typically many years out of date. Our city has many wonderful early childhood programs to discover—parents should do their research by getting to know not just the philosophy but the school’s community as well.

    New York International School: Two key things parents should be mindful of is finding the best “fit” for their child and keeping perspective throughout the process…I also recommend that parents try and keep perspective—advice, I know, that is hard to accept in Manhattan. In the broader world, where one went to nursery school is a non-issue.

    York Avenue Preschool: Do your research. Visit school websites and talk to parents you meet at the park and in your neighborhood. Define what is important to your family, such as the school’s religious affiliation and philosophy.

    What typically are the main factors parents consider when choosing schools?

    Battery Park Montessori: For-profit schools are trending. Don’t be afraid of them. All schools have to be accountable to parents whether they are tax-exempt or not. For-profit schools sometimes have the advantage of not being burdened by the politics of a board of directors. For-profit schools are often more agile and can be more responsive to the demands of parents. Plus, you are less likely to be asked for a donation each year. Focus on the school’s accreditation, which is what counts most. If the school is authorized or becoming authorized by a respected institution, you can trust that.

    Epiphany Community Nursery: Parents often use location as their major focal point. While important, it should never be the only factor for choosing a school. Educational style, leadership of the school, compatibility with the parent body and physical attributes of the facility are also very important when considering schools.

    The Parents League: Location, philosophy, and environment—these are all important factors to consider when making a decision as to where to send your child to preschool. As far as location, I always advise parents to test out the transportation and actual travel time to school before making a final decision. During the first year of school, your child may go only a couple of days a week, but by the time your child is 4, school will most likely be five days a week—requiring, at the very least, 10 trips per week for you or your child’s caregiver.

    Smart City Kids: The “right” school for your child isn’t necessarily the most sought after—it’s the one that works for your family. Think carefully about location (do you really want to schlep a 2-year-old across the city in a snowstorm?). Make sure the schedule offered works for your lifestyle (if you need an extended day of 8am-6pm childcare, you’re generally looking at another process entirely). Consider the school’s philosophy, and make sure it’s a match for your vision, trusting your reactions on tours. At the same time, keep in mind that schools that might vary in approach—play-based, traditional, Montessori, Reggio—are all putting children on the same path to Kindergarten success.

    In addition to school officials, who are the best people to speak to get to know a school? What are other good sources of information and guidance? Also: Children are so young when parents apply to nursery school—to what degree should parents be focused on the kind of school community that they’d like to be a part of, as opposed to their child’s still-unfolding needs?

    Alt School: When evaluating preschool options, there are several factors that parents should consider when choosing the right fit for their family. From a child’s perspective, the environment should foster children’s creativity and help instill the social-emotional attributes that give children the foundation to build relationships, learn new skills, and explore the world around them. From the parent’s perspective, the educators and administration should view the relationship with parents as a partnership, ensuring transparency and collaboration on development goals for the children.

    British International School: It is vitally important that the whole family feels comfortable and excited at the prospect of joining a new school community. School is often a large part of every family, and the friendships between children and their parents can last beyond the school years. School marks a transition for the whole family, whatever their specific dynamic, and therefore it provides a powerful platform for new friendships and adventures. This is particularly effective when the school is a strong reflection of the individual family in terms of values and ethos.

    Caedmon School: The best additional sources of accurate information include neutral organizations, such as The Parents League or NYSAIS. They have no investment in the outcome of an admissions decision, so they will merely report general facts about the school, as well as their general impressions. Parents of children who attend the school, or those whose children have recently graduated can be excellent sources of information—but they always must be listened to with the caveat that their opinion is a reflection of their children. Specific stories most likely reflect that parents’ hopes for their children, and that parent’s expectations for a school. It can be a very good source of detailed information, but it can also easily reflect a bias.

    Metropolitan Montessori School: During the preschool years, parent presence and participation is a huge part of the preschool experience. Parents feeling comfortable and included within their school’s community is just as important as their child feeling the same in their classroom. Nursery school provides another network for parents where they can feel supported by others with children the same age.

    New York International School: Current and past parents are definitely good sources of information. In some respects, a past parent whose child attended recently may be the better perspective, as they can reflect on the continuum of skills that the child acquired by the conclusion of the program. I often encourage parents to think about what websites or tours aren’t showing (e.g., if you’re not seeing diversity, it’s probably because there isn’t much to show).

    The Parents League: The Parents League of New York is a great resource of information and guidance. As the public face of private education in New York, we are the preeminent provider of advisory services for school admissions. The advice we offer is unbiased and objective, and because of that is a sound place to start. Other reliable sources of information include the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY). There is also the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). If you are considering a single-sex school, visit the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) or the International Boys’ School Coalition (IBSC).


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    How much research should parents do to try to understand various early education philosophies?

    Calhoun School: For parents with the goal of matching the educational philosophy with their style of parenting or educational history, it may be important to research educational philosophies. Others may be more focused on a convenient, engaging childcare option. The important thing is to know that you will feel comfortable leaving your child as you go off to your day.

    Dwight School: Parents should look at the preschool search as an opportunity to educate themselves about different curricula and educational philosophies employed by various early childhood programs. One of the comments I hear from parents most often is: “I can’t believe how much I am learning as a result of this process!” Admissions directors do not expect parents to do a lot of homework (after all, it’s our job to explain our school’s curriculum and philosophy); however, parents should familiarize themselves with the schools in a very general way by doing casual reading on each program’s website and reach out to a school with any additional questions.

    Metropolitan Montessori School: Using the internet as a tool to learn more about an educational philosophy is very informative and offers bigger-picture perspectives. In addition, a school’s website may offer a better understanding of that particular school’s mission.

    To what extent should parents factor in a school’s record or reputation with guiding families through the ex-missions process?

    Alt School: Rather than focusing on the outcome of choosing the right school, parents should focus on the journey that their children will take in a given program. Especially in the early years, finding an environment where your child will establish a solid social-emotional foundation and learning mindset should remain the priority. This should lead you to choose a child-centered organization, which means when the time comes for them to work with you on the ex-missions process, they have your family’s individual needs and goals in mind.

    British International School: It’s important to understand how the school will work with your family and at what time frame those conversations will begin. It is the school’s obligation and pleasure to help in these discussions and guide families through the process. A record of successful placement and reputation can give additional reassurance as families consider the next stage of their children’s educational journey.

    Epiphany Community Nursery: When you meet with the director, if it’s important to you then you should politely ask questions like: “What part does this school play in the placement game?” “Is it very active?” “Do you help guide parents?” “Do you provide opportunities to learn what kind of a learner our child really is, so we can choose a school on that basis?” “Do you have good relationships with the ongoing schools? Or are you more hands-off?”

    edu web 2Mandell Preschool: This is up to the individual family. We strive to encourage parents to be in the moment—when finding a school for a 2-year-old, it helps to know they have a strong placement process, but you don’t know what the right fit will be at Kindergarten. Parents should not hesitate to ask about how this process is structured and when they need to begin to give it more thought.

    New York International School: I would encourage parents to look more at how well-known and appreciated their child will be while at the preschool rather than what the ex-missions record has been. How well families are guided and supported is worth attention, but record should not be at the top of the list. A school’s record only shows what schools students are attending or have been admitted to; it says nothing about whether the fit is appropriate for the child.

    The cost of an independent nursery school education is substantial for many parents. What’s the value?

    Mandell Preschool: Early childhood is one of the most significant times in a child’s cognitive and social/emotional development. The value of a high-quality program is felt far beyond the early childhood years, as evidenced by several decades of research. Children who attend a developmentally appropriate, high-quality early childhood program will typically achieve much higher academic and developmental outcomes in the years that follow.

    Pine Street School: All of the research says the most important years of a child’s education are from birth to age 7. Therefore, choosing a school which specializes in early childhood development, as opposed to mainly being a preschool feeder into a “follow-on” elementary school spot for your child, is an important priority.

    York Avenue Preschool: The value is a high-quality foundation in the formative years. Starting school at a very young age requires early childhood education expertise.

    What are a few of the most important things to look out for on a school tour?

    British International School: Above all, we believe that a happy child will be a successful child and so in touring a school it is important to keep an eye out for the “softer” side of the school. Do the teachers seem warm? Do they know the children’s names? Do the children seem purposeful but happy? Are they comfortable engaging with you?

    Calhoun School: Engaged, happy students; engaged, happy teachers; diversity of faculty and student body; respect for a young child’s need for play and an age appropriate learning environment rather than a program designed to impress adults; and a match with factors important to you.

    Goddard School: While the existence of happy children joyfully participating and friendly, outgoing teachers do not guarantee that a school is right for you and your child, if you see the opposite that is a red flag to consider. Do not overlook the basics—is the school clean and does it have good security at the front door? Ask about the background of the director/principal, as well as the teachers. What is posted and displayed in the classroom will give you an idea of the type of experience your child will have. You should also look at the types of materials that are available for the children—and if there are enough of them and whether they’re in good condition.

    Mandell Preschool: Artwork, teacher/student interaction, the facility, security—these are all important points to consider.

    Metropolitan Montessori: Student Engagement: Are the students engaged in their learning? What are they working on? Is the activity developmentally appropriate? How do adults interact with children? Do the students ask good questions? How well the students articulate their love of learning? Current Children’s Experience: If there is an opportunity to speak with students, what do they say about their experience? Are they able to articulate an understanding of what is happening on an assignment/in their classroom? School Community: What is the school community like? Do you see people that you would like to get to know? Do you see school activities on the school calendar or in the lobby that are interesting to you or your child?

    The Parents League: I always tell parents to look for joy, and joy starts with the teachers and the children. A happy classroom is one where the teachers are good listeners, engaging and interacting with the children on their level, asking questions that elicit conversations, and redirecting children if they are having a difficult time. Good teachers show great pleasure being in the company of young children and their activities. They are calm, purposeful and playful (but not too playful) in their speech, directions and manner, creating an environment that feels busy and fun, but not frenetic.

    York Avenue Preschool: Happy faces—on both the children and the staff! Look to see that the children are engaged in their activities and the teachers are attentive to the needs of each child. Notice the cleanliness of the facility, how well-lit the classrooms are and whether or not there is outdoor space.

    Please offer some advice about school interview. As with the application, parents struggle with what to say about their young child without sounding over the top. Also, what should they ask about a school when there’s already so much information online?

    British International School: The key in interview is to keep the needs of the child at the forefront of all conversation. The only aim should be to establish whether a specific school is the best fit for the child and its family. We therefore recommend using this as an opportunity to ask those questions that relate specifically to your own child, and what environment would be best suited for them. Also consider the family logistics in this interview. Do you need bussing? Before or afterschool care? Summer camp? This is a great platform for letting the school know the areas in which it can help minimize logistical pressure for all the family.

    Calhoun School: Parents may not have questions, and that’s okay. If they’ve demonstrated knowledge about the school on the application, attended an admissions event and done their tour, they may feel well versed in what the school has to offer. Some parents may have a question about the school’s ability to meet the particular needs of their child.

    Dwight School: Families going through the admissions process for a preschool 2s program are asked to describe a child who, at the time, might be just over one year old. Instead of going into details about developmental milestones…talk about what your child enjoys right now. Does she like being read to? What toys are current favorites? Are there any particular activities or classes that he enjoys? What makes her smile and laugh? What about him has amazed you? Family time is important, too: What are some traditions or experiences that are important to you as a family?

    Epiphany Community Nursery: When talking about your child, try to be anecdotal rather than self-promoting or boastful. A good early childhood admissions person can easily assess a child’s abilities by watching them at play; they just want some color from the parents. Ask questions that are going to yield answers about the soul of the school. For example: “When helping parents understand what might be the next best type of school, what do you do to facilitate that knowledge?” or, “How do you conduct parent/teacher conferences and what follow-up is offered?” or, “What is the school doing to stay current with educational trends and parent needs?”

    Mandell Preschool: Again, authenticity is really all schools are looking for. We want to be able to be strong partners together in your child’s growth and development and the interview is simply a way to get to know one another and learn more about your hopes and dreams for your child’s educational journey. As to what parents should ask, many want to know about community, parent involvement, and participation.

    Metropolitan Montessori: The best message to convey is an authentic one. Parents should speak to all of the special, unique qualities about their child, but they should also not get stuck in portraying a “perfect” child. Speak to some of the challenges your child has encountered. How did he/she handle that? Was there a moment of growth and learning? How are you supporting your child build resilience?

    New York International School: We know that parents are in love with their children, so “over the top” is expected. Remember that if your child were already perfect, s/he wouldn’t need school. If a child is truly brilliant, teachers will readily see it and will want to accommodate that. It’s nice in admissions to know more about temperament and social skills than cognitive abilities in preschool.

    York Avenue Preschool: York Avenue Preschool does not hold interviews. Instead, we host play dates. As part of our application process, we ask parents to write a short note about their child. This allows parents to share their observations and give some insight on their child’s personality and interests.

    Before the end of the process, should parents send a “first choice” note, or some kind of clear indication of their interest level? Also, what about letters of recommendation?

    Battery Park Montessori: Absolutely. More than that, you should send a thank you note to the admissions director the moment you get home. Make it sincere, concise and handwritten and put it on nice stationary that will be remembered. These small but human touches provide delightful punctuation in an admissions officer’s otherwise dreary task of vetting families. Definitely send a first choice note. It means a great deal to an admissions officer if you express a clear preference for his/her school. Definitely send letters of recommendation.

    British International School: It is always appreciated to hear that a parent has particularly enjoyed a tour or a visit but there is no requirement to commit oneself via a first choice letter. Should a prospective family wish to meet with or chat to an existing family, we can easily set this up.

    Calhoun School: The Independent Admissions Association of Greater New York frowns upon first choice letters. Admissions directors appreciate that a family may be comfortable at more than one setting, so if you write a thank you note expressing interest, I recommend leaving out the term first choice. An email or note from a current parent who knows your family has more meaning to me that a letter of recommendation, which is not required at the Calhoun School.

    Dwight School: Writing a “first choice” letter can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety for a family, and, honestly, many families feel pressured to send such a letter to multiple schools. I do encourage families to express their genuine interest; however, in a letter or email. Including specific anecdotes about your experience with the school or staff indicates to the admissions director that a parent did not simply copy and paste a generic letter of interest and send it to several schools. Include reference to why this school is a great fit for your child and your family. What about your interactions with the school community made it a top choice for you.

    Goddard School: The family should always include a brief handwritten “Thank You” note to the schools after the application process. For the schools of high interest make sure to indicate [your] level of interest in this note.

    Hewitt School: Parents can certainly express their interest in schools but they should NOT send a first choice letter. ISAAGNY schools are not supposed to give any weight to first choice letters.

    Mandell Preschool: Schools always appreciate knowing if a family feels the program is a good fit, however ISAAGNY schools do not ask for “first choice” notes. A note from a current or former family is always greatly appreciated. Typically recommendations are not requested or required.

    New York International School: If you send a “first choice note,” mean it! You should never send that same message to two schools. Admission officers do appreciate knowing how serious you are, so if you’ve found that first choice, it never hurts to communicate it. More credibility is given to recommendations from current or past parents than from someone who has no real knowledge of the school.

    York Avenue Preschool: Letters of intent are nice, but as an ISAGNY school, we don’t encourage first choice. Everything a parent sends is put in the child’s folder and reviewed.


    Please offer some “big-picture” advice on how parents should orient toward the ongoing school admissions process.

    BASIS Independent: The most important thing you can do—and something to remember throughout—is to relax and try to stay calm. Be sure to keep an open mind going into admissions events or meeting with schools. You might have a very clear picture of your top choices, but listen to your gut if and when things shift. Don’t just rely on a school’s reputation—check it out for yourself… Prioritize what is important to you and where you are willing to be flexible.

    Alexander Robertson School: If your child is attending a local nursery school when you’re applying to ongoing school, then chances are you’ll be meeting with your nursery school director or some school official to discuss what schools would be good choices place based on your child’s needs. A helpful director will be current on the educational programs and general approach and atmosphere of the ongoing schools.

    Hewitt School: Parents should begin their search with an open mind. There are so many fantastic independent schools in New York City that are all very different from one another. Parents should really look at a number of different types of schools because they might be surprised by what they find. They should talk to their preschool directors about what types of schools might be best for their child. But since they will be a part of the new community as well, they should also think about what factors are important to them.

    Léman Manhattan Preparatory School: Help narrow down your options with the criteria most important to you. Are you looking for a school through grade 12, the International Baccalaureate program, single-sex, in a certain neighbor-hood convenient to home or work? Think about what you most value in your child’s education. Is it diversity, critical thinking, social and emotional development? This will help you set a framework for evaluating how each school delivers on those priorities.

    Smart City Kids: Once you’ve come up with a preliminary list based on your priorities, you can focus in on details. Be honest with yourself about what will work for your family, but try to keep an open mind. For example, while location might be crucial for nursery school, to get a wide-ranging list of ongoing school options you’re probably going to have to travel outside of your neighborhood. Be careful about labels like “traditional” or “progressive”: Few schools are all one or the other; many combine a balance that will become clearer when you actually visit. Most schools are looking for a broad-based diversity, but be aware that religious schools will generally include a faith-based component to their curriculum. Keep an open mind about exploring approaches that might be new to you: Single-sex schools, or schools that are structured K-8 (assisting your child in high school placement).

    Should parents with future Kindergartners be thinking down the line about a school’s upper grades, or, if it doesn’t have an upper school, its admissions success in placing children in other private schools? Or should they primarily be focused on finding a school that feels like a good fit right now?

    Rudolf Steiner School: We expect people to view school as an educational experience that concludes after grade 12, and continues to shine for our graduates. So families applying to a lower school are encouraged to contact the admissions office with questions about high school, and to have attended a tour of the upper school. We want to help parents have a vision of their children with the school for the duration of their elementary and secondary education. Showing a sense of curiosity indicates to an admissions officer that you are invested and really interested in their school, not just attending an independent school.

    Alexander Robertson: When you’re looking for a school for a child who is going into Kindergarten, try not to give much weight to that school’s college admissions record. The prestige factor is enticing, but also misleading. For children who are 4 years old, there’s not enough evidence yet to reliably predict what their learning style, interests, and challenges will be in higher grades. It’s better to choose a school based on whether you think your child will thrive there right now.

    In addition to school officials, who are the best people to speak with to get to know a school?

    BASIS Independent: After speaking directly to school officials—namely teachers—speaking to parents of currently enrolled students is key to understanding the type of learning community a program offers. If you are able to, speak to non-teaching staff who don’t work in admissions: Do they like working at the school? What are their observations of the students and general learning environment? It is important for parents and guardians to feel comfortable with the school community, but it should naturally first and foremost be about the learning community that your child will experience that drives your decision-making process.

    Battery Park Montessori: Admissions consultants are useful. Look for one who has a demonstrated record in the age group you are targeting. If you are seeking Kindergarten admission, make sure they have a track record there… Admissions consultants cannot get your child into a school. They can save you time in your search and improve your child’s chances by helping you find the best matches. Many of those with long track records also have good relationships with admissions directors. This means that their recommendations are trusted. So, if they do not think you have a good chance of getting in, they won’t recommend you.

    The Parents League: Parents whose children attend or attended the school can provide guidance and information, but remember: Every child and family has their own unique experience at a school and their personal experience can color how they view and portray the school to you. Also be aware that schools and administrations change and a parent whose child attended a school 10 years ago may be offering information that is no longer current. In the end, the best source of information is the school itself and your school visit.

    Should parents be mainly focused on whether a school is a good educational match for their child? What about a social match? Should parents care about how they themselves fit in to the school community?

    Alt School: Everyone has an opinion about what makes a school the “best” school, but it’s important to choose what’s right for your family. And what’s right for your child is most likely right for your family. You want your child to be excited to go to school every day, to feel engaged, to be respected.

    School Search NYC: A family and school are potentially married for 6-13 years or more depending on if a child starts in pre-K or Kindergarten and at what grade the school’s students graduate. While the fit for the child is the most important variable, the parents’ fit in the school community is also an important variable to consider. My personal and professional experience is that every school has a wide range of families in its community and it is often more a matter of with whom your child ends up becoming friends and how much you like and respect the parents on the board and parents heading up the PTA and fund-raising and social events.

    Any special advice for filling out the application?

    British International School: We would simply advise parents to be as upfront as possible about what you are looking for and what you believe would best suit your child. That way when we meet we already have a sense for your requirements and how best we can accommodate them to meet the needs of your child.

    Caedmon School: Be honest. Most importantly, be anecdotal. Common descriptors, such as “creative,” “empathetic,” or “thoughtful” may indeed be both true and accurate, but these words alone describe most children. Any opportunity the application provides a parent to describe and differentiate their child should be taken advantage of, as long as you are doing so with specific stories about your child.

    Calhoun School: Be respectful of the admission director’s time by being concise. Demonstrate that you’ve taken time to learn about the school.

    Dwight School: This one seems like a given, but make sure you name the correct school on your application responses! Families are completing so many applications, so we understand, but it never makes a great first impression to say: “We are delighted to be applying to School A” on School B’s application.

    New York International School: Be honest. Admissions officers love hearing your authentic voice. They can smell coaching and professionally edited applications a mile away.

    Rudolf Steiner School: Admissions directors appreciate a candid, thoughtful, and succinct report on the child. A carefully crafted short essay will go a long way with a description that allows the reader to get a picture that will find an echo when one meets the child in person. Long lists of classes they are taking are not as helpful as reading how the family spends time together over a meal, or what a child loves doing most when she or he has free time.

    School Search NYC: School essay questions vary a bit, but basically if you write a one-page essay introducing your child to the admissions department, you should be able to cut and paste your answers into the rest of your applications with only a bit of modification. Consider a few paragraphs on your child’s strengths. Not a long laundry list of adjectives, but a few choice ones with anecdotes to make them come alive… Then a paragraph on your family, its background, languages spoken, values and/or what you enjoy doing together. Next, a paragraph on what type of educational environment might be best for your child or what you are looking for in your child’s education.

    How many schools should one apply to feel reasonably good about the likelihood of landing at least one seat?

    BASIS Independent: There is, unfortunately, no rhyme or reason or magic number of schools that one should apply to. It is probably best not to apply to just one school, but more importantly, don’t apply to a school you know you would never send your child to.

    School Search NYC: Do think broadly about schools and come up with a realistic list. I generally recommend 6-10 with eight being a good number. However, how many schools you have on the list will depend on how willing you are to think broadly and also consider the public schools. If you are willing to consider the public schools, then you may just want to apply to a few schools that really interest you.

    What are a few of the most important things to look out for on a school tour?

    Alt School: School tours can sometime feel a bit like pageantry, but kids (particularly younger kids) tend to be open books. So observe the students, if possible. Pay attention to how teachers interact with one another—are they collegial, friendly and supportive to one another? Do they support your presence and questions in the same way? In classrooms, watch for subtle and not so subtle cues. That includes things like how they are organized; you’ll want to see a balance between structure and creativity, quiet spaces and more open collaborative spaces. Look for learning artifacts on display, considering what each says about the approach and how students engage.

    BASIS Independent: Observe the students and teachers. Are they happy to be there? Are they smiling and engaging positively? If you are able to observe classes, have a look at the teaching styles utilized in the classroom. It is, of course, important to get a sense of the facilities of the school, but remember that what goes on in the classroom is the most important and defining aspect of a program.

    Battery Park Montessori: Transparency: If a school lets you dialogue with its students, parents, teachers, then that’s a confident school that believes that you will make the right choice for your child. Language Immersion: Are teachers teaching in a foreign language? Are children expected to become fluent? Any other approach is beyond obsolete and a disservice to a child who will need to function in a multilingual world. Student Art: The days of viewing the arts as a side interest are long gone. Now we know from decades of research that artistic development enhances all other areas of learning. Leadership: Who is talking more, teacher or students? If the students, then listen to what they are saying. Are they sharing ideas? Are they listening to one another? Look for environments where students are encouraged to think critically and collaborate… Materials: Do you see a variety of tools and materials in the classrooms or just textbooks? Are there stations for learning in different ways? Today’s classroom should have multiple ways to learn and express ideas. Engagement: Are the students joyful? You know when a child is enjoying a learning experience… Students: Does the teacher or tour guide invite students to tell you about what they are doing? That is the mark of a great school that believes in the product it’s delivering.

    Caedmon School: Visiting schools for a tour provides a wonderful opportunity to observe the children and teachers working in the classrooms, to gain a better understanding of the philosophy and approach, and possibly to speak with current parents. If possible, try to arrive in time to see morning drop-off. Are the children happy to go to school? Is there someone greeting them as they enter the building? How is the flow of the drop-off, orderly or chaotic?

    Dwight School: On a school tour, look carefully at the students in class. Are they smiling? Participating? Engaged? In the halls, are they friendly with one another and polite to you? What about the teachers—do they seem comfortable with their classes and the material? You’re not only sending your child into a building, but also into a community. It can be easy to be distracted by facilities; really look at the people and their interactions.

    New York International: I would say to pay more attention to the people in the building than to the “stuff.” Pay attention to the students. Do they look happy? Engaged? Connected to the adults and/or other students?

    Pine Street School: Trust your gut feelings. Do children look happy? Are they doing original work (not worksheets)? Do they seem engaged as learners? Is there a comfortable buzz of activity? Are children doing different things or are they all doing the same single task assigned by the teacher? Do they seem excited about their learning, or are they just eager to please, finish, or be the first to complete a given task?

    Smart City Kids: There are some obvious things: You want to see happy and engaged children, and you want to see teachers who reflect a genuine interest in their students. Look at the work on the walls of the classroom, the art in the hallways. But in general touring is a subjective experience, and different people are affected by different things. You need to pay attention to how you feel when you first walk into a school: trust your gut. Also be aware that while you are observing the school, the school is observing you. While the most important person in the process is probably the admissions director, you want to be nice to everyone you encounter, from the security guard at the front desk to the parent tour guide to the head of school. You are always being observed, and you never know who might have influence.

    Any advice for the parent interview? And how should you prepare a child for their interview?

    Alt School: I really like when parents ask me about our teachers. It shows that they are focused on perhaps the most important aspect of a school—the quality and approach of its educators. Don’t feel the need to “brag” about your child; respond directly to the questions asked and try to be as forthright as possible. When parents are open and honest about strengths (and weaknesses) it leaves the impression that they will be good partners once the child is admitted and begins school.

    BASIS Independent: Try to approach the interview as a two way conversation. This is just as much about you getting a feel for the fit as much as the school is trying to get a sense of how your child is aligned with their student body. There is a lot of information online about most schools, but much can be learned by having a conversation. Even if you “know” the answer to a question you have that might be of particular import, ask it again. Listen to how the interviewer answers it.

    Battery Park Montessori: Admissions officers are generally impressed when parents have actually read the website and found answers to commonly asked questions. This communicates a seriousness and commitment on your part. Do mention things you learned on the school’s website. If one of your questions is not answered on the website, ask it. Do mention if you spoke to other parents whose children attended the school. Be the interviewer. Ask questions that are targeted to how that school suits your child. The more you illustrate an understanding of your own child and a desire to make sure that the school will be the most nurturing environment possible, the more impressed the admissions officer will be. Remember, you are not being interviewed. You are interviewing the school. You are not there to be judged or rejected. You are simply there to find out if that school offers your child what he or she needs, so go into the conversation with thoughtful, researched questions… Be quick, targeted, respectful, and a good listener. When you tour the school, make note of three things that impress you, and when you are in the interview, be sure to mention those things. Truthful flattery will make you memorable to the admissions officer.

    British International School: We recommend parents help children identify an item to bring with them which will make them feel comfortable but also provide something they can talk to the school about easily, for example a book or certificate. It allows the child to feel more relaxed and gives the school a window into something that important to your child. Beyond that it the school’s hope that the child will be as relaxed and comfortable during the interview and admissions process and so we do not expect any prior preparation.

    Dwight School: Do some practice interviews with your child. If you are not sure what an interviewer might ask, that’s okay. Go with basics. Better to prepare your child for the experience with broad questions than not prepare him or her at all. Things like eye contact, handshakes, poise, and positivity are important and can certainly be practiced at home!

    Hewitt School: Children pick up on the anxieties of their parents so if a parent is stressed about their child’s interview, the child will be stressed too. Just let them know that they will be doing some fun activities and to have a great time meeting new people. Also, let your children wear what they want to wear—you don’t know how many times a fight over clothing has completely derailed a child’s interview. Schools don’t care if a child shows up in a perfectly ironed dress—that’s not the real messiness of childhood. 

    Léman Manhattan Preparatory School: The play session is just that – play. We encourage parents of young children not to call it an interview. We want children to feel comfortable and at ease in our school and recommend parents tell their child he or she is going to a play date to meet some new friends. Keep it simple and positive.

    New York International: I always tell children that they’ll be meeting adults who really love kids. Talking to kids all day is their job, as is trying to help students find a school where they’ll be really happy in. They should know that they’ll be asked questions, but there won’t be any wrong answers; the admission people just want to get to know them. Children need to know that they should be honest and speak freely.

    The Parents League: Before your child’s visit or interview, parents should inquire ahead with each school about its procedure. Letting your child know what to expect is very reassuring and the best preparation for the visit. Be confident and relaxed when you talk to your child about the visit. Let your child know that the grown-ups at the school will be asking him or her simple questions like her name and how she gets to school. Tell your child that the grown-ups will also be asking him or her to participate in some activities… Not only should you tell your child what to expect, but also tell your child that you expect her to cooperate. Now and over the next few months you can prepare your child for school visits by encouraging her to make eye contact when speaking and responding to you and other grown-ups. Reading to your child, talking to your child, playing games and puzzles, and providing lots of opportunities to use paper, crayons, pencils, markers, scissors and tape is a great way to prepare your child for the interviews. Most important, set aside some unstructured time for your child to play. And on the day of the visit, make sure your child is well-rested and well-fed.

    Pine Street School: Be honest! Tell the story of your child, with all of the relevant information about their talents and challenges. Explain in detail why you are interested in this particular school for your child.

    Goddard: Parents feel the pressure and importance of getting into a good school so they sometimes transfer their stress onto their children. When children feel stressed, they do not perform as well. Keep the interviews as a “fun” visit to a new school, and when the child feels comfortable they will be able to perform optimally, letting the interviewee see how much they know. A student should never feel the pressure of “practicing” for an interview; they will shut down if they feel too much pressure.

    Smart City Kids: Schools are looking for families who present a good match for what the schools has to offer, both academically and as a community. Most schools are looking for a broad based diversity: different types of people bonded by a commitment to the school, and kids who bring a variety of personalities to the classroom. You should be able to describe your child in an appealing, well-rounded manner. Keep in mind that no one expects you to be objective, and this is your chance to boast a little, but be realistic about her/his strengths, and make sure any challenges you bring up can be easily spun to a positive. Be able to articulate what you are looking for in a school, both academically and in terms of community, and make sure your vision is a good match for the school’s mission.

    How do you choose which schools you prefer above all the rest?

    Hewitt School: I think that you need to spend as much time really getting to know the school as you need. Ask to be put in touch with parents, ask to sit in on a class, ask all of the questions you need to ask, meet with the head of school, attend events like school plays or performances. I think most importantly, rely on information coming from people who are directly involved with the school.

    New York International School: Parents know; they just have to be willing and sometimes brave enough to listen to what their hearts (and not their neighbors) are telling them.

    The cost for independent school is quite substantial for many parents. What’s the value?

    Hewitt School: At my school, every child is known by her teachers and peers. That’s the beauty of a small school and a small classroom size. Each child is challenged in a way that is specific to her. She is celebrated for who she is and the ideas that she uniquely brings to the table. The curriculum is specifically designed based on what the research tells us about girls. I’ve watched introverted middle school girls develop the confidence to run for major leadership positions, lower school girls who were terrified of making mistakes learn that taking risks is a natural part of learning, and upper school girls who are so comfortable within themselves that they can stand in front of a room of hundreds of people and deliver a deeply personal speech.

    Léman Manhattan Preparatory School: An independent school can have a specific philosophy that resonates with the family’s interest and values, and can deliver a high level of personalized learning to each child.

    Pine Street School: Independent schools offer an individualized, differentiated program tailored for your special child. Also rigorous learning and assessments with international benchmark standards are of great value. Low student-teacher ratio is well known to be beneficial for all students. How much professional development the teachers have has direct correlation to the quality of learning for each student and is generally significantly greater at independent versus public schools.

    Rudolf Steiner School: The value of an independent school education shines through its liberal arts courses, abundant extracurricular offerings, and amazing one-on-one college guidance. One is embraced by a faculty who is engaged fully in student development. Independent school faculties are passionate not only about their subjects, but about the growth of the individual and preparation for a world outside of school… Students who are engaged in their education and its community have the opportunity to grow and experience the world on multiple levels both within academia and without, and the support they receive as they go through their adolescence is priceless. Alumni frequently speak about the networking and collegiality that comes from attending a private school.


    The Alexander Robertson School
    Grades Pre-K-5
    Irwin Schlachter, Head of School

    The Alt School
    Grades Pre-K-8
    Maggie Quale, Director of PR

    BASIS Independent Brooklyn, Grades Preschool-12
    BASIS Independent Manhattan, Grades K-8
    LaNette Hodge, Director of Student Enrollment

    Battery Park Montessori
    Ages 2-6
    Dr. Jennifer Jones, Director; Founder of Green Ivy Schools

    British International School
    Ages 3-14
    Abigail Greystroke, Deputy Chief Executive

    The Caedmon School
    Age 2.75 – Grade 5
    Matthew Stuart, Head of School

    The Calhoun School
    Age 2.8 – Grade 12
    Robin Otton, Director of Admissions

    Dwight School
    Grades Preschool-12
    Miranda Lodato, Director of Admissions, Grades 9-12
    Nora Thomson, Director of Admissions, Early Childhood Development

    Epiphany Community Nursery School
    Wendy Levey, Head of School

    The Goddard School
    Age 6 Weeks – Pre-K
    Bill Swan, Owner

    The Hewitt School
    Grades K-12
    Amy Jablonski, Director of Admissions, K-12