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Admissions A-Z: How To Find the Right Atlanta Private School

Greater Atlanta Christian School

When searching for a private or independent school, one of the most stressful parts of the process is often determining what each school is looking for from the admissions process and how to prepare for it. School websites tell you the basics, but you’re often still stuck with questions like: What should information should you be compiling and organizing? How do you and your child work together to find the right fit? What’s the best way to get a good feel for each school?

The Walker School, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, The Paideia School, St. Martin’s Episcopal School, Pace Academy, Eastside Christian School, Marist School and Greater Atlanta Christian School have your answers. They provided inside information to help KNOWAtlanta readers navigate the whole process.

Getting Started

The best way to prepare for the admissions process is to thoroughly research the schools and narrow down which you think will be the best fit for your child. Rate your priorities: Is having smaller class sizes the most important to you, or is it having a variety of courses and special programs? Along with knowing what kind of learner your child is, making a list like this will help narrow down your options.

Jim Byrne, vice president for admission at Marist, also reminds parents to consider what works best for their unique family needs. Busy families may want to consider schools with extended stay options or those that offer K-12 on the same campus. Others may want an environment that prioritizes diversity or emphasizes religious education.

At Mount Vernon, parents should have questions ready and always keep an open mind, said Head of Marketing Anne Katz. “Families researching schools are encouraged to take a look at, and reflect on, their family values and expectations for their child’s experience,” Katz said.

All of the school leaders agreed that coming to visit campus is the best way to prepare, whether that’s through an open house or an athletic event. “By visiting our school, parents have a chance to gather information and meet our school community first hand,” said JoJo Cadray, assistant director of admissions for outreach at Paideia. “Our admission staff and faculty strive for parents’ visiting experience to be personal and friendly. While on campus, prospective families hear about the school’s philosophy, values, and culture, and observe teachers and students in action. Asking questions allows each family to evaluate how well a school can meet the specific needs of their child, as well as how they can contribute to the school community.”

Saint Martin’s Episcopal School. Photo: PWP Studio Photographers

What to Look For in a Visit

Rebecca Condon, director of admission at Walker, said the things parents should be looking for when they first visit a school depend on their priorities for their child, but everyone should take note of one thing in particular. “For some parents, the performing arts auditorium is significant, and for others, the curriculum offered in the science department has more importance,” Condon said. “Regardless of the age or interest of the child, however, it is helpful to look for active engagement between students and teachers.”

Everyone interviewed also agreed that student-teacher involvement should be highly prioritized. Katz from Mount Vernon suggested studying a classroom and asking tour guides how teachers are inspired and equipped, how families can get connected and how students can further discover their strengths and weaknesses in everyday learning. Deb Knoblock, head of school at Eastside Christian, also suggested taking a look at the student-teacher relationship. “During a school visit, parents or guardians should consider the quality of the relationships present among the faculty, as well as between teachers and students,” she said. “Paying close attention to the traits the enrolled students possess is also a wise area of focus.”

Cadray at Paideia provided questions for parents to ask of a school to see if their child would be a good fit:

• Do the students look engaged in their learning?

• Can you picture your child in this classroom?

• What programs are offered that coincide with your child’s interests?

• What are the academic offerings?

• Does the school cultivate the social/emotional development of its students?

• Do teachers create an environment that encourages students to take risks?

• Is the school flexible enough to adjust to the needs of its students?

Cadray said to not only seek the answers to these questions during your school visit from teachers, admissions staff and faculty, but also to coordinate a chat with current families about their experiences. Jennifer McGurn, director of admissions at Pace, advised choosing a school where a child can grow with the wide variety of offerings, since a student’s interests can change over time. She also encouraged parents to take a look at a school’s college placements. “My advice to parents is to look at the depth of a school’s college acceptance list,” McGurn said. “Of course, Ivy League placements are impressive, but what’s more indicative of a school’s college counseling experience is where the other 95 percent of a senior class matriculates. You want a school in which your child will be known, loved and shepherded into the next phase of his or her life with great care.”

The Walker School

What to Ask of a Teacher Reference

The majority of private and independent schools in the Atlanta area request a recommendation from a previous teacher, if available, so the admissions team can gain a better understanding of prospective student that extends beyond test scores and grade point averages.

“References offer a great peek into everything from intellectual curiosity, work habits, class participation, leadership and character,” explained Mary Helen Bryant, admissions director for Greater Atlanta Christian. “Much of the admissions process is reduced to numbers on a page, but a teacher reference gives an admissions committee a look inside what excites and motivates students and how they interact with others. There’s no easy answer because it takes all types of people to build a healthy school community, but teacher references are a great way to get to know students through the perspective of their most recent school experience.”

Previous teachers can speak to traits and habits that make your student unique, like motivation, curiosity, kindness, achievement, developmental readiness and social and emotional maturity. Kathryn Johnson, assistant director of admission and registrar at St. Martin’s, said in these references, her school is looking for a “candid assessment of a child’s strengths and challenges, as well as a candid assessment of a child’s ability to work collaboratively with other students.”

How Schools Choose Future Students

Many of Atlanta’s private school leaders like to see how your child will interact with their teachers during initial interviews. Typically, prospective students are brought in for an interview or classroom observation, where the child will participate in group or individual academic work.

“Interviews allow members of our school community to get to know applicants through unscripted and unrehearsed interactions,” said McGurn of Pace. “The interview process should be personal — we want to know what makes each applicant tick, how his or her gifts might benefit our greater school community and how we might encourage a child to flourish in the years to come.”

Some schools also include a parent interview process, where you can share more insightful information about your child’s personality and accomplishments.“We don’t just look for children who have already demonstrated unusual talents; some kids’ traits are not particularly unusual, but they bring to the school and bring to life strong character and great promise,” said Katz of Paideia. “There are many ways people can make a difference: sometimes by their achievements and sometimes by their presence.”

Ultimately, some of the best advice for those searching for a private school comes from Bryant at Greater Atlanta Christian: “It is important to keep in mind that the goal for the parent and the school is the same — to determine if a school is a place where their child can thrive and add to the community. … Try to relax and trust the process, understanding there may be more than one place where your child can shine.”

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