What You Need to Know About Applying to Atlanta’s Private and Independent Schools
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 10 percent of school-age children in the U.S. attend a private school. That number has remained fairly constant for one reason: parents have more freedom of choice in directing their child’s education with a private school versus a public school. And the metro Atlanta area is home to some of the country’s best private schools, serving 30,773 students in the 2018-19 school year. In fact, families relocating to the Atlanta area will find that they have many excellent choices. Of course, there’s a process that goes into applying to and enrolling in your school of choice.
“There are many great school options in the Atlanta area, and finding the right fit requires time and research on behalf of parents,” says Jennifer McGurn, director of admissions for Pace Academy, a K-12 private school in Buckhead. With so many schools throughout the metro region, it’s important to start by looking at various schools’ missions and how those fit your child’s needs.
For instance, Lyndon Academy, a private international college-preparatory school in Woodstock, recognizes that finding just the right fit for a child’s academic needs is challenging. “We try to make the process as easy as possible for students and parents as they get closer to finalizing their decision,” says Linda Murdock, headmaster. “Lyndon Academy offers a global program that produces young adults that are flexible, well-rounded, have languages, knowledge of technology and interpersonal skills in order to be successful, contributing members of society.”
Atlanta International School (AIS), a 3K through 12 private school, is a uniquely diverse community comprised of approximately 50 percent local students and 50 percent international students. The AIS community represents more than 90 countries and offers a challenging curriculum that culminates in the IB Diploma, one of the most rigorous college-preparatory programs in the world. “We are looking for students who demonstrate a spirit of curiosity, empathy and passion about their world,” says Pilar Guzmán Striuli, marketing director.
And Roswell’s Atlanta Academy, which serves PK2 through 8th grade, strives to give every student the individual attention they need to succeed. Its Bridge Program, which provides supplementary academic support to students of average to above average intelligence with mild learning differences in first grade through middle school, is an example of that commitment. According to Kristi McCarthy, director of admissions and enrollment, “Atlanta Academy understands that academic and emotional challenges can be intertwined, and our goal is to address both in a positive, supportive environment.”
The Application Approach
Once you’ve found a school—or maybe even more than one school—that you feel would be an ideal fit for your child, it’s time to start the application process, which can be a multi-step undertaking.
The first step is visiting the websites of prospective schools. McGurn notes, “Most schools outline the admission requirements and deadlines on their website, in addition to offering a variety of ways to visit campus.” The application process originates on school websites, whether they are processed in-house, as is the case with Lyndon Academy, Atlanta Academy and Mt. Bethel Christian Academy, or by using Ravenna, a software hub that allows parents and students to manage applications for various schools from one central location. Pace Academy, Springmont School (the Southeast’s first Montessori school) and AIS, among many others, utilize the hub to process applications from beginning to end.
One key requirement to consider is the need for testing during the application process. Generally, schools require standardized test scores, and some require additional testing; exams like the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE), the Secondary School Admissions Exam (SSAT) or the Joint Admissions Testing Program (JATP) are commonly used at private and independent schools nationwide. Of course, every school will have its own testing requirements, and there will be different prerequisites for a PreK student versus a high school student. The same is true for the information that you are asked to provide on the application itself.
For example, Pace Academy makes the individual student and his or her family central to the academic environment and requests a family statement as a part of the admission process; the school considers it a unique opportunity for parents to connect and share information about their child or family unit. The school also utilizes the Character Skills Snapshot, an assessment tool that measures character skills like open-mindedness, resilience, self-control, social awareness and teamwork. “Our mission is to create prepared, confident citizens of the world. Therefore, we seek to enroll students who are motivated, empathetic and curious about the world around them,” says McGurn.
A student’s compatibility with a school often can be established during a school visit, which many private and independent schools recommend. However, it goes beyond a quick introduction, as schools often urge prospective students to take a day and immerse themselves in the academic environment by shadowing other students for a day prior to completing the application process. As Andrea Restifo, director of admissions for Springmont School, asserts, “Choosing a school is somewhat like searching for a home—you know if it feels right when you visit.” Chip Barber, director of admissions for Mt. Bethel Christian Academy in Marietta, agrees, saying that a visit is the best route to understanding the classroom environment and connecting with current students.
Timing is Everything
There is a season for everything, including private school application deadlines. Fortunately, schools in the metro Atlanta area have parents’ needs in mind. As Julie Strickland of Springmont School notes, “Moving to a new city or state can be overwhelming, and selecting a private school is often just one piece of the puzzle. It’s reassuring to know that Atlanta has many exceptional private schools, and that, compared with other cities, the application season is much later, usually ranging from October to mid-February.”
Typically, private school enrollment deadlines fall somewhere in January or February of each year, but member schools in the AAAIS (Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools) designate a common annual notification date, the last Saturday in March, to advise students of their acceptance. Once your student has received notification, you are free to begin the formal enrollment process. That additional time can be very helpful when you’re in the middle of a move, whether from another state or across town.
Ultimately, the goal of every student, parent, and school administrator is to ensure that they achieve a superior education in a setting that is best suited to the individual. And while the process of choosing and applying to private schools can be time-consuming, the effort will be well worth it in the end.