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By Ken Abramczyk
When parents move to a new city or just want to investigate educational options for their children, they may turn to independent private schools to explore their options. As they search, they want a good match. Fortunately, metro Atlanta’s independent schools roll out the welcome mat in a variety of ways, wanting parents to be comfortable knowing that their children will be educated in a nurturing environment.
Of course, with private school application and enrollment deadlines often falling in late winter or early spring of each year (if a school does not have rolling admissions), the late fall/early winter admissions season can be a hectic and challenging one to navigate. How should you prepare for the process and what can you expect during that time from application to acceptance? Here, several independent metro Atlanta schools share their recommendations and advice.
Turn to AAAIS
Many schools recommend visiting the website of the Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools (AAAIS) at the beginning of the application process. The organization serves about 70 schools and over 35,000 students, and each member school follows the same AAAIS admission deadlines.
Local private school application deadlines generally range from mid-January through early February. AAAIS member schools will notify families whether or not their child or children have been accepted on March 30, 2024. Families applying to one or more schools can respond by April 11 and secure their enrollment. The period between those two dates is known as AAAIS’s silent period. During that time, member schools may not proactively reach out to admitted families nor can they host admitted families on campus, according to Nija Majmudar Meyer, vice president for enrollment management at Woodward Academy and lead for the admissions cohort of AAAIS for the past two years. She explains, “The goal is to give admitted families time to carefully weigh their options, reflect upon their experiences with the different schools and make a decision that will best fit their family without feeling rushed or pressured.”
In addition to AAAIS, many schools request that families register on Ravenna.com, a web-based admission system that allows families to apply to private schools. Of course, some non-AAAIS member schools request that families apply on their own websites, so parents should contact each school to find out the best way to apply and begin the process.
Prepare for the Application Process
James Foreman, director of admissions and enrollment management at The Galloway School in Atlanta, suggests that parents use resources, including AAAIS and, for his school, Galloway’s website, to connect with parents or school alumni. “Create a list of possible ‘best fit’ schools and register in Ravenna to begin exploring schools, upcoming events and admission requirements,” he says. Parents can sign up for notification of events during the admissions season. Then they can begin to tackle other tasks associated with the application process.
- Pay a visit
Many private schools offer tours that allow families to learn about them before submitting an application. David Hughes, admissions associate at Atlanta Academy in Roswell, suggests visiting a campus first to discover its features and amenities; for instance, at Atlanta Academy, the fully immersive music room and recording studio often are standouts for visiting families. In addition, he says, “Our STEAM labs feature cutting-edge technology, such as laser cutters and 3D printers, which provide students with hands-on learning experiences.” Seeing these types of assets in person can help with a family’s decision.
North Cobb Christian School invites families to either attend Preview Days, held twice a year on Saturdays in November and January, or come in for a personal tour, which can be set up at any time. Mill Springs Academy also offers individual campus tours for families, while The Galloway School offers tours weekday mornings starting in October and running through the end of January.
High Meadows, located in Roswell, also recommends families tour schools in which they are interested. “If High Meadows is that right fit, families can prepare by joining us for additional events like open house, alumni presentation night or financial aid information sessions,” says Laura Nicholson, director of enrollment and advancement.
In terms of timing all of the elements of the application process, Mac McCallum, director of admissions and financial aid at Pace Academy in Atlanta, says that because most metro Atlanta application deadlines are in January or February, working backwards from those dates is good practice. He advises, “Visit schools in October, November and December and then submit application materials in January or February, depending on the school’s deadline.”
- Gather Materials
Gathering materials for the application process is of the utmost importance. If parents are planning for their children to switch schools, they should contact their current or previous school to obtain transcripts. “Basic paperwork is good to have, such as your child’s birth certificate and report cards,’ says Alex Sullivan, director of admissions and dean of discipline for the Upper School at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta. According to Honey Brannon, director of admissions and enrollment management at Atlanta Girls’ School, parents should get transcripts from the past two years and contact information of previous teachers and administrators who may be notified for evaluations and test results. This will give schools an understanding of a child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their academic background.
Some schools may go beyond basic paperwork as well. For example, applicants at Paideia School in Atlanta should be prepared to provide a teacher’s evaluation, transcripts and educational records, says Tiffany Nelson, director of admissions and enrollment management. She notes, “Depending on the grade, your applicant may be asked to submit a writing sample or graded assignments.”
For possible admission to Mill Springs Academy in Alpharetta, which serves students with ADHD and learning differences, parents should gather their child’s psychological or psychoeducational evaluation and Individual Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan, if applicable, to support their child’s learning difference. “Parents can best prepare by understanding the needs of their child and their performance in the classroom,” says Jennifer Slaker, director of enrollment at Mill Springs.
Fortunately, many local private schools work diligently to make the application process as seamless as possible for families. Woodward Academy, for instance, strives to make the admissions process user-friendly at its campuses in College Park and Johns Creek; once families have submitted an application, the admissions portal populates a checklist of required materials and deadlines. Families receive weekly reminders as the application deadline approaches. According to Meyer, the specific checklists vary by grade but generally include requests for transcripts or report cards, evaluation forms (from the child’s current school) and an admissions assessment.
Inquire About Rolling Admissions
If families are relocating in the middle of a school year, or if personal circumstances require a school change for their children, they may want quicker admission into a school. Schools like Mill Springs Academy, Mount Paran Christian School in Atlanta and Mount Pisgah Christian School in Johns Creek use rolling admissions, which allows them to review applications on an ongoing basis instead of using a fixed application deadline. In fact, Mount Paran reviews applications as early as December. What’s more, families applying to The Walker School’s Early Learners, Pre-Kindergarten and New Avenues programs at its Marietta campus receive admission decisions on a rolling basis. Those who apply at Atlanta Girls’ School outside of the regular admissions season can expect a decision depending on the time of year and how quickly the applicant provides information and supporting documents.
Kirsten Beard, chief admissions officer at Mount Vernon School recommends sticking to the application deadlines to participate in the first round of admission decisions. “Once decisions are released in late March, spaces are limited and applications are accepted on a rolling admissions basis,” she says. “The best way to choose the right school for your child is to ask lots of questions and get to know the school’s mission and approach to teaching and learning.”
Track the Application
Parents who submit applications through Ravenna can track the application through that online portal, which provides access to all applications in one location. “Parents will be able to see green checkmarks for each step completed,” says Katherine Harrison, director of admission for The Walker School.
Some schools use other outlets to help families keep track of their applications. For Mill Springs applicants, parents can track deadlines and submissions for both admissions and financial aid in the FACTS Management platform. “Our timeline, depending on the season, is about three weeks,” says Katie Thompson, director of outreach and financial aid.
Applications at North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw are run through the school’s student information system, where parents can track their application. And Mount Pisgah Christian School applicants must fill out an inquiry on the school’s website; this allows parents to then create an account on the school’s enrollment management system and submit an application, adding family information and the applicant’s school history. According to Megan Koch, director of admissions, “The parent and student questionnaires ask about your child’s strengths and weaknesses both academically and socially, interests and hobbies and ways in which your family feels they can contribute to the school community.” When the school can access this information easily through its own system, the application process runs smoothly.
Meet and Interview with the Staff
Sarah Garletts, director of enrollment management at Whitefield Academy in Smyrna, says admissions professionals sit in the unique space of being advocates for the school and the family. “To do this well, we really need to know the families walking through the process,” she explains. “At Whitefield, we do not require a parent interview, but we do want to know every family so that we can advocate well.”
During an interview parents should discuss their child’s attributes to the admissions associate, Galloway’s Foreman says. “Consider points of strength and growth for your child that you would like to see continued support within the learning community.” Harrison adds, “Be yourself and let your children be themselves.” Additionally, be as candid as possible during the process, Sullivan says, adding, “It’s not necessarily about trying to impress every school that you research, but more about finding the right fit.”
At Paideia School, the meetings generally last 30 to 45 minutes. “Think of these as conversations as opposed to an evaluative interview,” Nelson says. “Our goal is to learn more about your family and your child, particularly their previous and current educational experiences.”
Woodward Academy interviews students in sixth through 12th grades with at least one of the parents in attendance. Meyer states, “To us, the ‘interview’ is a relaxed and fun opportunity for us to learn more about your child and for your child to learn more about what makes Woodward such a special community.”
At Mill Springs Academy, parents meet with the principal. “They are encouraged to ask questions about Mill Springs’ curriculum, class management, and how the school differentiates for each student,” Slaker says. Families applying to North Cobb Christian School also participate in an interview with the principal of their respective division (Lower, Middle or Upper).
Regardless of who is part of the interview, be honest, advises Koch at Mount Pisgah, who adds, “Let your children speak during the interview process—do not speak for them. If they are not presenting perfectly, it’s okay. They are being who they are: kids. The admissions team is looking for genuine applicants and mission-appropriate families.”
Pace Academy’s McCallum says, “Families should be transparent about their child’s academic readiness and should expect similar transparency from admissions representatives regarding what the school can or cannot provide.”
Stephane Dunn, director of admission at Mount Paran Christian School, says parents and students are interviewed separately, including time with a school administrator. She explains, “Parents can prepare questions they may have about the school or the admission process. MPCS administration will inquire the families with questions pertaining to missional fit.”
Through the interview process, Atlanta Academy—like many schools—aims for meaningful connections beyond finding and supporting exceptional students. That’s because, as Hughes says, “Upon enrollment, our parents will become a part of our diverse school community, where we build collaborative partnerships for the success of our parent population and student body.”
Engage and Connect with the School
Families may want to spend the fall and winter months visiting campuses even beyond the standard tour, attending open houses, interviewing, going to games and seeing performances, McCallum says. However, parents should not drive themselves crazy trying to attend everything; he adds, “Be thoughtful about which events might move the needle most in terms of your attempts to understand the school.”
Foreman does advise parents to take the time to engage in as many events as they can when possible. He explains, “School communities want to get to know the parents just as much as they get to know their children, so please be authentic with your actions.”
For students in particular, many schools have shadow events during which prospective students shadow current students. “Shadow visits, also known as the Hurricane for a Day program, is by far our most popular admissions event because it allows prospective students to get the full Atlanta Girls’ School student experience,” Brannon says. North Cobb Christian recommends that students schedule a shadow day for students in third through 11th grades. Beth Wright, director of admissions, notes, “Students come to spend the day with a ‘buddy student’ on campus. Prospective students spend the day following their buddy’s schedule to get a feel for their classmates, teachers, curriculum and expectations.”
Mount Vernon School in Atlanta requires a student visit or shadow day. Parents can engage with admissions by phone call, small group tours or open houses. “The best way to prepare for a call or visit is to reflect on your family values and what aspects of a school are important to you and your family,” Beard says. “Your experience on campus will be customized based on your questions.” Families are provided with a printed guide and encouraged to record their observations, answering questions of what they see, think and wonder.
Heed Key Advice
Many schools strongly suggest that parents and families communicate their child or children’s academic and social needs and to educate themselves on the school’s offerings and school environment. Parents should enter into honest conversations with admissions officials with an open mind, says Harrison. However, she recommends that parents do not ask admission professionals to compare their school to other schools and be skeptical of those who are willing to do so. Harrison says, “It is their job to speak to the strengths of their school’s programs.”
As parents walk through the application process, know that admissions professionals are there to help, says Garletts of Whitefield Academy. “We know that this process can seem overwhelming at times, and it is our job to make it easier,” she says. “Use this season as an opportunity to get to know our school and your child better. Engage as often as you are able with the Whitefield community and let us be advocates for you in this process.”
Paideia officials encourage parents to make the process as stress-free as possible for their child. “Children are very perceptive and can pick up on an adult’s feeling of stress or worry,” Nelson says. “Encourage your child to be their authentic self through the process.”
In the end, parents should carefully examine the mission and philosophy of each school and ensure that its mission and values align with their family’s priorities. “At the end of the day, parents should feel 100 percent certain that the school they’re selecting is the absolute best fit for their child,” Wright concludes. “Take time to find the school where your student will fully thrive.”
For more information, visit:
Atlanta Girls’ School
The Galloway School
Holy Spirit Preparatory School
Mill Springs Academy
Mount Paran Christian School
Mount Pisgah Christian School
Mount Vernon School
North Cobb Christian School
The Walker School