Parents interested in enrolling their children in a southeast Michigan private school may see schools often have detailed admissions processes, including filling out private school applications, tests, interviews, visits and more.
Seem intimidating? Not to worry. Admissions experts from three metro Detroit private schools explain the basics of their admissions practices, why they’re in place and what you can do to prepare (hint: it’s easier than you think!).
Why have private school applications?
The admissions procedures in place at many private schools are touted as being beneficial not only for the school but also the perspective students and their families.
“The whole premise of our admissions process is to just really guarantee that we can fit the needs of the children that are applying – (and) not just the child, but the families,” explains Charis Calendar-Suemnick, enrollment and outreach director at Detroit Waldorf School, which teaches kids in grades Pre-K through 8. That match is important, she says, especially when seeking out an alternative form of education.
That sentiment is echoed by Drew Miller, who is the director of admission at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, which has lower, middle and upper schools. “Cranbrook really spends a lot of time with applicants with a really honest exchange of information,” he notes.
How does it work?
The necessary steps perspective families have to take to be admitted to private schools differs based on the school, but many have parents pay an application fee, fill out a basic application and answer questions about their child.
At The Roeper School, which educates gifted kids in grades Pre-K through 12 in Bloomfield and Birmingham, “there is paper work to be completed and submitted, which includes a parent application,” with details like address, birthdate and the like, says Lori Zinser, director of admissions and enrollment management.
Also included is, “a parent questionnaire, which … has several questions that they would respond to that are specific to their child,” she says, like, why are you considering our school? What goals and expectations do you have for your child? What are your child’s favorite activities?
At Detroit Waldorf, the questions change a bit depending on the age of the child, but the aim is to get a good idea of where the child is developmentally and what their home and family life is like, Calendar-Suemnick explains.
At some schools, students may have their own questionnaire. If your child has been in school previously, schools may also ask for student transcripts or have the child’s former teacher fill out a recommendation form.
Parent and/or child interviews are a part of the process for Roeper, Cranbrook and Detroit Waldorf. Here, the school can ask detailed questions about the child, but families also get the opportunity to ask questions about the school. Zinser says at Roeper, they let the parents do most of the talking around five points: their child’s personality, strengths and weaknesses, school experience thus far, how they get along with peers and any health issues they may have.
“For us the main goal of the parent interview is to really get to know that child a little bit before we meet the child in person,” she says.
Miller explains that at Cranbrook, “the interview is just a very honest exchange of information between the applicant, the applicant’s parents and the school.” Some families may feel a bit nervous about this, but Miller emphasizes the school makes it “conversational” and “relaxing.”
“And we hope that families come into it the same way – that they’re not trying to prepare the student too much for it,” he says. “The best interviews are just when the kid answers very honestly and openly and we do the same about our school.”
Each of the schools featured in this story invites the students to the school to visit for varying amounts of time so they can get a firsthand experience in the classroom.
Private school entrance exams
Private school entrance exams aren’t standard for every school or every grade level, but some do test students in areas like math, reading, English and composition (Cranbrook’s method) – or even IQ (as is the case with kids in kindergarten and up at The Roeper School, since it’s a school for intellectually gifted kids).
Miller encourages parents to not “over prepare” their kids for this, since the tests are measuring skills gained over years rather than crammed for last minute.
Each private school may look for something a bit different in a prospective student, whether it be kids whose families are dedicated to a particular philosophy, kids who are gifted academically or those who may thrive in a particularly challenging college-prep environment.
“We want any child who we feel would be a good fit and any family who is really committed to Waldorf education for their family,” says Calendar-Suemnick.
While private schools vary in their admissions standards and processes, each does aim to achieve the same goal: ensuring the school is the best place for the child to learn and that the school can best meet the students’ needs.
“We really do want to be a good match between parent, kid, whole family and school,” says Miller, explaining ultimately, sending your child to an independent school is a big commitment. “Investing the time up front is worth if it you’re going to spend four or 15 years here.”
Parents interested in starting their kid in private school should begin researching the schools they’re interested in and brush up on the application requirements, which are oftentimes outlined on the schools’ websites, Zinser recommends.
Calendar-Suemnick says parents should definitely tour potential schools and apply as early as possible, since there could be a waiting list.
And don’t be intimidated! Zinser says educators at all private schools in the area are passionate about their schools and happy to talk about them. “My advice would be just to feel free to call us to ask questions, to ask for tours and to come take a look.”
Most importantly, be your genuine self and allow your child to do the same during the private school application process. Don’t try to over prepare or coach your child prior to an interview or visit. The only way schools will get to know your child and if they can “best meet their needs” is to have full disclosure, Zinser adds.
“And there’s not much preparation. Children are beautiful, and the more relaxed and comfortable they are, it typically is better.”
This post is updated regularly.