What would you do differently if given the chance to redo the boarding school application process?

Hi! For those who have gone through the boarding school application process, what are the “unspoken” things you wish you had known or were informed of prior and during the application? What would you do differently if you could redo your application and the entire process? Please share any advice, regrets, realizations and heads-up you may have—whether it be about the process as a whole, standardized testing, interviews, essays, time management, extracurriculars, parent statements, and so on.

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Note: I went through this process almost four years ago (wow, I feel old), so some things may have changed.

  1. Don’t treat any school for granted. I told my Princeton Day School interviewer that I was accepted there for kindergarten but chose not to attend. It ended up being the only school I didn’t get into. I was lucky enough to get into Peddie/Lawrenceville/George, but if I wasn’t, I may have had a difficult situation ahead of me.

  2. Write your essays early. I rushed mine during Winter Break. Don’t do that. I’m currently applying to college, and I started writing my common app essay around a month ago; hopefully, it’ll ease some of the stress in the fall.

  3. Be genuine. It’s pretty easy for people to tell if you’re faking, especially if you’re an eighth grader. (This is doubly true for essays; eighth graders don’t write like adults. I’ve reread my application essays. They were good, but obviously the product of a 14-year-old; I’ve massively improved since then).

  4. Interviews matter a lot. Think about it: this is your chance to directly make an impression on a person who will advocate for you in the admissions process. They’ll see your face, they’ll hear your voice, completely unfiltered through an adult—if I could have this for my college application process I’d rejoice. Remember, however, that during interviews, however, the AOs know that this may be your first time. They know that you may be nervous—my Lawrenceville interviewer even led our conversation with that (as he does with many applicants, I later learned). Just be yourself—that’s who they’re looking to accept, after all.

  5. SSAT scores don’t matter as much as people think they do. I retook a 93rd percentile score for no reason. It was a waste of time. (The SSAT is a really bad test, but oh well we can’t change that).

  6. You might be freaking out about your competition, especially when seeing chancing posts on this forum. I get it—I did too, and I am right now (I consider myself a fairly successful student at my school, but some of the 7th/8th graders on this forum are on a different level. Oh my gosh). All I can say is “don’t worry”—you’re still quite young, and these admissions offices know what a reasonable profile is like for a 14-year-old; yes, there are kids who took Calc BC in middle school or founded ten nonprofits, but you don’t need to worry about them, as strange as that sounds.

Good luck on your process! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out!

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Make sure to apply to a list of schools that includes a few which admit a higher percentage of students. You can look at the list of hidden gems to get some good ones. Every year there are some students here who only applied to top tier schools and didn’t get in anywhere. There are lots of great schools, and fit is very important.

Ask your teachers for recommendations fairly early so they have plenty of time to write them. Unlike college, teachers don’t expect that they might be asked to do this, so give them a heads up and consider explaining to them why you want to go to boarding school.

Remember that you will grow a lot during the year you apply. What seems like a perfect fit now might not be as good in March when you get the news. Stay open to lots of possibilities.

It’s more important how you do at your new school than where you go. Think about which opportunities you want to pursue and what new classes and extracurriculars you want to try. Admissions officers enjoy hearing that applicants are excited about the opportunities they offer.

I agree with @confusedaboutFA on all points.

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We would have applied to several somewhat “easier admit” schools, such as Kent, Berkshire, St. George’s, and NMH, as examples.

We applied only to a narrow list of ultra selective schools, and it was rather stressful preparing to apply, applying, and then waiting for decisions.

In retrospect, we would have prioritized boarding school as an experience, rather than “must be an ultra-academic boarding school”. Many/most boarding schools have high-level honors courses, so one can find rigor beyond the most well-known ones.

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