There are few things more seemingly daunting than independent school admission process. Students and parents alike can quickly get lost in the “what if’s” and anxiety of admission. We recently caught up we Steve Milich, the admissions director at The Buckley School. As a former admissions director for N.Y.U. and now dealing with the K-12 environment, Steve has an extensive and very well rounded understanding of the admissions process and is definitely an expert in the field.
Surprisingly, our main takeaway from the conversation isn’t a tedious do’s and don’ts list, but rather a simple message for parents and students—relax, take a breath and be yourself.
Learn to Trust the Admissions Process
Steve points out that the admission process is really about guiding families through the task of finding the school that is the most appropriate match for the needs of their children. He explains that parents shouldn’t be intimidated by the process, but rather empowered by it. He notes that the people in the admissions field are engaging, nurturing and dynamic professionals who WANT to help find the right fit for your children. Steve explains “A lot of the decision making process is about paying attention to the feelings that you get while being on campus—of feeling included and being able to engage in the culture to see if you’ll be able to fit in. You know, the best thing that you can do is to go into it with an open mind, you actually learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot about your child throughout the process.” He says that finding that ‘right fit’ is the primary focus for himself and most his colleagues, rather than test scores, grades or transcripts. The question parents and students really need to be asking is where they will be most comfortable and what specific talents and attributes will contribute to the overall school environment and conversely, how the student will benefit from that school’s attributes. At the end of the day it’s a two-way relationship and will be more harmonious if everyone is on the same page.
Pay attention to the School’s Culture
The right fit doesn’t necessarily translate on paper all the time. Steve points out that having a good feeling on campus is just as important as your paper application. If the student feels engaged and looking forward to being part of the culture, that can be as important, if not more important than a school’s name or reputation. Visit the campuses you are considering with an open mind and try and keep preconceived desires out of the picture, at least for the campus visit. A lot can change dramatically based on personal experience as well as the interactions you and your student have with the faculty and administrators. Of equal importance to acceptance is deciding if it’s a school that fits you and your student’s needs, so spend the time to make sure it feels right—your child might be calling it home for the next several years.
Accepting Admission Decisions—Even the Hard Ones
We know how easy it is to get stuck in a specific school. Maybe you know someone else who has done well going through a specific program, maybe it’s a family legacy or in the perfect neighborhood. However, as Steve points out—there really is no wrong decision you could make looking at independent schools in Los Angeles, so make an effort to trust the process. Steve encourages families that are going the independent school route to make themselves vulnerable to that process—parents and students need to engage dynamically with each of the staff members they meet at the schools and keep in mind that every program offers something uniquely different. In Los Angeles, there is such a diversity of types of models of education and programs offered that every type of learner, every emotion, social and age group is served. The process is ultimately what will create the framework for making the right decision. If you are disappointed with an admissions decision, while it might not seem like it at the time, remember that it will quite possibly work out for the best. Admissions offices are interested in the success of your child and the success of the school and make their decisions accordingly.
Keep Your Eye on the Big Picture
For a lot of parents and students, standardized testing, minimum scores, and benchmarks can cause a lot of anxiety, but Steve stresses that the tests are really a small part of a much larger picture. “Every student learns differently and every application is judged in combination on a whole host of factors. We use a very holistic review and the ISEE is just one aspect of that review.” Steve explained that while the test scores are an integral part of application completion, no one is going to focus on them exclusively. He also confirmed that honesty is the best course of action on an application and including all the test scores—not just the highest one is the ethical thing to do. Buckley’s belief, in general, is that parents shouldn’t put extra stress on their kids trying to achieve perfect scores and that they should just focus on getting through the test as best they can the first time and providing a well rounded and engaging application.
Ease into the Interview
Another anxiety-inducing component of admissions for a lot of students is the interview. While there is always room for practicing conversational skills, Steve points out that the interview shouldn’t really require anything other than attention and engagement: “For us it’s very much a conversation based type of experience, I mean we want to get to know a student based on what talents and skill sets he’s going to have, and what he’s going to be bringing to the incoming group of students. We want to get to know them beyond the work that’s in their paper application, this is an opportunity for us to see how a child can interact with an adult that he or she has never met before.” Steve also points out that the interview is a great time to tease out any areas of passion or inspiration for the individual. It’s the opportunity to give a face and character to the paper application.
Make the Most of Your Search
When asked what advice he would ultimately give to prospective students, this is what Steve had to say: “They need to be themselves, they need to be engaged to be fully present. Arrive on time, put their phones away, enjoy the campus visit, ask questions, speak to the student tour guide who will be taking them around the campus. This is an opportunity for you to evaluate the campus yourself—the tour is not the evaluation of you as a candidate—this is for you to gain information, come back and leave the school with more knowledge than you had when you arrived. So, that is the most important thing. And relax, take a deep breath and enjoy the process, this is your shining moment.”
It remains of the utmost importance to put your best efforts into your application, from your standardized tests to the sit-down interview. However, anxiety and stress don’t necessarily need to be part of that puzzle and as Steve points out, the process will ultimately make the right decision and find the perfect fit.