Common Mistakes Parents Make When Applying to Private Schools


My team and I personally work with U.S. as well as international families (who reside in the U.S. or are abroad) during the private school application admissions process.  We have worked with families from over 130 different countries and on all seven continents. My firm works with families who are interested in top day and boarding schools primarily on the east and west coast.

Year after year, I hear about the number of mistakes that parents make during the admissions process.  I hear about these mistakes from parents whose children were rejected and waitlisted from schools and wish to engage our services. I thought I would share what I believe to be five frequent, significant mistakes.

  1. Assuming that it’s all about your connections. Many parents assume that admissions into competitive schools are about connections.  Parents often ask me if they should have their friends, neighbors and/or colleagues who have a relationship with a private school write a recommendation letter for their child. As I always state to parents: everyone has connections.  Schools are also aware that parents try to leverage their perceived connections.  But the truth of this matter is those connections do not always result in connecting your child to receive an acceptance letter.  The letters of recommendation should be meaningful and demonstrate that the recommender knows your child well.  In my experience, I have read letters of recommendations that parents perceive to be excellent when in fact they contain damaging information that will certainly cause rejections.
  2. Not preparing for the parental and student interviews. Being thorough and picky about a private school choice is extremely important.  But one thing is certain; top private schools will be equally as picky when choosing your child to be a member of their prestigious community.  Is your child ready to answer any and all of the private school interview questions?  In addition, admissions officers are proficient in observing non-verbal cues and evaluating character attributes that communicate true student feelings and whether parents complement a school’s educational philosophy. Though the private school exam results are very important in the admission’s process, the interview is another hurdle, set to be more selective. The admissions committee is going to judge your child (and parents) based on the way they answer their questions. I personally conduct in-depth, multiple interview-preparation sessions with my clients.
  3. ProcrastinationIdeally parents should start researching and visiting schools at least a year before they plan to apply. The private school admissions process is competitive and it takes time to research schools and determine which schools are appropriate for your child. I often see my clients’ peers beginning the process late in the game. These families usually do not have a good admissions outcome – the child is rejected.  I work with many international families who are quite accustomed to competitive private school placement. Together, we start to plan admissions strategies a year in advance.  The result of this strategy: this year, all of my clients (both international and U.S.) were accepted into their top choice schools.
  4. Parental Hubris. Many parents may assume that their skill sets, professional title or socio-economic status will be the ticket for their child to be accepted to the school of their choice.  Simply put, schools are accepting the entire family. They carefully take into consideration parental behavior at interviews and throughout the admissions process when considering a child as a part of their community.  Parents, if you think that only your child needs to prepare for the admissions process, THINK AGAIN.  You have just as much homework as your child does. Top private schools take the whole family into consideration when they are making their decisions.  Schools interview parents because of the crucial role they play in their child’s experience at school.  They also want to know that you are applying for the right reasons, share their educational philosophy and will carry it over at home. 
  5. Not Seeking Professional Advice:  Private school admissions and placement is no longer about just developing a spreadsheet, visiting schools, filling out applications and hoping for the best.  Professional admissions advisors regularly visit schools to gain first hand knowledge, insight and experience of each school’s unique perspective, workings and admissions policies.  Once settled on a school or school list, an admissions advisor can aid families in building an admissions plan to follow so that no piece of the admission process suffers from short shrift or omission. Professional admissions advisors can also help a family manage the application process and prepare for school interviews.  With regard to the competitive admissions process to top private schools, like a professional Olympic coach, a professional admissions advisor provides that competitive edge.

It’s better to avoid mistakes early and during the admissions process than end up having multiple rejections and huge disappointments later!


Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe is the managing director and lead admissions expert at Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group’s Private School Admissions Advisors.   Dr. Lowe specializes in providing exclusive concierge-type admissions advisory services for U.S. and international families and students who are interested in applying to top U.S. boarding and day schools.  Dr. Lowe also helps U.S. and international students gain admissions into their top choice private schools after they have been wait-listed and rejected.