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8-Step Guide for Getting Your Child Into Private School

Applying to private elementary school is like trying to set up an arranged marriage, one Los Angeles preschool director told me.

She's so right.

The entire process is an awkward series of applications, interviews and events, all attempts to find out if you're the right match for each other. But to even get to that point, you'll need to know what steps in the admissions process are required. Only after that will you know whether you have found a perfect match.

As a mom of two kids, 11 and 14, I've been through the kindergarten and middle school admissions process twice for each kid. Here are the eight steps you need to take when applying to private elementary schools:

1. Get started now

RELATED: How to Navigate Private School Admissions

The private elementary school application process starts earlier than you think — in September the year before your child enters kindergarten. So now's a good time to look and ask around. A good place to start is by browsing school websites, which give you an idea of the school's location, grade level, educational philosophy and size. Also, talk to other moms to find out information about schools.

2. School tours

Tour schools at least one year before your child will enter kindergarten (September). Most private schools require parents to tour the school before applying. However, a few schools require parents to submit a written application and fee before even touring the school. Application fees can range between $100 to $150 per school.

3. Apply to between 4 to 6 schools.

Many parents make the mistake of applying to one school. You need to apply to enough schools to increase your chances of getting into one or more schools.

4. Written applications

Spend the time to write an application that is tailored to each specific school. Cutting and pasting answers from one application to the next won't do justice to your application. Make sure your application spells out how your child — and your family — will be a great fit for the school.

Schools like to first interview parents about the family and the child without the child present.

5. Parent interviews

Schools like to first interview parents about the family and the child without the child present. Every school is different, so be prepared for a wide range of questions. Some admissions directors will be interested in what you do for work, your child's interests, your biggest parenting challenges or why you like the school. Be sure to have one or two questions for the admissions director that demonstrate your interest in the school.

6. Letters of recommendation

These are widely used by applicant families. A family at the school, a board member or an alumni family will write the most effective letters. Letters from your child's coach can be helpful, but schools want to see that you have a connection to the school. If you don't know anyone to write you a recommendation, don't worry. Lots of kids are accepted without knowing anyone at the school.

A few schools prefer to observe the kids at the preschool rather than have parents bring the child to the school. This is by far the most anxiety-causing part of the process for a lot of moms.

7. Student testing or visiting day

Schools invite kids to visit the school, and they observe them in a mock classroom setting and outside on the yard. Parents wait in a separate room. Many schools also administer written tests. A few schools prefer to observe the kids at the preschool rather than have parents bring the child to the school. This is by far the most anxiety-causing part of the process for a lot of moms. Try to relax and don't over-prepare your kid. Children will be their best when they know you're calm.

8. Admissions letters

Admissions letters are typically mailed in the spring, depending on the city where you live. There are three types of letters:

  • Acceptance letters (or emails): congratulations, your child got in!
  • Wait-list letters: your child is on the wait-list. At some schools, the wait-list letter is the same as a rejection letter, while at other schools, it's possible for a spot to open up.
  • Declined admissions letters: this means your child won't get in this year.

If you applied for financial aid, you may get an acceptance letter with an offer of aid, or your child may be admitted without financial aid. This will be a separate letter from admissions.

Good luck, stay calm, and get started.

RELATED: Back-to-School: Public or Private?

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