The fall brings some of my favorite things: cooler weather, football season, and the hidden gem of the New Jersey fall foliage. The fall also brings the secondary school application process for our Grade 8 students. All of the work they've done over their years here at Far Hills will be on full display, impressing admissions directors from some of the most selective schools in our nation. Students and their families will be spending time visiting campuses virtually and in person, exploring websites, completing applications, and talking to just about everyone.
In honor of this journey, here are a few helpful suggestions as you begin this first step in preparing for your high school journey:
- Start the applications now! Most independent schools have already opened their applications for admission for the 2021-2022 school year, so it is essential to go to the admissions pages of the schools' websites on your list and get started. While each school's admissions process is unique, many share some common application steps. These may include completing an inquiry form to gain access to the application, the application itself, the procedures for visiting campuses for tours and interviews, and more. Regardless, gathering this information can take some time, and the fall of an eighth-grade year can be busy.
- When you can, use the Standard Application Online or the Gateway to Prep Schools application. Some secondary schools Far Hills students apply to accept the Standard Application Online (SAO), and some boarding schools use the Gateway to Prep Schools application. These common applications are great time-savers. While some SAO and Gateway schools may ask for some supplemental information in addition to those applications, using one application form for several schools is excellent. And before you ask, I will tell you that there is no advantage or disadvantage in using one of the common applications rather than a school-specific application. You can search for schools accepting the SAO at https://search.ssat.org/
member-search# and the Gateway at https://www. gatewaytoprepschools.com/ schools.
- Check with the admissions offices individually regarding their testing policies. While some schools have their own admissions tests, most schools use the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) or the Independent School Entrance Examination as a part of the admissions process. Many boarding schools and someday schools have also gone test-optional, meaning they do not require these test scores to be submitted. It is important to remember that these scores are just one part of a much larger admissions process for secondary schools. Information regarding the SSAT can be found at https://www.ssat.org/ and the ISEE at https://www.erblearn.org/
- The interview is not a test! The prospect of interviewing for the first time is daunting, but it is essential to remember that the secondary school interview is informative much more than evaluative. Generally speaking, the interview is a getting-to-know-you conversation between the student and an admissions representative. It is a time for the student to answer some questions about themselves to give the interviewer a sense of who they are, where their passions lie, and what they may bring to their campus. It is also an excellent opportunity for the students to demonstrate their interest by asking thoughtful questions. While there is no such thing as a bad question, it is wise to research a school to help formulate those questions. Ideally, a student should not seek information that can be easily found on a website ("Do you have soccer?") but rather show they've done the research and highlight a specific interest ("I see that your school has two choirs; is this audition-based?").
- Take the time to find the right fit. Which school will be the best? Where can you be a part of a fantastic community that celebrates learning, athletics, the arts, and—most importantly—you? You will no doubt hear conflicting opinions at times, but the reality is that no one can judge the fit of a school but the student themself. A significant first step is having conversations at our annual Secondary School Fair (being held right at Far Hills Country Day School on Tuesday, September 28, 2021), where local day schools and several boarding schools attend to make initial connections with our families. Take the time to visit the campuses and take tours with admissions representatives or students. Take the time to utilize their websites to research all they have to offer. Take the time to ask questions. After all of this, the student should feel confident in making the right decision.
The secondary school process is an opportunity for every student to take control of their future. They get to decide where to apply. They write the essays and supplemental questions to highlight their skills, passions, and ambitions. They sit for an interview and demonstrate their maturity and communication skills. They showcase their authentic selves and demonstrate how lucky their next school is to have a Far Hills graduate join their community.
I'm here to help our students as they navigate this process. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.
Associate Director of Secondary School Placement