Advice for Students Applying to Private High Schools

As a former middle school student in the Bay Area, I remember being completely overwhelmed when I realized that I had to choose one high school (out of 15+ options) at which to spend the next four years of my academic career. Ten years later, as a tutor for Sage Educators, I am frequently asked about the private high school application process. Here is a list of pointers to help you with the process!

1. Consider You

Before even looking at high schools, it is important to assess your goals, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Start the process by asking yourself:

  • What do I want out of my high school experience?
  • What do I want to do after high school?
  • What are my greatest strengths and weaknesses as a student?

Answering these questions will allow you to make the best possible decision for your personal and academic growth.

2. Make a List

Make a list of all of the high schools that you are interested in. For extra guidance, write down a few pros and cons about each high school. The high school experience is shaped by many factors. A few special things to consider when narrowing down on the right school for you might include: the school size, how many AP/honors courses are offered and which ones, the different clubs you could participate in, the athletic opportunities, the depth and breadth of the art and music programming, etc.

3. Shadow

Shadowing gives you the opportunity to spend a day at a high school with current high school students. Both public and private schools have shadow programs. Shadowing is extremely important in the high school application process for two reasons:

  • It gives you the opportunity to gain insight into your prospective high school’s day-to-day activities and campus vibe.
  • It shows the high school admissions department that you are interested and excited about applying to their school.

4. Standardized Testing

Most private high schools require you to take some form of standardized test. Make sure that you know your high school’s requirements before signing up for and taking tests. Check guidelines set forth by the high schools to which you are applying. When in doubt, contact your prospective high school’s admissions department. Here are two charts that show the tests required for some of the high schools in the area for the 2018-2019 school year:

Secular High SchoolsStandardized Test
Marin AcademyRequiredAccepted
BransonOne RequiredOne Required
The Marin SchoolAll Tests Accepted but NOT Required
The Bay School of San FranciscoRequiredAccepted
San Francisco University High SchoolOne RequiredOne Required
Drew SchoolOne RequiredOne Required
The College Preparatory School of OaklandOne RequiredOne Required
San Domenico SchoolOne RequiredOne Required
Catholic High SchoolsStandardized Test
Marin CatholicRequired
Saint Ignatius High SchoolRequired
Sacred Heart Cathedral PreparatoryRequired
Mercy High School, San FranciscoRequired
Convent & Stuart Hall High SchoolsRequired
Archbishop Riordan High SchoolRequired
Immaculate Conception AcademyRequired

For schools with orange fields that say “One Required,” schools require either the SSAT or the ISEE and do not state a preference between the two tests.

Use these charts as a guide; however, make sure to double check with your prospective schools for the most up-to-date information.

These heavily weighted and often difficult exams require studying, practice, and dedication. Students and parents alike have found Sage’s expert test prep courses and one-on-one test prep to be extremely helpful. Our educators are familiar with the application process and teach strategies, skills, and concepts that help students prepare and excel.

5. Letters of Recommendation

Some high schools require letters of recommendation. Some do not. Regardless, a good letter of recommendation will never hurt your prospects in the application process!  

The key to getting good letters of recommendation is making sure that you have at least two dependable adults in your life (other than your parents) who will speak highly of you. Good people to ask include: teachers, coaches, family friends, and prominent community members (such as Girl Scout Troop Leaders, Youth Pastors, 4-H Leaders, etc.).

I recommend asking for a letter in person. Follow up your in-person request with an email that lists the date the letter is due, where it needs to go, a few things about you (to refresh their memory and strengthen your letter), and any additional formatting requirements or forms for the letter. In addition to this, always make sure to thank the person writing your letter!

6. Application Form

Make sure that you take your time filling out your application form! Proofread everything! No one likes typos (including admissions departments). Answer essay questions thoughtfully and truthfully. Especially for students who will not interview, these essay responses allow admissions committees to garner a picture of your wonderful personality and fittingness for their school. Note your accomplishments and get specific about the experiences that have shaped your character.

7. Interview

Interviews allow school personnel to get to know you in a more personal way. The best way to rock your interview is to prepare yourself: dress professionally, brush up on your knowledge of the school, practice your answers to common interview questions.  

Make sure that you are wearing professional looking clothing. One major tip is to abide by the school’s dress code requirements. If the school requires boys to wear a collared shirt and pants that are not jeans, you should be dressed in a collared shirt and pants that are not jeans. Presenting yourself professionally can go a long way.

In addition to looking sharp, you should prepare for a few basic questions. The most standard questions that high schools will ask are these:

  • Why do you want to go to our school?
  • What extracurricular activities do you participate in?
  • Is this school your top choice?

Schools will also ask you about your talents and interests. Make sure that you feel comfortable talking about your interests in a professional manner. For example, if you have listed that you are a competitive swimmer, they will likely ask you about your recorded times on various events.

8. Be yourself!

Most importantly, throughout the entire process, just be yourself! If you work hard and trust the process, you will end up at the right school for you!

Sage Educators leads results-driven test prep courses that aim to familiarize students with the structure, timing, and concepts of the exam. Our curriculum offers unique strategies and skill-building exercises.  Lessons are taught in small classroom sizes or one-on-one for optimum support and are customized to meet the current and growing skill levels of all students.

To learn more about test prep with Sage, contact us today.