Skip to main content

Last Updated On: June 14th, 2022

What is the most important thing you wish you could tell all applicants? Do you think your advice differs for younger or older students?

For older applicants (those who are applying to 6th grade and above), I always remind them to look for a school that is the best match – academically, athletically, socially. Try to focus on where the child will thrive rather than what your friends are doing.

For parents of Kindergarten applications, I want to tell them that it will be okay. Focus on your child and your family and shut out the unhelpful playground chatter/gossip. And remember to follow your gut. You know what is best for your child. When you visit schools pay attention to your gut and how you connect with the culture and academics. Also, there is not one best school; try to fall in love with more than just one school. It is a competitive process, but there are spaces out there. Being open minded makes the process better and more successful!

What does the personal statement need to have? Are there crucial elements that need to be included from the application?

All of the applications vary, but many feature a long essay (4000 characters, with spaces, maximum) and a few shorter essay responses (500-2000 characters, with spaces). Regardless of the question, it is important to show the school your genuine self. Too often, students try to think about what a school wants to hear rather than just representing themselves authentically. Also, it is important to include the diversity of your interests – what you have done in the past and what you might pursue in the future. Research the school’s website and identify a few places where you would like to get involved. It’s great to be school-specific in the application questions, and it shows the admissions office that you’ve put in the work to learn about their programs.

For the word count, every school is a bit different so pay attention to what they ask. If you have too many words, it will cut off your essay and the admissions people will only see an unfinished essay. You don’t need to fill the maximum amount either; brevity is wonderful as these admissions officers read hundreds of essays every season. Also, don’t over polish your essay (parents, please don’t over edit the child’s essays). Admissions officers can easily spot essays that have been over edited by someone other than the applicant.

Considering all the students you’ve coached and worked with, would you say there is one thing in particular that students have done on their personal statement that makes them stand out?

The idea of “standing out” is overrated and misleading. Often people who want to stand out represent themselves in artificial or forced ways – it reeks of inauthenticity or even desperation. Yes, I have seen some creative essays with pictures and drawings and artistic representations. But remember, typically when you enter your essay into the application software, it will only take the words so the creativity is limited. My favorite essays are clear and honest representations of the child’s genuine and heartfelt interests. These students are still young; they haven’t had enough life experience in most cases to really “stand out”. They’re much better off when they simply represent themselves honestly.

Do you think schools can tell when parents help with the application writing samples? Is that a serious detriment to students’ acceptance to the school?

Yes, schools can absolutely tell when a student has received too much help with an essay! When I worked at a local K-12 independent school, I remember reading a file and there was a typo in the essay. We actually celebrated that in the admissions meeting! “This child did not get help from their parents, bravo!” We appreciated the minimal parental interference and the minor typo didn’t hurt the child’s application. That child was accepted, by the way.

What is one thing that most kids forget to say on their applications or in their writing samples for the ISEE?

Sometimes students leave out the activities that they are no longer doing. If a student played AYSO soccer for six years but recently stopped, you can add that to your application. These kinds of activities add to the student’s skills and talents. It’s important to mention.

Does one section of the ISEE matter more than the other? Is there a preference given to students who are good writers? Great at the math section? Really strong readers?

Reading Comprehension! When I worked in an Admissions Office, we always felt that the Reading Comprehension was the single most important section of the ISEE. Schools want to make sure that students are strong readers. Also, the writing section can often be overlooked by students and families because it is not “graded”, but Admissions officers regard it as very important. It’s really the only place where they can get an authentic and unfiltered version of how a student writes without any outside support.

Do you recommend that students with test optional admissions policies take the ISEE?

This is a question that I am asked a lot. It really depends. Some students will have previous standardized test scores (ERB’s if they come from private school and CAASP or Star testing if they come from public); if these scores are strong, then there is not as much of an incentive to take the ISEE. If there is no testing available, a student wants to go to one of the schools where it is optional, AND they are strong test takers, then it may be beneficial for them to take the test.

As you know many private schools stopped requiring the ISEE during the beginning of the pandemic. Do you see schools requiring the ISEE again? Are there particular schools that will continue to require their own math and English tests?

As of now, a few schools have their own math and writing portions of the application process. Many other schools have a timed writing sample. I don’t know if schools will require the test again. Some schools have eliminated that test requirement entirely. But most schools are making the decision year by year.

What do you anticipate for the future of required admissions tests?

If I were to guess, I think that many schools will stop requiring it. COVID has exposed the inequities in ability to prepare for the test so it feels unfair to require it or weigh the scores heavily in the process.

Should you take the test more than once? When do you think it’s best to send the scores?

For students who take the test, I recommend taking it more than once, if possible. I think taking it once in October and once in December gives the student ample time to work on skills if necessary after they receive the first score. The scores are not due to the schools until mid-January, so families have time to figure out which scores to send.

Do you have better odds of getting into a school if you’re a younger student taking the lower level ISEE? What about at non-standard entry points (e.g. 8th grade)?

The main entry points to independent schools in Los Angeles are Kindergarten, 6th, 7th, or 9th grade. While the lower level test may seem easier at first, remember that children’s skill level grows as they grow. In general, you have better odds when you are applying to the natural entry points. Otherwise spaces are based on attrition. So that makes non entry points like 8th grade much more challenging.

Do you think the previous school a child attended has any weight in the admissions process? If a student has attended a less rigorous school, what’s the best way to show the admissions team that they’re competitive?

While there are some schools that send a lot of students to specific schools, schools appreciate a diversity of schools. It is nice for Admissions officers to be familiar with a program, curriculum, grading structure, etc. at a specific school. Nonetheless, I often have seen very strong applicants that come from nontraditional schools, homeschooling, out of state, and even out of country that do very well in admissions.

Is there anything a student or parent can do to improve their application that isn’t the application or testing?

I always recommend that students continue to go deeper into activities that they are passionate about. If you are interested in singing and have been taking private lessons, for example, try to find an a cappella program in which to participate. This is not the time to start doing community service just to put it on the application. Schools are looking for longer term commitments rather than recent activities that look like resume stuffers.

Does the Character Skills Snapshot have a large weight in the admissions process? Is there a goal/result students should be aiming for with this?

Each school uses the Character Skills snapshot very differently. I do recommend that students answer the questions using their first instinct. If they think about it too much and try to answer the way they feel an Admissions office would expect them to, lower scores seem to be the result.

Do you recommend any preparation for the CSS?

Be rested, be in a quiet room, and don’t have the parents in the background trying to “help”!

How far in advance should you find an admissions consultant? Can it be done in less time?

Typically families will sign up with an admissions consultant anytime from March to early Fall. Because the applications come out in the summer, many families want to get a head start so they start working with someone before then.

What should parents and students expect when they sign up to work with you as their admissions consultant?

My goal is to help families create a list of schools that are the right fit for the child; to help organize the application process for the family to reduce the stress; and to be there to answer questions and support them along the way. I want my families to ask the questions that are going to help them access their gut feeling about the right fit school for them. Also, I am there so that families don’t have to listen to the playground chatter and rumor mill. The actual application process can be very insightful – you learn so much about your child and family when exploring these options and writing these essays. When we minimize the stress and focus on the right fit for the student, the process becomes more successful!

Photo by Gustavo Fring

About LA Tutors 123

LA Tutors 123 is a premier in-person and online private tutoring company based in Beverly Hills, CA. If you have specific questions or want a personalized plan, reach out to us here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.

Leave a Reply