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Facing rejection from a private school?


You have applied to the best private schools.  What to do when the news is not good?  Your child is not offered a seat at your preferred school.  Here are some helpful suggestions.

Recognize that this is a sensitive time.  Children pick up on parent’s emotions.  Express that you share your child’s disappointment in the outcome.  Clarify that you are disappointed in the circumstances.  You are not disappointed in your child.

Rejection is not about the student.  Rather, the candidate was not a great fit for the school. There will be a school where the fit is good and what the student offers is what the school is seeking.

Allow your middle or high school aged children to open the admissions letter and read for themselves.  If they are discouraged, show empathy by asking questions and allowing them to talk about their disappointment.  After you acknowledge concerns, it is time to move forward towards finding a school solution.

Put your backup plan in motion.  As part of your overall school search, you will have explored many school options including charter or magnet schools, distance learning, another public school within your district, a STEM program, problem based learning school or tutoring.   Maybe a school is expanding, adding a world languages program or a fine arts focus which is appealing.  Examine these options again beside your educational goals, with a creative eye, to see if perhaps you can achieve your objectives via one of these programs.

Refer to your overall list of school prospects. There may be chance vacancies at schools where you did not apply.  Often schools cannot correctly forecast the number of candidates that will accept their offers of admission.  Or people relocate unexpectedly and leave vacancies.  It is possible to apply to schools after the admissions cycle if chance vacancies are available.

Your student remains in her current school.  You can augment with a thoughtful programof educational supports, enrichment or remediation.  In some locations, you may pay tuition to enroll your student in a different school district where the programming is more desirable or better addresses your family’s educational preferences.

If you go back to the admissions director, do so when you have regrouped emotionally and can have a productive conversation.  Request her feedback to help you better support your child, going forward. Did the campus visit not go well?  Were the grades too low?  Mention, if this is true, that the school is truly your first choice program.  You were accepted elsewhere but would appreciate the opportunity to be considered, should a space open up.  If, after this conversation, the school is still unwilling, then it is time to move on and close the door on this program.

Best private schools select students who they believe will thrive in their program.  It does not serve the school well, nor families well, if students are selected and then do not succeed.  So schools are optimizing for candidates they believe will excel in their school.  No parent would set her child up for failure.  Parents would not want their child to be admitted to a school where really, the school was not enthusiastic about educating their student and where likely, the student will fail.

The overall goal of school search is to find the school that will be delighted to receive your child, happy to educate her and where likely, she will succeed.  This involves regrouping, looking again at educational preferences and looking at schools that address these, regardless of the name on the door.

In the end, it can still be a difficult process, with parents so wedded to elite private schools that they have trouble seeing quality elsewhere. Liz Perelstein, Founder of School Choice International, says, “I ask families to be open-minded as we phone schools that we think would be a good fit.”  She doesn’t tell them the schools’ names until she finds one with room. They visit. If they like what they see, even if it was not on the list, she said, parents are often willing to give it a try and later are glad they did.


Sara R. Schmidt

Global Field Supervisor

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