Turning Yourself Around

Dear Listserv Parents,

Having just finished reading Columbia University School of Journalism Professor Marguerite Holloway’s book The Measure of Manhattan about John Randel, Jr., the man who plotted Manhattan’s grid, I am feeling inspired to superimpose order across the overgrown and confusing landscape of independent school websites.  So, whether you are the parent of a child born in 2008 who finds yourself willing to explore independent school options anew or the parent of a child born in 2009 approaching the task with trepidation, you need more than a school’s url to find your way through the thicket of information.  We are moving from the hokey pokey to hocus pocus.   

The schools are well-meaning, eager to share their mission, vision and values.  Photos abound, college lists are alluring.  But the schools don’t seem to realize that you are on a scouting expedition, reconnoitering, gathering intelligence:

--How much does it cost to apply?
--Will the school waive or reduce the application fee if you apply for financial aid?
--When is the school’s application deadline?  Financial aid application deadline?
--What company does the school use to collect financial aid information (there are three major ones used these days)?
--When must your child turn five in order to be considered an applicant (the “birthday cutoff”)?
--Does the school require an admissions test?
--If you are applying for financial aid, can you request a fee reduction for that admissions test?
--How much is tuition and how much does tuition tend to increase from year to year?
--What is included in tuition and what extra fees do families pay?
--What percentage of your students receive financial aid and what is your average financial aid award?

If a school provides the answers to these questions, and they don’t all do so on their websites (in fact, some schools require you to call to find out what their tuition is), finding those answers requires a high level of frustration tolerance as one clicks from page to page to page ad nauseam.  Or, perhaps the message the schools are inadvertently sending is that if you have to ask, you don’t belong here? 

So this is a call for schools, especially those that belong to organizations like the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY) or the Association of Independent School Admission Professionals (AISAP) or the New York Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) or the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) to provide this type of information on each school’s website in one place on one designated page.   

Until that happens, I offer our version of a grid, an excel spreadsheet with information we gathered last summer on each of these schools.  This means that the tuition information is already outdated, and between now and September the application fee might change (read “increase”), but it does at least provide a compass reading.  Look for an updated version on our website by end of summer.

Once you move from exploring the digital terrain to visiting the schools themselves, you’ll undoubtedly find a warm welcome from students, parents, admissions staff and heads of schools.  They will be eager to hear your questions and to introduce you to their school community.  If the virtual world lacks the virtues of clarity and transparency, we hope you’ll find your way to our office for some guidance.

Debbie & Carolyn

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