What Parents Want

Expecting admissions decisions?

Junior Ivy League February 23, 2006

Victoria Goldman  


          After all the touring, testing and interviewing is over, parent’s often reflect on what they did right, what could have gone better, and what they would change if they could.  So, regardless of whether you’re applying to nursery school, kindergarten or a higher grade, anxiety sets in, inevitably moods swing, tempers flair, fingernails are bitten, admissions staffs and their schools seriously criticized, as most parents realize, that probably more thin, than thick letters will be arriving.  It’s only a very few who can sit back, secretly smile, knowing that at least one acceptance to a chosen school will be in hand.

          This week hails the verdict for candidates to kindergarten and for the grades above, and by March 7th, for nursery school.  Phone lines will buzz in admissions offices all over town as wait lists get worked, and the accepted claim their rightful spots for next year, signing on the dotted line.  One parent, whose child has applied for kindergarten shares with Junior Ivy League his take: 

Junior Ivy League: Number of schools applied to?

Applicant Parent: 10 schools

JIL: Which ones?

AP: Horace Mann, Riverdale, Trinity, Brearley, Chapin, Spence, Nightingale-Bamford, Marymount, Convent of the Sacred Heart, and Columbia Grammar

JIL: How do you think you did?

AP: Expect to get into Riverdale, Columbia Grammar, and Marymount and to be waitlisted or rejected at all other schools except perhaps Convent of the Sacred Heart.

JIL: Why?

AP: My nursery school director has already gotten a fair amount of feedback from the schools to which we are applying.  Many schools have said my daughter’s score of 94 on the ERB is too low, and Spence in particular, said her vocabulary subtest was too low.  We were told by our director that one school we applied to isn’t even looking at candidates with scores below 95.  We had a nice interview at Convent of the Sacred Heart, and I think their admissions standards are somewhat above Marymount’s, but roughly as competitive.  The idea is, if we get into Marymount we’ll probably also get into Convent.

JIL: Were there any key insights that you got from your nursery school director?

AP: Our nursery director coached us a little for the parent interviews, and she has said, according to the feedback she’s getting we are doing well.

JIL: Did you use a private advisor?

AP: Yes.

JIL:  What was the gist of advisor’s feedback?

AP: We were told there was no hope of a getting spot at Horace Mann or Trinity without a trustee’s letter or recommendation. 

JIL: Did anyone else you know offer any feedback?

AP: Took my daughter’s Texas born and bread babysitter with us to the Spence playgroup interview…the babysitter said she hadn’t seen that many blondes since she was in Texas!

JIL: Any relationships severed over this?

AP: Sort of…someone snooped on a hushed, private conversation I was having with my daughter’s teacher, and took the overheard discussion out of context.  We were hypothetically discussing the relative strength of my daughters’ application to others at our school. 

The snooping parent reported the teacher, and me, to our preschool director, and I subsequently got a phone call at work later that day.  After that, our policy was not to discuss the application process with any family for any reason.  My wife and I now give polite, but none of your business, no info-type, answers when asked by those who don’t know us well enough, and, I’m still trying to figure out who the snoopy snitch was. 

JIL: What do you think is the most outrageous part of the process?

AP: The most outrageous part of the process is when a Horace Mann or Trinity style school admissions officer smiles at you and sits through a thirty minute conversation with no intention of ever making a spot available for an unconnected family such as ours.  I realize that you should know well enough not to bother to apply, but frankly, some people, like us, just don’t.  There should be a sign on the admissions office door that says, “Unconnected, without something super special, need not apply.”  In the old days, at least the schools were open and honest about it.

JIL: What do you think is the fairest part of the process?

AP: What should be the fairest part of the process is also the most corrupt…the ERB test. 

JIL: Why?

AP: My analysis is based on my nursery director’s feedback:  First off, this year, ERB score inflation is rampant, including at our school.  And secondly, since applications are up more than ever, many schools are using ERB scores to slash and burn the applicant pool to a reasonable size.  So, as long as you make the ERB cut off score you’re okay, but below that you’re not even a consideration.  This year’s cut off score seems to be in the mid-90’s for most of the top tier schools.

JIL: What would you change if you could to make the process better?

AP: The ERB testing process.  It needs to be similar to the Hunter Elementary School testing process.  The testers, like those already at ERB, should be qualified child psychologists, but perhaps more carefully monitored.  Also, testing should be removed from the school’s premises so that nursery directors cannot influence or choose particular testers in any way.  If Hunter and Anderson, two very poorly funded public schools, are able to create an admissions testing and interview processes that are reasonably fair, and based primarily on merit, it seems the well funded private schools should do the same.