What You Need to Know About Those Coveted Private School Admissions Letters

If you thought writing applications and attending parent interviews was stressful, waiting for private school admissions letters takes parental anxiety to new heights (well, let’s exclude college admissions). When I was waiting for kindergarten -and later, middle school admissions letters – my general mood could best be described as “on edge,” with moments of calm, which quickly turned to panic whenever I’d think, “What if we don’t get in?”. This is one of those unpredictable times as a mom when you just have to wait. Sure, you’ve sent thank you notes to the admissions director and maybe even had friends call or write to the school on your family’s behalf. Now that those tasks are completed, you impatiently wait for word about where your kid will go to school in the fall. You will receive a letter, but there are various kinds of letters. Here’s how to decode what’s waiting for you in your mailbox.

Acceptance Letters: The best letters ever! Acceptance letters offer your child a space at the school. These letters can be a big packet containing orientation information and the enrollment materials or simply a letter with additional information to follow. Many schools email acceptances and wait-list letters. Schools don’t typically email rejection letters. After getting your acceptance letters, you’ll have about two weeks to accept the offer and pay the deposit to secure your child’s space in the class.

Wait-List Letters: A letter or email telling you that your child has been placed on a school’s wait-list–due to a large number of applicants or some other vague reason–can be confusing. Being placed on the wait-list is literally a waiting game. The school has made offers to families and they are waiting to find out which families have accepted their offer. If families turn down at least one spot, the school will look to the wait-list for kids to accept. A school can admit any child from the wait-list or it can go in a specific order as agreed upon by the admission committee. It is rare that 100 percent of a school’s offers will be accepted. Therefore, the wait-list becomes the school’s go-to list for kids to fill spots. Parents can get calls offering them a spot from the wait-list the week after letters are mailed or late in the summer. You should note that just because your neighbor turns down a spot at a school where your kid is wait-listed, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an offer. There are factors like the number of boys and girls to balance a class and other considerations. It’s not a simple 1:1 equation.

At some schools, a wait-list letter is a polite way of saying “no” and these schools don’t plan to admit any students from the wait-list. It is impossible to know which schools use this practice. If you want your kid to be admitted from the wait-list be sure to return the postcard keeping him/her on the list. It’s completely appropriate to call or email the admissions director to inquire whether they expect to admit students from the wait-list. If so, ask if the wait-list is ranked (i.e. what number/category is your kid wait-list). You can also have one of your contacts at the school call on your behalf. If the admissions director politely tells you to explore other options, you’re child won’t get in. You should know that students are admitted off wait-lists at many, many top-tier private schools, so don’t panic. Be patient. You may just have to wait, without giving up your other options. Smart parents put a deposit down for a school where they’ve been accepted. If they get a call from the wait-list school, they forfeit the deposit, which is not refundable. In the long-term, pick the best school for your kid and don’t focus on the lost deposit.

Non-Accept/Rejection Letter: This is obviously the most difficult letter to receive. There’s no easy way to digest this news. You know it’s really not personal, but it certainly feels very personal to get a letter telling you your child won’t be admitted to a school where you applied. There are many reasons why this could have happened and the school will never tell you. But, after your initial hurt, anger, disgust or envy of other families, focus on other schools where you can send your child. There are always other options. Never lose sight of that fact. And, what may have seemed like a major disappointment could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.