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Managing Your Time in the School Selection Process

Here is a month-by-month list of activities to help you organize your school search. We hope you find it helpful! 


• Brainstorm with your partner, close friend, mother, etc. what are the most important things you are looking for in a school. Think about this from your perspective (what will make you feel comfortable that your child is getting a good education) and from the viewpoint of your child (what type of setting do they do well in?) 

• Start your research as soon as possible: Start doing Internet and word-of-mouth research on schools of interest. Places to start in the Bay Area are: 







Check out the up-and-coming educational search site www.noodle.org

Don't forget the websites of the schools themselves - they are full of great information. And last, but not least, talk to friends, family, and chat with people you meet in the park - people love to talk about their impressions about schools - listen to them, but do other research to back up their thoughts. 

• If your child is applying to a private middle school (or high school), they will probably need to take the ISEE or the SSAT. Go to http://erblearn.org/parents/admission/isee or http://www.ssat.org/ssat/info/home.html to find out when the testing dates for this year are and register.


• Talk to your child’s preschool (or previous) teacher(s). Ask them: 

--Their impressions of what kind of program would be beneficial for your child. 

--Is my child ready for....? Knowing early in the year whether your child needs extra support to be ready for the next grade can be critical in selecting a school and getting them the support they need. 

--What schools have other families attended - and spoke positively about? 

--Would they be willing to write a teacher recommendation (required by most private schools) for your child? If so, what time frame would be most helpful for them (you don’t want your teacher to rush through your child’s recommendation). 

• Request admissions and financial aid material for private/parochial schools of interest online or via phone. Most schools will have their tour schedule up at this time - but a few won’t. If there are some “must see” schools on your list, request that you be informed of tour times once they are scheduled. 

• Create a place to keep all your information gathered about various schools to stay organized throughout the school selection season. 

• Schedule study time for the ISEE for your middle school or high school student. (See above.)


• This is when tours, open houses, and information nights for private/parochial schools begin in earnest - schedule them and attend. While you want to collect good information, don’t overwhelm yourself by doing all your touring in October - you can tour in November, and in December too. Spread it out.

Remember: Take notes during each tour and organize any information you receive at a tour with your application materials. You don’t want to be searching for your notes on “school A” at the last minute before your application is due. 

Idea: Take some pictures on your school tours with your handy smart phone. Most schools won’t let you take pictures of children - but they will let you take pictures of the outside of the school, the hallway, an empty classroom, etc. Pictures may help you remember one school versus another when they all start to blur in your memory in January.

Information fairs for independent schools - where you can talk to representatives from a variety of schools in the Bay Area at one time - occur during this month. Check the EBISA website for this year’s fair date and location.

Middle schoolers and older need to finish studying and take the ISEE. See above for more information.


• Continue to tour and attend open houses for schools of interest. Take notes and organize as you go - there is still a long road ahead.

• Schedule “kid-free” time with your partner, best friend, mother, etc. to talk about your impressions of schools so far. Begin to prioritize schools of interest and what elements of the school, the curriculum, and the environment that is important to your family. 

Hint: In your moment of quiet, prioritize school applications and (if possible) divide up the work of applying (this is NOT a small amount of work if you are applying to multiple schools). In my family, my husband did the financial aid forms, and I did the application forms and the teacher recommendations. 

• Make a calendar of deadlines. Note: 

--While the EBISA schools share an acceptance notification deadline (generally in early March, see ebisaca.org for details about this year’s date) - their individual application due dates differ. (Also, many schools also have a “priority deadline” where they accept applications early.) Know when your materials are due - especially when to apply for financial aid.  You don’t want to miss out.

--Remember that also the public school deadlines differ from district to district and can have a short window to make requests, participate in lotteries/options programs, and tour schools. Contact your district to plan your time accordingly.


• Make your decisions regarding private/parochial school applications. If attending a private/parochial school is important to your family, be sure to apply to more than one school to create a field of choices for your family come acceptance time. Better to have too many school choices, than not enough. 

• Once you have decided, check on signing up for any required “shadow days”, readiness assessments, head of school/parent interviews, and group visits that are a part of your chosen schools application procedures. 

• Begin your application materials for your selected, private/parochial schools. (Many applications have essay questions regarding your thoughts on education, so if you are a slow writer, or a busy professional - start ASAP.) 

• Remind your child’s teacher(s) about needed recommendations. Giving them a copy of the form, along with a pre-addressed, stamped envelope (as well as a big thank you) will help get the ball rolling. 

• Public schools visits in OUSD and BUSD often begin now (go to www.ousd.k12.ca.us and  www.berkeleyschools.net for detailed information). Individual schools run their tours and open houses individually...so be sure to call each school to sign up to see what your public schools have to offer. 

Note: If you don’t live in the district where you would like your child to attend, you can try for an intra-district transfer, but they are becoming more and more rare with budget cuts. See what your local public school district has to offer first. 


• This is a great time to finish looking at schools. Many schools will tour through January, so if there was one last school you wanted to see, or you just heard about school Z - go now.

• Finish applications for private/parochial schools including admission applications, essays, financial aid packets, transcript sending (if needed), and teacher recommendations. Many schools’ applications are due now, some in February so check with your schools to make sure that you are on time. 

• This is when many schools begin to hold their pre-admission assessments, family interviews, group assessments, and individual shadow days for students applying. Put aside your weekends for this if you are applying to three or more private schools. 

Note: These visits can be very stressful for some children. Put aside a lot of special family time to recoup from the demands of meeting and impressing strangers every weekend. 


• You are in the home stretch!  Finish applications, assessments, group visits, etc. 

• This is when many charter schools hold their lottery events (not all - so please check with the charter schools that you are applying to for the specific date). 

Note: Some charter schools require attendance at the lottery event for you to accept the space (most often, the more competitive ones). Make sure you know if you need to attend, or if they will call you with the news. 

• Relax and wait for your decisions to arrive in the mail - there isn’t anything you can do right now, so enjoy your new-found spare time. 


• EBISA schools notify families of acceptance (generally in the 1st or 2nd week in March). There is an agreed upon “quiet week” immediately following where schools are not supposed to contact families,  so you can decide which school is the one for you. 

• Financial aid awards (if applicable) should arrive with your acceptance. 

• If you need to, feel free to schedule a last minute tour of your top choices that week so you can make the best decision possible. Admissions directors and heads of school are very interested in talking with potential new families - they are standing by to speak to you. 

• Many area school districts notify families of their public school admissions during this same week. If you are unhappy with the school you received, don’t hesitate to go to district to discuss  your options (e.g. being put on a wait list; participating in another round of a lottery (often called an appeals process), etc. 

Hint: Put aside a few hours to visit the district (not a lunch-hour errand) and be in a good, problem-solving state of mind. District staff are often underpaid and under appreciated - so approaching them with a calm, kind demeanor will get you farther than panicking in their presence.

• Schedule a quiet, no-kids night to think deeply about your decision. You have one week for private/parochial schools to decide. (No pressure.) 

• Make a decision!  For the public/charter schools you need to bring in enrollment forms and proof of residency (in the next few months). For the private/parochial schools, you will need to send in a deposit to hold your spot which is generally 10% of the cost of tuition (but can be up to 50%). 

• As a courtesy, call any other private/parochial schools that accepted your child and let them know that you won’t be attending. This opens a spot up to another family on the wait list - they will appreciate your thoughtfulness. 

April to September

Two potential outcomes: 

Congratulations! Your child has a great school - because of your hard work.

  • Make connections to your school of choice to help introduce your family to your new community. This could be school fundraising events, school plays, class picnics, summer classes/camps that are available at the school site, etc. It will help both you and your child make new friends in your new home away from home.

  • Schedule a physical for your child. Many schools require updated health information before a child begins attending school. 


(2) You didn't' get into the school you really wanted. It is OK - there is just work left to do. Take a deep breath and dive back in. 

• Working within the public/charter school system: Find out about the appeals process available in your district (or the wait list system for your preferred charter school). These normally have very strict deadlines, so for the best outcome, find out what they are and adhere to them. 

Often there are several rounds of appeals or lengthy wait lists to tackle. Stay on top of it, calling every couple of weeks to see where your child is on the list. Don't assume "they will let you know". The people who are calling regularly (and with kind patience) may be at the right place at the right time in these systems. 

• Working within the private/parochial school system: Check in first with your first choice of school - is there a wait list you can be on? Then, start to make some phone calls to other schools you are interested in, but didn't apply to in the first round. Due to the economy, many tuition-based schools still have openings after sending out acceptance letters in March. It may not be your first choice school, but you may find a school that meets many of your key needs and priorities.