• 19 May 2024
An Inside Look at NYC School Admissions: The Application

An Inside Look at NYC School Admissions: The Application

Jul 08, 2018

On May 22nd, Clark attended “Sip and Learn: High School Admissions” hosted by New York admissions expert Whitney Shashou of Admit NY and Private Prep NYC partner Zack Gilman. Last week, we broke down the ways families can research schools to create their final list of best potential matches.

Once their list of three to five schools is set, it’s time for families to move on to the application.

Beyond basic background information, the majority of school applications consist of several sections, requiring information ranging from academic performance like transcripts to opportunities for student self-expression.

However, before moving onto applications, both Whitney and Zack caution families not to confuse these with college applications – schools aren’t expecting students to have extensive resumes at this point. Rather than throwing students into random extracurricular activities in order to make them appear “well-rounded” or accomplished, families should focus on showcasing a student’s genuine interests and strengths.

Student Essays

Student essays give applicants an opportunity to highlight their unique, impressive qualities, which as a result encourages them to continue their journey of self-reflection within the admissions process.

Families should delve deeper into a student’s interests and analyze their innate and acquired strengths as a result. Even activities that disguise themselves as mere pastimes can reveal top qualities in a student.

Whitney cited the example of a student who enjoys cooking breakfast. On the surface, this interest may not appear worthy of basing an entire school admissions essay. But reflect more closely, and this interest can reveal a student’s dedication, independence, maturity, creativity, excitement to learn, social and emotional skills, and more. Who else is the student cooking for? How did they learn how to cook? Are they self taught? Do they follow recipes? Create their own recipes? Have they shared this skill with others? How often do they cook? Why do they enjoy cooking breakfast?

An interest that may not seem terribly exciting, unique, or special to a student or their family can make for a perfect essay, as long as students put forward thought and reflection.

Students can start this self-reflection process early, getting a head start on the application process. Sitting down, writing down their interests, hobbies, passions, and extracurriculars and answering questions about each can help kick-start the brainstorm process and make for a genuine, well-written, thoughtful admissions essay.


Last week’s post mentioned that while academics shouldn’t necessarily deter a family from keeping a school on their list, students will need to be an academic fit wherever they go in order to thrive. Academics tend to be the first barrier to entry of acceptance for this reason, so students will need to submit a few portions of their academic profile.

1. Transcripts
Students will need to submit their transcripts, typically from both the current and previous year, though schools do sometimes ask for additional years as well.

2. Graded Writing Sample
Schools may require a graded writing sample, which means that parents should hold on to their child’s work. These samples must be graded and will preferably have a teacher’s written comments. In terms of type of sample, Whitney urges parents to avoid sending in creative works (like poems). Rather, schools are interested in seeing a student’s ability to support evidence, write a thesis, and reflect on findings, so academic papers are best.

3. Test Scores
Finally, a student’s test scores will need to be submitted.

The majority of private schools require the ISEE or SSAT, so Zack gave us a breakdown of what these tests look like.

The ISEE has 40 vocabulary questions, 84 math questions, and no guessing penalty, while the SSAT has 60 vocabulary questions, 50 math questions, and a ¼ point penalty for incorrect answers. Both exams also have a reading comprehension section, and both feature an unscored essay, but Zack stresses that schools do look at these essays and students must take them seriously. Zack also points out that this is a reason parents shouldn’t write their child’s personal essay for them – schools can tell if the authors of the two are not the same.

For more information regarding the ISEE and SSAT check out this post.

In terms of when and how often to take entrance exams, Zack recommends that students always plan on taking the test twice in the case of the ISEE – once in late November, and once in late December--and two or even three times in the case of the SSAT, though they should only send their single best test score in with their application.

Parents should also get on board with making sure their students start preparing early on. These tests can last up to three hours with standard time, and Zack recommends beginning prep at least three months out if possible.

Teacher Recommendations

Teacher recommendation letters can give students the final push they need for acceptance, especially if test scores aren’t quite where they need to be.

This is yet another opportunity for a student to step up and self-advocate. Children should meet with their teachers and share their goals for school admissions, as well as what they are working on that semester to ensure that they are both on the same page. Additionally, they should ask questions and inquire what they can do in that teacher’s class to put them on a path towards success. Approaching a teacher in a mature, thoughtful manner and expressing the steps they will take to make their academic and personal goals a reality is sure to impress.

How can families assess what a teacher recommendation might look like? Comments on a child’s report card and notes at parent-teacher conferences can be telling. If there is a repeated behavior of negative comments, students should approach that teacher to set new goals for the semester. How can behaviors be changed? What can they work on improving? If a teacher is aware of your child’s investment, they will support them along the journey.

The Interview

Once a student has submitted their written application, those that move on to the next round will likely be invited to a school tour and interview.

In order to prepare, students can practice their interview skills with their family. In line with the theme of the admissions process and similar to the essay, students should reflect on their strengths, skills, and unique attributes to share.

During the interview, students are sometimes asked to complete an on-demand assignment, which are typically essays and/or math assessments. Whitney and Zack encourage students to showcase their thoughts by creating an outline, adding in edits as needed, and always showing their work.

At the End of It All

While there’s certainly a lot that goes into the admissions process, families should remember that the process is holistic and all application pieces are weighed alongside one another. These applications should be an honest, authentic reflection of the student’s best self. Additionally, Whitney and Zack urge parents to remember that a student’s application should be consistent across all sects; a school should be able to group together each piece of a student’s application and easily determine that they all belong to the same student. Students should be sure to begin prepping academically early on, and drafting their essays in advance will give them adequate time to reflect, edit, and perfect their essays.

From framing the right mindset to the final interview and all the steps between, the admissions process is one that requires an array of executive functioning skills that will benefit students as they head into college admissions and beyond.

For more information about the admissions process and the services that Admit NY and Private Prep NYC offer, visit their websites:
Admit NY
Private Prep NYC

Thank you to Whitney and Zack for inviting us to join their School Admissions seminar!