five teens standing private school wait listSo you’ve decided to send your teen to a private high school. But if it’s like Newark Academy in Livingston, which receives 500 applications a year for 110 spaces, or Morristown-Beard in Morristown, which receives 200 applications for between 45 and 50 ninth-grade spots, there’s a high probability your child will be wait-listed. What should you do?

Everybody Into the Waiting Pool

Morristown-Beard, has two rounds in its admissions process: early and regular. According to Hillary Nastro, the school’s director of admissions, the early round doesn’t create a wait list. Applicants who aren’t accepted at that point are deferred to the regular round. That means the regular round always generates a wait list.

Once a student has been placed in the regular pool, Nastro says, he’s “not ranked in any way. We prefer to think of it as a waiting pool. The admissions committee will reconvene and discuss things like: do we need a girl or a boy to keep the gender balance?” Such variables change from year to year and grade to grade, she says. “And those with the most current information in their file are given preference.”

And there’s the key: If your child is on a wait list, touch base with the admissions office until your child is notified of the school’s final decision. “Let the schools know if, in fact, you’re interested in staying on the wait list,” Nastro says. She recommends being more proactive than just returning the postcard Mo-Beard includes with the wait-list letter. “Call us and let us know of your interest. Follow up periodically with updated grades and teacher conference comments. Good final grades can be that extra push,” she says.

Allison Brunhouse, director of admissions and enrollment at The Pingry School in Martinsville, agrees. “Traditionally we’re in a position where we have more applications than spaces. Our waiting pools are filled with really qualified kids whom we wish we could have taken,” she says. So if your child is wait-listed, she says, it doesn’t mean he’s lacking. “We would never want an offer in our waiting pool to be interpreted as they’re being less than [qualified].”

Last year, for example, Brunhouse says attrition in both the sixth and ninth grades was lower than the school had anticipated. “It’s the first time in recent history we didn’t go to the waiting pools at all. But it’s a numbers game that differs every year.”

If the Private School Fits

“We do deny students [admission] if we feel they’re not the right fit for academic or social reasons,” Nastro says. But, according to Brunhouse, “Families are being thorough in their research and want to be sure a school is a good fit for their child. And last year our application ‚Ä®numbers were up to where they had been pre-recession.” 

So if your child is wait-listed, don’t take it personally. There are many factors at work. Just let the school know if you’d like your student to remain on its wait list. And conversely, Nastro says, “if you’re not interested, let them know that, too.”

Just don’t let your friendly reminders to the admissions office devolve into harassment. Dr. David Donovan, dean of admissions at Delbarton School in Morristown, says you should try to be aware of “the fine line between advocacy and being a pain in the neck. Use good judgment” as to how much contact to have with the admissions office—and how often.

Carol Lippert Gray is the editor of Raising Teens, a New Jersey Family publication.

Do you have any tips for wait-listed teens and their families? What was your experience? Please share with us below.