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Navigating the Private School Waitlist

Parents, you’re faced with the decision to choose a school for your child. You’ve done your homework. You’ve perused countless school websites. You’ve toured your neighborhood school and several local private schools. You’ve asked lots of questions and have decided an independent school education is the best fit for your child. You may even have a favorite school that’s risen to the top of your list.


So, you’ve filled out the applications, sent in the required paperwork, and participated in interviews and assessments. The admission process can sometimes feel a bit circuitous - a reminder of the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. But, much like the mouse who wants a cookie and a glass of milk to go with it, the process of private school admissions has only just begun. The time period after submitting the applications is when the real waiting begins.


MS girls math



RYS week Mouse Cookie

In particularly competitive markets such as New York, it’s true that parents begin navigating the private school admission process for their children as early as ages 1 or 2. While most areas do not experience such extreme dynamics, parents should still be aware of their local market demand, particularly if you have your heart set on a specific school. 


For independent schools who offer a strong return on investment, and where current families understand the value of their child’s school offerings, retention numbers can be strong. This leaves few open spots for new students to enter the school each fall, especially in middle and high school. In tight markets, families may find that their child ends up on an admission waitlist.


The waitlist is a pool of mission-fit families who would be offered acceptance if there were enough spots open. As a point of clarification, some schools use the term “waitlist,” while others use “wait pool.” According to Independent School Management, Inc., “parents often associate a numerical order” with waitlists, “meaning, if my child is first on the waitlist, he or she will be the first one offered a spot.” Whereas, a “‘wait pool’ implies that there is no predefined order when it comes to when and if a student in the pool will be offered a seat for the upcoming school year. Acceptance will be based on competitive qualifications, the mission of the school, and the number of openings available.” The terms are used interchangeably here.


kindergarten kids RYS 16x9



PK boy excited enrichment (1)

For most schools, being placed on the waitlist is not a soft “no.” Schools who use waitlists have more applicants than open seats available. Typically, admitted families are given one to two weeks to accept their offer of admission. If they decline and choose to send their child to another school, admission teams proceed to the waitlist to fill open seats until each grade level is full. 

So, if your child has been placed on a waitlist, what should you do? Here are a few tips to help navigate this process.


  1. Stay calm. Stay positive. Being placed on the waitlist is not a judgment of your fit for a particular school. If a school did not believe itself to be a great fit for your child, it would notify you with a denied decision. So, be sure your child understands that being waitlisted in no way implies that he or she is not “good enough” for a school - it’s actually the opposite! Being on the waitlist indicates that the school recognizes your child would be a fit and just needs an open seat to be able to extend an offer of acceptance. 

  2. Trust the process. Schools really do use their waitlists, and students really are admitted from the wait pool, so there is hope. Keep in mind, as part of their offer decisions, enrollment directors are challenged with keeping classes balanced, ensuring there’s diversity among a variety of factors (gender, extracurricular interest, racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, types of learners, etc.). 

  3. Indicate your interest. When you’ve been notified of your waitlist status, let your admission contact know right away if you’d like to remain on the waitlist. Be sure to ask what the school’s process is for keeping you informed about the current status of the waitlist and what level of contact they allow from families. If appropriate, you can reach out to the admission team every few weeks to check on the status of the waitlist and express your continued interest in the school. Of course, if your family cannot remain on the waitlist, please do let your admission representative know that as well.

  4. Be flexible. If your plans allow you to wait throughout the summer - or even the start of the school year - there’s still a chance to move out of the wait pool. You may choose to enroll in your neighborhood school, enroll in a cyber school, or even homeschool, giving your family the latitude to switch to your dream school, if offered the opportunity. But, keep in mind that, while giving yourself flexibility, online or homeschool is a huge commitment. You have to decide what will be best for your child and your family in the long run.

  5. Keep the faith. Above all, as with everything, families should turn to the Lord when making decisions. Pray for discernment and that God will guide your child to the right place at the right time. The goal is to find a school where your child will thrive, be it your first choice or another right-fit school.


graduation prayer


By keeping in touch with the admission team, modeling a positive attitude for your child, and trusting the process, your family will navigate the private school admission process. Make the best of the final decision and become involved in the school community you ultimately join. In the end, you’ll no doubt discover that, much like the mouse who wants a cookie and milk, there are a multitude of options that will be a great solution for your family.



For more information about private school admissions, consider these WingTips features.



Stephanie Dunn is the director of admission at Mount Paran Christian School. She is also the head coach for the State champion varsity girls basketball team. Amber Irizarry, communication content manager, contributed to this article.


Curious about the Mount Paran Christian School experience?  Click here to learn more. 


Source: The Enrollment Management Association,



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