An appeal to parents from Edward Thompson, Director of Secondary School Placement at Far Hills Country Day School
here is no getting around it—applying to secondary schools is labor intensive. Hours are spent researching and exploring schools, filling out forms and parent essays, visiting campuses and interviewing and scheduling the requisite standardized testing. All along the way, you’re reminding your child to study for the exams and encouraging them to get going on their essays. All of this is, of course, is in addition to their regularly scheduled homework!
But for all the work and all the stress, the secondary school admission process is one of the most rewarding and revealing experiences of your family’s educational journey. The admission process is inherently a reflective one. The essays, the various short response questions and the interviews all encourage the applicant to reflect on their interests, passions and strengths. Notably, the most mature students are often able to express their ambitions for the next four years and beyond. In our polite society, children are brought up to be humble and not to brag—although this is one of the first occasions where they are encouraged to do a little boasting. We tend to discourage bragging in schools and prefer to celebrate the accomplishments of the many versus the few. However, the admission process, on the other hand, is one hundred percent about the individual.
Over the course of this fall and winter, there should be several revelatory moments for your child—these moments will not only help them in completing essays and preparing for interviews, but will also help them developmentally as they realize and begin to pursue their true interests and passions. In addition, you, as the parent, get to share in the moment. You, in turn, will learn so much more about your son or daughter.
Furthermore, the secondary school search naturally encourages quality time on the road and visiting interesting parts of the country (or in some cases, not so interesting). I always tell my students that at a minimum, when they visit a boarding school, they will have a good day out with family. They will, undoubtedly, also meet some wonderful people along the way as they make their visits: teachers and academic deans, current and prospective students, coaches, admission staff and heads of school. The one thing I don’t think families realize is that everyone is rooting for the applicant throughout the process.
Despite the stress and the hard work with the admission journey, it is a rewarding and meaningful journey for both student and parent. I think it’s fair to say that the parents carry most of the stress day-to-day (and they should—they’re the adults!); the engaged student wants to succeed and wants fantastic outcomes, but they also want to get on with their school year, enjoy their classes, hang out with friends, play sports and pursue their artistic endeavors. Parents and teachers can best help the applicant with encouragement and understanding.
Ed joined Far Hills Country Day School as the director of secondary school counseling in July of 2012. In addition to placement, Ed currently serves as the house director for grades 7 & 8 and teaches American history. Prior to Far Hills, he worked in Washington, DC for several international educational development organizations including NCIV and IREX. He began his career at Delbarton School in Morristown, NJ where he taught history, coached soccer and tennis, and served on the admission team for five years.
Far Hills Country Day School is a private, coeducational PreK-grade eight school located in Far Hills, New Jersey, one hour west of New York City.