Debunking Five Myths about the Secondary School Counseling Process

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In Park’s Secondary School Counseling Office, we partner with students and families to provide the personalized tools and resources to identify high school options that will match and challenge individual interests and needs. Whether a student seeks a public or independent school, we offer guidance about all aspects of the search process. While we begin working with students and their families in the spring of seventh grade, we also know that the buzz about applying to secondary schools can start much earlier, and we are eager to debunk some of the myths that we have heard and provide some helpful tips as well.

Myth: The Secondary School Team “places” students in independent high schools, many of which have designated spots for Park students.
Truth: For many years, “secondary school placement” was a common term used within independent schools; however, “placement” is misleading and undercuts the value of a student’s earned secondary school acceptance. Through an in-depth understanding of each student as well as years of data, we offer counseling about all aspects of the application process, including: how to generate appropriate school lists, how to prepare for interviews, and how to select and submit SSAT scores. Schools look for Park students who will fit well into the class they are building. A particular school may take many Park students in one year or fewer in another year.

Myth: My child has to be the best at (soccer/baseball/math/etc.) to be admitted to an independent secondary school.
Truth: Secondary schools are looking to select students with a range of personal and academic strengths to create a diverse and interesting student body. Admission officers see middle school as a time for discovery and growth. They are impressed by students who are to take positive risks and try new activities. That said, schools see through excessive resume building and prefer authentic exploration into developing passions.  

Myth: Expressing interest early and often elevates an application in the process.
Truth: Be a savvy consumer. Secondary school admission offices have become marketing machines with a number of events and opportunities that generate interest in their programs. While attending open houses and other receptions may help you learn about a new school community, attendance at these events does not increase likelihood of acceptance. Schools are much more interested in students’ strengths than perfect attendance at admission events. We guide Park’s eighth graders to stay focused on their academics and extracurricular interests, and then train them to write thoughtful thank you notes after their tours and interviews. Those carefully-crafted letters, in combination with applications and parent statements, are more than enough to demonstrate enthusiasm for a particular school.

Myth: Gaining admission is all about who you know and the connections you have.
Truth: The most important components of students’ applications are the combination of personal achievements and academic performance at Park. The best ways to illustrate these successes are through authentic interviews, student applications, and thorough, thoughtful teacher recommendations. Secondary schools know the high quality of  Park’s curriculum and trust our recommendations, which cast a positive light on each applicant. Unnecessary outside advocacy can cloud an otherwise stellar application. We recommend that families partner with the Secondary School Office to discuss the best personal recommenders for your child.

Myth: My child is more likely to be accepted at a school’s first entry point, rather than 9th grade
Truth: Leaving before Grade VIII interrupts the arc of learning at Park, and schools recognize this. The middle school years are filled with change and maturation, and beginning the process any earlier takes away important time for student voices to develop. Secondary schools readily accept our eighth graders because they know the strength of our Upper Division and because our graduates are academically-prepared, confident leaders on their campuses. Park graduates are known for their optimism, kindness and willingness to take positive risks—all hallmarks of our Upper Division experience.

We know that the application process can be stressful and anxiety-producing, but partnering with the Secondary School Counseling Office can help to minimize these feelings for your whole family.