Here’s What To Do If Your Child Didn’t Get into a Private School

Take a deep breath.

Illustration by Michele Melcher.

Today’s the day when many parents learn whether their child has been accepted into one of the independent private schools (pre-k through high school) in the Washington area. This signifies the culmination of a months-long process involving tours, parent interviews, evaluative playdates, independent testing, and an intense amount of paperwork. Though many parents will be breaking out the Veuve Clicquot to toast their child’s admission, others will be opening stronger spirits to drown their sorrows over the failure to place their child.

If you’re one of the parents in the latter group, grappling with what you’re going to do about your child’s schooling next year, take a deep breath. Janet Carter, director of admissions for the National Child Research Center, a private pre-k in Cleveland Park, has some advice on how to navigate next steps.

Don’t take it personally
“It might not be the outcome you’re hoping for, but it’s not a reflection of your child in any way. When a school has 11 spaces, they have 11 spaces. That’s just the reality,” says Carter. “We know there are a lot of emotions involved with school decisions, because your children are what you value most, and families invest a lot getting to know a school and putting forth their child.”

Wait lists are worth it
“We would not indicate to a family that they were on a wait list unless it was a viable option. We’re in an area where transitions happen often and quickly, and there are other influences that may alter a family’s decision. Definitely convey your interest to the admissions team that you wish to stay on the list. You might not find out about an opening until June or July, but that’s okay. It doesn’t matter when you come in—you will be fully embraced by the community.”

Don’t badger the admissions team
“Unless the team comes back asking for more information, there’s not really anything else you can do to move up the wait list. We won’t forget about you. Definitely don’t offer to make a donation or another contribution to the school. It would put any member of an admissions team in an awkward position.”

There are other options
“We are fortunate to have so many great school choices in the area. Keep looking, while thinking about what feels right on a gut level and exploring what’s of value to you as a family.”

Think about next year
“If you’re considering reapplying, remain engaged with the school and continue the dialogue. There are a lot of changes that happen over the course of the year, so keep the admissions team apprised of what your child is doing. Remember: admission teams are here to support families. Not just families who are walking through the door in September, but all families that apply. You might end up being in a slightly longer relationship with the admissions team, but it can work out in the long run.”

Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.