Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Erin Brady (left) is a mother of two school-age kids and has been an education consultant since 2006, supporting families relocating to areas throughout the U.S and internationally. Having worked for many years in the sphere of private school admissions and teaching, she now acts as a Regional Team Lead (she oversees a large team of education consultants) focusing on the greater New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia areas. Her personal expertise includes boarding school and NYC placements (PreK - 12th grade). Erin has worked in Lower, Middle & Upper School admissions, taught Middle School English, coached Varsity Cross Country & Track, and served as Academic Advisor in several leading day and boarding schools in the U.S. and the U.K.
Erin recently joined Bennett International Education Consultancy's CEO, Elizabeth Sawyer (right) for a Q&A session regarding the state of affairs regarding private schools in New York amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and offers her team's insights, perspectives, and advice for parents, along with what to expect for the remainder of 2020.
This conversation was recorded on May 29th, 2020, and a full transcript follows, edited for reading clarity.
When we think about the New York private school landscape, we think about competition and high selectivity. In a normal school year (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), where would we be right now in terms of the admissions cycle?
Erin: In terms of the admission cycle, we would [normally] be at a point where most schools would aim to have the class list ready to go for the Fall. So, there would be openings in some schools; they would be only in certain grades, and maybe only one or two openings per grade, so admissions would be more competitive and more selective.
So right now, in May/June 2020, how is enrollment looking in New York private schools? What might that mean for prospective families?
Erin: Obviously, that varies from school to school and division to division, but what our NYC consultants are seeing is that there is more flexibility in schools. Schools are more willing to consider a student in a non-intake year (intake years are typically kindergarten, 6th-grade, and 9th-grade). They're more willing to look at a 7th-grader, for example, and we've also seen schools that typically take a certain number of students to a waitlist take students off their waitlists.
Tell us about the application process and how it's looking now.
Erin: In many ways, it's the same, and there are obviously some differences. The ways that it's the same: we still need to fill out the applications, older students need to write the essays, there needs to be an interview, there needs to be testing and teacher recommendations.
The process has changed, obviously. Schools have been closed since March, so families can't get on campus for a tour or an in-person interview. There is currently no testing available, so families need to work with their educational consultant and their admissions offices to come up with creative ways to present older testing, or come up with an in-house assessment. The other thing that is could be a little tricky is getting current teacher recommendations.
When we think of New York private school admissions, we think of testing. What is going on with the testing right now, and how are schools handling that?
Erin: Right now there are no ISEE tests scheduled. So that's not an option for students. Some NYC schools will look at the SSAT, and right now they don't have any testing available either; they're planning on rolling out an in-home SSAT test for mid-July. So families looking at schools right now, wanting to complete their applications, can work with admissions offices and a consultant to present older testing, and/or ask for an in-house assessment. The bottom line is that schools are trying to be flexible and they want these families to go through the process.
In the midst of all of this, are there any positives for families in New York, or that are moving to New York, looking to apply to private schools?
Erin: I think there really are. I think there are two main positives, one being that schools are more flexible. they they're anticipating space in grades where they wouldn't in years past, in in-take years and non-intake years. So it's worth it for a family looking for a change, whether they're within NYC or moving into the city.
The other positive that I've noticed is that everything is slower - I think that's healthier for the families, and especially for the students. The process is now slower, less stressful, and calmer for the students.
What about the "virtual" experience for parents? They're having to take virtual tours and make their decisions from afar. How is that going?
Erin: That's a good question. While it's disappointing not to be able to get on campus and feel the energy of other students and the teachers, it's providing another advantage for students and families. It's enabling them - in a way, forcing them - to take a deeper look into the curriculum and culture of the school without that "wow" factor of being on campus, being charmed by a dynamic teacher or admissions person. I think families are, because they have a little more time, too, are able to make more thoughtful decisions that way.
As a former admissions officer and as someone who has supported hundreds of families in achieving NYC private school placements - what "insider" tips, advice or perspective would you give someone about that process now?
Erin: To start, I would say, if you're working with an educational consultant and he/she comes to you with a list of five schools that have said, hypothetically, "yes, we'll look at your 10th-grade daughter's application" - that means that the school is interested in your child, and they likely have space for them. They're not going to make you go through this process just to add to their number of applications. So, that's an opportunity to begin to develop a partnership with the admissions office to overcome any of the hurdles or roadblocks that might be in place because of the pandemic.
For example, if you can't get a teacher's recommendation, you can work with the admissions office and offer a phone call. If testing is not available, provide solutions - you can suggest for them to maybe look at an Algebra 2 mid-term test result instead. And, because the application might not be as complete as those in February are, that forces the admissions committee to take a deeper look into your child's files to really see his/her strengths.
Realizing that nobody really knows what's going to happen in the Fall, what are NYC private schools saying right now about what they're planning for?
Erin: That's definitely a question that we hear from families all the time, and it's a situation that's changing, if not day by day, then week by week. From what our NYC team has heard and learned from admissions offices is that schools are looking at three scenarios.
Ideally, the first would be that everyone comes back to campus - maybe wearing masks, maybe with some social distancing, but the majority of schooling looks the way it did [prior to the pandemic].
The second scenario would be a hybrid one, where some school happens on-campus, some school happens virtually, and there many, many different permutations of that.
The third scenario would be for schooling to start out virtually, and move to on-campus eventually.
I think it's important for families who are looking at investing in independent schools to understand that the teachers, staff, and administration really, really want everyone on-campus, [it would seem] it's what's best for the kids, and most of the students want that as well.
Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by guiding them towards making informed decisions and finding the best-fit schools for their children. Our consultants specialize in counseling families and helping them to find and secure placement for their children in preschools, private day schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, or schools with particular program offerings, such as special needs support.