Schools admissions bring many regrets

Applicant demand exceeds private school openings

March 20, 2003|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Wearing her elder sister's Notre Dame Prep sweat shirt, Amanda Porter turned down a trip to the mall on a recent Saturday, choosing instead to wait for the mail carrier to deliver the letter that would decide her immediate future.

Amanda made five trips to the mailbox before she and her mother, Charlene, met the carrier in the driveway. Amanda eagerly opened the letter and learned she had been accepted into the ninth grade at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson - her first choice - for the 2003-2004 school year.

"I've been planning on attending NDP since my sister went there," said Amanda, a 13-year-old Essex resident. "I'm really happy because I felt very comfortable. It was the school for me."

She was one of the lucky ones. Across the Baltimore area, admissions offices at private and parochial schools recently completed the yearly ritual of mailing thousands of letters to applicants.

Most contained expressions of regret, turning down students whose families spent more than five months going through a rigorous application process.

The high number of rejections illustrates a simple fact: Despite the nation's economic problems and tuition that ranges from $10,000 to $15,000 for day students, these schools continue to receive applications from far more students than they can accept.

But there has been a new wrinkle: More parents are seeking financial aid.

Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills received between 650 and 700 applications, but had spots for 100 to 105 new students, said Randie Benedict, director of admission and financial aid. Those numbers are consistent with recent years.

The same is true at Friends School in North Baltimore.

"We are getting way more applicants than there are slots available," said Tad Jacks, assistant head for admissions and administration.

He said his school received about 660 applications, with spots for about 130 new students. The number is consistent with the 600 to 700 applications Friends has been receiving in the past few years.

Financial aid is a huge factor in deciding which school a family chooses, Jacks said.

At Maryvale Preparatory School in Brooklandville, Monica Graham, director of admissions, said requests for financial aid have been noticeably higher this year.

Graham said it is hard to pinpoint the reason for the increase in requests; parents are not required to tell schools why they are applying. But she noted that new applicants aren't the only ones seeking help - current students are also asking Maryvale to help pay expenses.

"About 20 percent of our families get financial aid," said Dianne Fowler, director of admission and dean of students at St. James Academy in Monkton. "This year, we have had a slightly higher percentage of applications for financial aid."

Seeking financial aid is one step in a long application process that is becoming increasingly competitive.

Terry Dyer of Jacksonville, whose daughter, Sarah, 13, was accepted for the ninth grade at Notre Dame Prep this fall, said it was difficult to follow the timeline that schools require.

"The toughest part, though, was waiting for the final decision. Sarah was really nervous the day the letter arrived," Dyer said.

Admission directors say they spend a lot of time reviewing each application with a committee, generally made up of teachers and school administrators.

Jacks said there is no easy formula that admission directors can use.

"We spend a lot of time trying to balance out the types of students we accept," the Friends official said. "We look at issues like gender, since we are a coed school, and diversity and other factors. It's hard to make these decisions."

Katherine Goetz, NDP's director of admission, said most of the girls who apply to NDP also seek admission at other schools. Admission directors encourage the practice, she said, because not every applicant fits at every school.

"The admission process has changed," Goetz said. "There are so many girls applying, and the competition is more extreme."

Sometimes that process is hard for parents to understand.

Jacks said his office receives calls from parents who ask what their child did wrong to be denied acceptance.

"It's a crazy process, almost like someone applying for a job and trying to find the right fit," Jacks said. "The big difference is that these are children."

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