Kathy LaBranche is Director of Admissions at Trinity College School, a boarding school in Port Hope, Ontario.
We asked her several questions related to the issue of how to get into private school. We covered topics such as what schools look for, interviews, and grades. Here’s what she had to say.
For more expert advice on a wide range of questions related to “getting in,” read our comprehensive guide. For valuable insights on the more general question of choosing the right school, read our in-depth education expert and parent interviews. You can also read our choosing guide.
Q: How can parents and students prepare for the interview? What should they know going in?
A: The interview is a way for the admissions office to get to know more about the applicant, to see if they are the right fit for the school. Prospective students will be asked questions about their interests, academics, family, and character. There will be opportunities to ask questions about the school during the interview as well. To prepare for the interview, students should reflect on their interests and why they want to move schools. They should also research the school and be knowledgeable about the programs and overall approach of the school, both in and out of the classroom. Other than that, a student should not over rehearse. The best interview is one where a student can honestly and meaningfully reflect who they are as a person and what is important to them—not what they think we want to hear.
Q: How heavily weighted are entrance exams and tests? How should they be prepared for?
A: At TCS, we will accept many different forms of aptitude or English language acquisition tests including SSAT, SAT, and TOEFL. TCS also uses the Otis Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT). OLSAT is a diagnostic, multiple-choice test which is similar in nature to the SSAT, but only takes 40 minutes to complete. We administer the test either in person (at TCS or on the road) or online to applicants after they have submitted all forms required for their application. The test score is broken down into a percentile, which we use to compare with report card marks (from the last two reports received by the student), teacher recommendation forms, and every other piece of the application with equal weight. We understand that some students do not excel in test-taking, and we take this into account when reviewing the application as a whole. The test is helpful in determining ELL levels in international students, gaps in learning related to verbal and non-verbal abilities, and students’ overall cognitive abilities. The test is not a make or break factor in the application process, but it is an important piece which we hope students will put their best effort towards.
Q: How heavily do you weigh grades? What can students and parents do to prepare for this part of the admissions process?
A: There is certainly a range of grades considered to make sure a student is able to handle the academic program, but if learning skills are weak, this will have just as much of an impact on the ability to manage pace and expectations of the program. Strong learning skills will positively impact grades, so this is something which parents should pay attention to. If a student’s marks are low across all areas, the concern is that there must be gaps in the foundation of skills and knowledge that will impact the student’s transition to the academic program. While families should not place all emphasis on grades, they should be aware of strengths and needs in the area of learning skills, as well as looking at potential learning gaps indicated in progress reports and report card comments.
Q: What do you consider when admitting a student? What should parents consider when applying to a particular school?
A: Trinity College School is looking for academically motivated students with a wide range of interests that match our co-curricular program offerings. The ‘fit’ for TCS is a student who will get involved in all areas of school life and who will be a positive member of the TCS community. We also focus on students who really want to be at TCS. Strong letters of recommendation and demonstrated leadership experience will strengthen an application. The single biggest misconception regarding the kind of candidate TCS is looking for would be the idea that all students need excellent academic results. Trinity takes a holistic view of all applicants and while reports will certainly play a role, so will citizenship, areas of interest, character, and personality. We value diversity and recognize that all students have potential and can add to the wonderful community at TCS. If a student is ready to work hard, engage in our co-curricular programs, and be a positive member of the community, they will have a strong application.
Q: How can parents help and stay connected throughout the application process?
A: While the student is certainly encouraged to take an active role in the application process, depending on the age and grade of the student, the parent will maintain the primary responsibility for some stages in the application process. As a result, they will naturally be involved in every step.
Parent support will be most important for logistics: gathering the supporting documents, arranging campus visits, meeting deadlines and due dates, etc. However, parents are encouraged to maintain contact with admissions staff, both to ensure that the process is moving along well and to ensure that they get their questions addressed along the way.
Q: What advice or words of wisdom would you give students and parents to help them make the most of the application process?
A: The school exploration, application, and ultimately selection process should be an enjoyable experience. There will be times of stress and anxiety, excitement, and joy, as well as nervousness and disappointment. But ultimately it is the start of a very exciting and transformative journey. They will learn much about the schools they are considering as well as about themselves, their goals and expectations, and they will gain clarity on what they value and need from a school. Stay in the moment, enjoy the experience, and remember that it is a learning process for all involved. They will find their best fit even if sometimes it will not be their first choice.
Read our other "getting in" interviews