Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Nervous student with questions

Please take a few minutes to browse our comprehensive FAQs section. Here we’ve tried to provide as many answers as possible for questions related to private schools and universities, admissions testing, education consulting, and the school application process. In addition, our Blog is a great source to help inform and educate our visitors and potential clients. There you’ll find a variety of useful articles, tips, and advice.

. . . . . . .

I. Understanding Boarding and Private Day Schools

What is the difference between Prep Schools, Private, Boarding, and Day?

Actually, Prep (short for Preparatory) Schools, are so named to help “prepare” students for college. They can be either Boarding or Day Schools; they are also known as Private Schools. The terms are used interchangeably. Private schools are not funded by the State (i.e. Public schools), and are typically well endowed financially, and have strict enrollment conditions. In terms of quality of education and superior learning environment, whether or not a school is a private day or boarding school makes no difference. Boarding schools simply offer housing for students.

In American boarding schools, what is the meaning of "Forms?"

Forms correspond to a student’s grade level; it means the same thing but many boarding schools adopted the British term “Form” rather than “grade.” In the boarding school, students’ are measured as Third Form, Fourth Form, Fifth Form, and Sixth Form, which corresponds to 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, and 12th grade.

What is the difference in the students' grade levels between Chinese schools and American schools?

In China, for junior high school includes grades 7 to 9, and high school has grades 10 to 12. In the United States, junior high school (also called middle school) includes grades 6 to 8 and for high school, grades 9 to 12.

What is a junior boarding school?

It is a residential school which offers grade 9 and lower. Most schools cover grades 6 to 9. A few schools begin boarding as early as grade 3.

Why should I send my child to junior boarding school? Aren't they too young to study and live overseas?

Whether or not your child is too young to travel and study overseas is really a personal matter that you should carefully consider. Only you can determine if your child is ready and has the ability to make such a change, and also whether or not you are comfortable with this decision. Typically, most of our students who apply to junior boarding school are in the 7th and 8th grade; but some get started to study with us as early as grade 5.

What are the advantages of junior boarding school?

One of the main reasons to send your child to a junior boarding school is to prepare him for high school academics. A good junior boarding school also offers the full-time supervision every child needs and deserves. They will have a trained, experienced staff on hand to gently guide and direct its students to become independent, confident young adults.

The integration of academics with extracurricular activities, athletics and social life make a junior boarding school life a happy, convenient experience for the child. Plus, junior boarding schools offer the middle school age student a couple of years to perfect his English skills. If English is his second language, learning to write and think proficiently will be an important thing to accomplish before he begins the demanding academic work of high school.

Lastly, junior boarding schools also send many of their graduates on to top high schools. They have the resources and relationships to help make a strong case for your child to be accepted at a top boarding high school, for which the student will be better prepared for.

What is a "safe" school?

A safe school is a school at which your child can be reasonably certain of getting accepted. Put another way, your child’s profile matches what the school is looking for.

When you develop a short list of schools to which you wish to apply, make sure at least one school is a safe school. Your short list should have 8 to 10 schools. Two or three should be safe schools, while the others can be more competitive in terms of what your child offers. It makes no sense to apply to only the most competitive schools unless your educational consultant agrees unequivocally with that move. Why risk disappointment?

A safe school is in no way an inferior school. It is merely a school which is a good fit as well as being a school to which your child is reasonably assured of gaining admission.

Is a school's rank important?

The simple answer to that is no. School ranks, such as “Top 50” or “Top 10” are really just a means for certain media outlets to garner more interest from readers. Oftentimes, there will be lists of schools measured by different criteria, such as “Most international students” or “Highest SAT Scores” or “Smallest class sizes,” and the like. And so while a school may be considered at the top for producing students with high SAT scores, this in no way implies it is any better than the next in the group, and so on.

Let’s look at what schools and their trade associations think about ranking boarding schools:

“A great education depends on three key factors: quality of faculty, quality of the students, and quality of teaching. These qualities are not quantifiable.” State Association of Private Schools

“The National Association of Independent Schools is and always has been opposed to the ranking of schools.” The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)

What is a "top" private school?

Top is a relative term. A school can be considered a top school because it is so highly sought after. Every year they receive far more applicants than they can possibly accept. So in this way, a top school is a very competitive school; but it is not to be confused with the “best” school or one which is the best match for the student.

But if I go to a "top" school, won't I have a better chance to be admitted to a "top" university?

Many parents seem more focused on what are considered the top schools. They often feel that if their children go to top high schools, they will go to top colleges. It’s simply not true. If you have a child who’s not super-competitive, they will be far more successful if placed appropriately, and they will have a better chance of getting into a better college. If they are admitted into a “top” school and end up struggling throughout their term, they will have a more difficult time getting into any college, regardless of whether it’s a top college or not!

II. Advanced Programs

What are AP courses and what are their benefits?

The Advanced Placement (AP) program is a curriculum in the United States and Canada sponsored by the College Board, which offers standardized courses to high school students that are generally recognized to be equivalent to undergraduate courses in college. Participating colleges grant credit to students who obtained high enough scores on the exams to qualify. As of today, there are 38 total AP courses available, ranging in topics from the arts, sciences, history, and language.

According to the George School, AP courses also help you in the increasingly competitive college admission process. Taking them shows that you’re curious, motivated and hardworking—characteristics colleges look for; characteristics that will give you a leg up.

Why doesn't Phillips Exeter Academy offer AP? Aren't they one of the top schools?

Yes they are, but many of the schools are reconsidering whether the AP program is really of value to students. A number of other top private schools have always steered clear of AP courses. There are concerns that AP emphasizes breadth over depth and is turning into something it was never meant to be: a kind of alternative high school curriculum for ambitious students that teaches to the test instead of encouraging the best young minds to think more creatively. Interestingly, Phillips Exeter was one of the first schools to adopt the AP program; and now they are among the first to dismiss it.

What is the International Baccalaureate?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a non-profit educational foundation, motivated by its mission, focused on the student. Their four programs for students aged 3 to 19 help develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.

Some top schools offer an IB Diploma Program. For this, students must choose one subject from each of five groups (1 to 5), ensuring breadth of knowledge and understanding in their best language, additional language(s), the social sciences, the experimental sciences and mathematics. Student may choose either an arts subject from group 6, or a second subject from groups 1 to 5.

III. Admissions Tests

What are some of the admissions tests boarding schools typically require?

Schools typically require specific admission tests such as the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT). This standardized admissions test is offered at test centers throughout the world. It is widely used by private schools everywhere as an objective assessment of a student’s skills and readiness for high school academics. Similarly, some schools also accept the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE). The truth is that more students take the SSAT than the ISEE. Some schools will specify which standardized admissions test they want you to take. Many schools allow you to make the choice.

International students may be required to provide scores from tests of English proficiency such as the Secondary Level English Proficiency Test (SLEP) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Typically, the SSAT and TOEFL tests are the main areas of focus for Chinese students applying to US boarding and private day schools.

How do I take the admissions tests? What do I do after I finish?

All required testing information specific to the school applied to is published on each school’s website outlined in their application process. Students will register online for the appropriate test, visit the nearest test location on the date of the test, and upon completion of the test, they will select which schools are to receive their scores (via school codes provided each for the SSAT and TOEFL). Test scores will then be submitted directly to each school.

Students may take these tests multiple times throughout the year until they finally reach a score they are satisfied with.

What is the SSAT?

The Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is a multiple-choice aptitude test for students in grades 5 to 11. The test consists of verbal, quantitative (math) and reading comprehension sections. The verbal questions test your vocabulary, verbal reasoning, and ability to relate ideas logically. The quantitative (math) questions test your ability to solve problems involving arithmetic, elementary algebra and geometry and concepts. The reading comprehension section tests your ability to understand what you read. All tests are printed in English.

In addition, the test includes a writing sample portion, which asks you to respond to a topic statement. Your essay is not graded, but a copy accompanies each SSAT score report you have sent to a school or consultant.

Is the SSAT required by US private schools?

For most of them, yes. The SSAT measures student ability. When used for admission by schools, the test is only one piece of information that is considered, but for many, it is considered very important. Some schools require students to achieve a minimum SSAT score to be considered for admission; others only require that the student take the test, but do not require a minimum score. Most schools that require a score use a percentile rank. For example, if your Verbal SSAT Percentile is 65%, you scored equal or better in the Verbal section than 65% of students (of your gender and grade) who took the SSAT in the past three years.

What is the TOEFL?

The TOEFL test measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. And it evaluates how well you combine your listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. There are two formats for the TOEFL test. The format you take depends on the location of your test center. Most test takers take the TOEFL iBT test (Internet-based test). Test centers that do not have Internet access offer the Paper-based Test (PBT). The iBT test is most common.

Where and when can I take the TOEFL test?

The TOEFL test has more test dates (30-40) and locations (4,500 test centers in 165 countries) than any other English-language test in the world. You can retake the test as many times as you wish. You may take a national test as often as you like, up to 2-5 times per month in China.

What are the minimum TOEFL score requirements for US boarding and private day schools?

As with the SSAT, not every school will require a minimum score; however, for those that do, it varies with each school. Some schools that offer ESL courses (English as Second Language) do not require TOEFL scores; or the requirements are not very strict. Schools that do not offer ESL typically require a minimum TOEFL score that indicates the student is proficient enough in English to successfully integrate into the school’s academic program. Most schools suggest scores based on the iBT test, which for example ranges from 0-120. Scores are based on the following four sections: reading, speaking, listening and writing, each 30 points.

What is the TOEFL Junior test?

The TOEFL Junior tests were created for younger students, ages 11 to 15, and operate on the same premise as the regular TOEFL. It is more appropriate for students enrolling in junior high (middle) school.

When will I receive my score?

Your score will be displayed in your personal profile on the NEEA/TOEFL iBT Registration website in about 15 business days (with few exceptions) after the test day. Printed copies will be mailed via express mail service to the address you submitted during registration. The tracking number of the score report shipment will be displayed in your profile.

What are some of the admissions tests colleges typically require?

The American system of education relies on various specialized or “standardized” tests, which students must take in order to apply to a particular university or program. These exams offer universities a common basis for comparison of applicants. Which tests do you need? Check below for detailed information about admission tests that may be required based on your college goals.

SAT & SAT Subject Tests

The SAT and SAT Subject Tests are a suite of tools designed to assess your academic readiness for college. These exams provide a path to opportunities, financial support and scholarships, in a way that’s fair to all students. The SAT and SAT Subject Tests keep pace with what colleges are looking for today, measuring the skills required for success in the 21st century. The SAT is a globally recognized college admission test that lets you show colleges what you know and how well you can apply that knowledge. It tests your knowledge of reading, writing and math—subjects that are taught every day in high school classrooms. Most students take the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school, and almost all colleges and universities use the SAT to make admission decisions.

What's the difference?

SAT Subjects, also known as “SAT II” tests, focus on specific subject areas that help show a student’s in-depth knowledge of that particular subject. Think of these tests as supplements to the regular SAT exam. While most colleges don’t require them, some highly selective colleges will expect students to have completed a minimum of two SAT Subject tests. Subject Test scores are reported on a scale of 200 to 800. Language Tests with Listening include subscores, on a scale of 20 to 80.

There are 20 Subject Tests spanning 5 subject areas including: Math Level 1 and 2, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, English Literature, US History, World History, and several foreign languages such as Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, and others.

To learn more about the test dates available and how to register for an exam, visit the College Board website at: www.collegeboard.org

What is the ACT?

The ACT (American College Test) is an internationally administered, standardized test that helps universities to evaluate candidates for undergraduate study. The ACT comprises four subject areas—English, mathematics, reading, and science, and includes an optional essay. Also administered in paper-and-pencil, the ACT lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes (excluding the Writing Test) or 3 hours and 25 minutes (including the Writing Test). More than 1.8 million students took the ACT exam last year, making the ACT one of the most-taken university entrance exams in the United States.

ACT’s principles and research are highly regarded in the industry. International students would be well served in taking this exam as all four year colleges and universities in the US, and many outside of the US, accept ACT scores as an indication of a student’s academic performance.

SAT vs ACT: Which test is right for me?

Many students and parents begin the college prep process by comparing the ACT and SAT tests. The SAT and ACT generally cover the same topics. Both ACT and SAT scores are used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges do not prefer one test over the other.

The best way to decide if taking the SAT, ACT, or both tests is right for you is to take a timed full-length practice test of each type. Since the content and style of the SAT and ACT are very similar, factors like how you handle time pressure and what types of questions you find most challenging can help you determine which test is a better fit.

For more detailed information on differences between each test, visit The Princeton Review website: www.princetonreview.com/college/sat-act

Do I need to take the TOEFL for college?

Nearly all international students whose native language is not English need to provide a TOEFL score as proof of English proficiency for university study. In fact, a TOEFL score is accepted at over 9,000 colleges and universities in over 130 countries, including nearly every top university in the US, Canada and Australia. Most international students take the TOEFL test in addition to another admissions test such as the GMAT, GRE, MCAT, SAT or ACT. The TOEFL test measures receptive and expressive skills equally: half of the total score on the test is based on reading and listening abilities (how well students receive and understand English) and the other half is based on speaking and writing abilities (how well students express themselves). The exam, which recently transitioned to an Internet-based format, is approximately 3 to 4 hours long. Your TOEFL score is valid for two years.

What are the four main graduate school admissions exams?

They are: GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT

All of these tests are different, but these tests, along with an undergraduate GPA, are the most important factors that a graduate school considers for admission.

That’s because a test score and a student’s GPA are the only quantitative factors admission counselors have to evaluate the potential success of an applicant.

The main difference between a student’s GPA and a test score is that GPAs aren’t standardized. There aren’t set standards for grades, the demands for earning an A in a certain course at one school could be the same as what gets you a B+ in a similar course at another. This is where standardized tests come in since those scores show how students perform on the exact same material, taken in the same conditions.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

As the most widely accepted admissions test for graduate and business school programs, GRE® revised General Test scores are used for admissions decisions for all types of master’s, MBA, specialized master’s in business, and doctoral programs as well as for awarding fellowships. The test measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills. These skills closely align with the types of skills that are required for success in today’s demanding graduate and business school programs. The test is administered at more than 850 test centers worldwide. The computer-delivered format is approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes in length. The GRE® Subject Tests measure undergraduate achievement in specific fields of study and are intended for students who have an undergraduate major or extensive background in one of seven disciplines. The paper-delivered Subject Tests are approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes in length. GRE scores are valid for 5 years.

Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)

If you are thinking about going to business school, the GMAT is almost always a necessary part of your application. A three-and-a-half hour computerized exam, the GMAT tests analytical writing skills, quantitative skills and verbal skills (reading comprehension, sentence correction and critical reasoning) through 78 multiple choice questions and two analytical essays. An estimated 110,000 individuals take the GMAT each year. At least 1,500 graduate business and management programs use GMAT scores as part of their application process. Your GMAT score is valid for five years.

Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

The LSAT is a three-and-a-half hour paper-and-pencil test required for admission to most US law schools. Comprised of roughly 125 multiple-choice questions plus a writing sample, the test is designed to test the critical reading, data management and analytical thinking skills that are deemed necessary for success in the first year of law school. Of all admissions tests, the LSAT carries the most weight in the admissions decision-making process, and can account for up to 50 percent of a candidate’s application at the most competitive schools. An estimated 110,000 students take the LSAT annually. Your LSAT score is valid for five years.

Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

The MCAT is a computer-based multiple choice examination used by medical school admissions officials to predict future success. The MCAT is designed to test problem-solving skills, critical thinking abilities, and writing skills, as well as knowledge of basic science concepts. The test consists of 3 hours and 20 minutes of multiple-choice testing, plus one hour devoted to a writing sample. With all of the administrative details and breaks, the exam can last for five-and-a-half hours. Approximately 71,000 people worldwide take the MCAT each year. In most cases, MCAT scores are valid for 3 years. However, this time frame varies from school to school.

When is the best time for me to take the admissions tests?

Considering that most students will require a course of study to prepare them for these admissions tests, it’s always best to prepare for the tests earlier in the year to better maximize your time and focus during the school application process and to not interfere with your current school classes. For example, since the SAT exam is typically offered between August and June (October through June internationally), a student should spend time preparing during the summer months, and then take the test on the earliest available date (October).

For the TOEFL, this allows for more freedom since it’s offered throughout the year. So students may prepare for the exam at the beginning of the year, then take it during the spring or summer months so as to not have to deal with it during a busier period come September.

IV. The Boarding School Application Process

What are the steps of the school application process?

The steps of the process are typical for most schools and are as follows:

1. Choose schools. Find schools that are the best match for student.

2. Send inquiries. This allows the schools to set up student file and provide more information to family.

3. Complete application form. Complete and submit the school application forms and pay fees. Application forms include:

  • Background Information
  • Application Questions & Essays (for students and parents)
  • Graded Essay > Some schools may require a student essay marked by their teacher
  • Parents Statement > Most school application forms require parents to answer some questions
  • Application Fee > Typically $100 to $150 for international students

4. Academic Transcripts. Most schools require student transcripts from their current school year (semester grades) and previous two years.

5. Teacher Recommendations. There are typically three forms: English, Math, and School Report (to school principal or guidance counselor); maybe more, depending on the school.

6. Interview. This can be done in-person or online.

7. Testing. All schools require some form of admissions testing, usually SSAT and TOEFL.

8. Visa. Once enrolled, international students will receive an I-20 form from their new school to apply for an F-1 student visa.

What is a student portfolio? What should I bring to the interview?

For private school applicants, you may bring writing samples, and any materials for your extracurricular activities with a nice presentation (notes, slides, or handouts). For a particular musical or performing arts talent, you may bring a CD/DVD showcasing your ability.

V. The College Application Process

What are the steps of the college application process?

The steps of the process are typical for most colleges and are as follows:

1. Choose colleges. Find colleges that are the best match for student.

2. Send inquiries. This allows the colleges to set up student file and provide more information to family.

3. Complete application form. Complete and submit the college application forms and pay fees. Application forms include:

  • Background Information
  • Extracurricular Profile and/or Resume
  • Application Questions & Essays
  • Supplemental Material, Additional Information
  • Application Fee > Typically $80 to $100 for international students

4. Academic Transcripts. Colleges require student transcripts from high school study from 9th grade to the present, and usually a school report (that may be included with a counselor recommendation—see below).

5. Teacher Recommendations. These commonly include English and Math, but can include another subject-specific teacher based on student’s preferred choice of major, i.e. Physics; a counselor recommendation, and maybe more, depending on the college.

6. Testing. All colleges require some form of admissions testing, usually SAT or ACT, and TOEFL; however, many colleges offer flexibility regarding standardized tests and which they’ll accept; others are becoming test optional.

7. Interview. The interview is increasingly more important in determining a student’s chances, particularly for international students. *Note: For students from China specifically, many colleges require an advance online interview through a third party such as InitialView or Vericant. In all cases, it’s prudent for students to request an online or in-person interview with a regional representative whenever possible.

8. Visa. Once enrolled, international students will receive an I-20 form from their new college to apply for an F-1 student visa.

Art or music portfolio?

Students with talent in the arts are typically provided with a space to upload materials to showcase their ability within the college application. For example, students with an art portfolio may be requested to submit it through a platform called SlideShare; or they may submit a brief audio or video clip of a musical performance. Such opportunities will become known when registering on and starting the college application.

Which college application form should I choose?

Many colleges have adopted more than one application for students to submit. The most popular in existence today include the Common Application, Coalition Application, and the Universal College Application. As to which one is better, that’s a matter of personal choice. The Common Application has been in wide use the longest and is accepted by nearly all US universities; however, improvements based on the Common App have made other options such as the Coalition more inviting to applicants. Like many things to do with the college application process it’s a matter of sampling one or another to see what’s right for you.

Also note, in addition to the general application forms, many colleges request applicants to also submit their own individual supplemental form. Be alert for these additional requirements.

VI. Education Consulting

What is an Education Consultant?

An Education Consultant is someone that has first-hand knowledge of the various private schools and universities, their characteristics, their benefits, and how they function. They have established a professional relationship with school administrators and they have toured hundreds of campuses, spending time meeting with admissions officers, and exploring schools’ living environments.

The consultant is also someone with a deep knowledge of the education industry in general; he or she has experience with students, as an instructor or tutor, and is able to understand a student’s needs and measure their ability. The consultant has valuable experience resulting from years of educational planning with a variety of students.

In all, the Education Consultant should be an expert in their field and be able to meet and advise families about the best educational options for their children.

How can an Education Consultant assist me to find the right school?

First, an Education Consultant will understand a student’s needs and can help them locate schools that will fit them best; they will match the student with the school’s requirements. For example: Phillips Academy Andover is a top boarding school; MIT is a highly regarded university. They both do a wonderful job of educating young people. Do you as a student have what they’re looking for?

An Education Consultant will already know whether or not highly selective schools and universities like these are an appropriate choice for you, or if the requirements are too demanding; in this case, they will recommend several other schools for you to consider that would be a better option. With increasing numbers of international student enrollees in many of the nation’s top institutions, the application process has become more demanding and much more competitive. This certainly doesn’t make your job any easier when planning your strategy.

There are also so many options to choose from. There are well over 300 boarding schools in the US, and countless private day schools; there are more than 4,500 universities, not counting junior colleges. So to be able to find 8 or 10 schools for your short list to match your requirements takes time and effort—a lot of both. It’s also why you need expert guidance along the way. That’s a major advantage of working together with an Education Consultant.

Consultants have in-depth knowledge from researching various schools, visiting campuses, communicating with admissions people, speaking with students and teachers, and have a broad range of industry resources from which to draw information. They understand the latest industry trends and understand what college admissions people are looking for from incoming students. In these ways, they know well which schools match up best for their students.

To find the right opportunities, the consultant learns as much as possible about the student and family. Consultants help you clarify your educational needs, identify strengths and weaknesses, and consider interests, and future goals. A consultant can help facilitate the process of selecting the school in which you, as a student, can be happy and successful. Because a consultant comes to know the student well and has a thorough knowledge of which schools meet the family’s needs, he or she can formulate a customized list of appropriate options and maximize the student’s chances for gaining acceptance letters!

I wasn't accepted by my chosen school, what do I do now?

In the first place, you can accept another offer. If you made sure that there was a safe school on your list, hopefully you can accept the offer of a place at that school.

You can also start the search process again. If you applied only to schools which were too competitive and got rejected by all of them, then you will need to start all over again and find schools which accept applications on a rolling admissions basis. Schools with rolling admissions accept applicants until their available places are filled. How do you know which schools are still accepting applications? If you used the services of an education consultant the first time, you will save much time and confusion. Education consultants know their schools. They can find out your chances of getting in much more efficiently than you can.

What does Rolling Admissions mean?

Schools or universities with rolling admissions accept applicants all throughout the year even if there is a published deadline. Most schools have a rolling admissions policy in place; some don’t even have strict application deadline dates and use only a rolling admission schedule. While it is true that the most selective schools are full and have only waiting lists for students by the spring time, many good schools still have openings and, as a result, they offer rolling admission programs throughout the summer.

What is the "Waiting List?"

Wait-listing is when a school puts the student on a wait-list and if there are places not taken by the reply date for the students that were accepted (usually by mid-April), then places are offered to applicants on the wait-list. Wait-lists can be very extensive however, and students must choose carefully from whether they want to be placed on a wait-list for a preferred school or accept an offer from another school—if that option exists.