Double Trouble: Dealing With Siblings in Your Applicant Pool

Vol. 12 No. 8


Alyssa Smith was a diamond in the rough in last year’s applications. You were excited to offer her acceptance, and she and her parents have been a wonderful addition to your private-independent school community. This year, you see “Smith, Michael” on one of your applications, and you open it with pleasure to find … a young man you can’t accept.

Maybe Michael’s grades aren’t up to par due to a learning disability your school isn’t equipped to handle; maybe he had some disciplinary issues that your school can’t cope with; or maybe you simply don’t have room for him. It’s now your job to tell the Smiths that Michael isn’t the right fit for the school that is perfect for Alyssa. How do you handle this?

The Path of Least Resistance?

First of all, it’s an awkward situation, but one that deserves concerted attention rather than being swept under the rug. The children of staff, alumni, and currently enrolled families are often “priority” applicants, but in no way should that guarantee them a place at your school. Sometimes, to keep the good will of the parents, you might be tempted to take the path of least resistance and accept the student, even though you may know that he or she isn't mission-appropriate.

Ultimately, though, by accepting a student you know is not a good fit for your school, you may jeopardize your long-term mission for a short-term solution that (chances are) will end poorly when your school can’t produce the same good results for their son as it has for their daughter.

Keep to the Code

Knowing that occasionally you have to deny applicants like Michael, it’s a good idea to establish a policy on how “priority” applicants are processed by your school. Make sure your policy is explicit, and continuously redistribute it to parents, alumni, and faculty. Reminding people of this policy right before your application due date is great timing, as is a periodic side note in newsletters or other, more casual group correspondence.

If you don’t have a written, formal policy, now’s the time to consider how you’d like your school to proceed next spring in similar circumstances. Don't just think about “how you’ve always done it”—major changes can be introduced gradually, and this policy is a chance to lay down new rules for future applicants who won’t even know that it was done any other way.

Bad With the Good!

As always, honesty (to the best of your ability) is the best policy. For a rejection of a current family’s child, a personal phone call or brief meeting will go a long way toward respecting the family while preserving your decision and the school’s mission.

You can’t always give the family specifics as to why their son was rejected while their daughter was accepted (“Michael’s last teacher said in the recommendation he had a big problem respecting authority …”), but you can remind them of your commitment to your mission—and that your school simply can't serve every student. And then your chance to be a hero to this family appears: Give them suggestions for alternative schools that may better suit their child.

It may seem counterintuitive to recommend students to your “competition,” but each private school has its own mission and calling. Maybe Michael isn’t as academically competitive as your school requires, but his talent in the school choir may make him a wonderful candidate for the art school down the road. Recommending an alternative encourages the student and the family at a time when they might feel hopeless, and shows that you’ve put special thought into their particular case.

By investing a little bit of time into checking out some other options for your rejected “connected” candidates, you can preserve your current family’s good will and your good name in the greater community.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 10 No. 1 Crafting Your School’s Newsletter
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 12 No. 4 Admitting Legacy Students

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 26 No. 5 Your Faculty’s Role in the Admission Process
I&P Vol. 35 No. 3 'Priority' Students: The Unpleasant Side of 'Demand in Excess of Supply'

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