“Fair” Admission Practices: The School and the Applicant

Vol. 14 No. 9

admission eletter Vol14 No9 fair practice

Most children go through a phase in which they are obsessed with what’s “fair,” with an almost martial adherence to rules and equitable division of resources. As they grow older, though, children slowly realize that true fairness is often an impossibility—or rather, that “fairness” means different things to different people. So, if “fairness” does not mean the same thing to everyone, what does a “fair” private-school admission process look like at a mission-driven school?

“Fairness” to the School Community

Before an actual “fair” admission process can be defined, a school’s expectations from its enrollment program must be outlined and compared to those of a prospective student and parents.

For example, what’s “fair” to the school is to only admit and retain those students who are considered mission-appropriate. To admit students for any other reason is to be “unfair” to the families who were admitted under the mission standards, and who furthermore expect the school to maintain the mission-specific culture and community in its admission and employment decisions.

The school should also revoke the enrollment of those students and families who are no longer mission-appropriate—again, for the sake of “fairness” to the community, which trusts the school to stick to its promised mission. (The enrollment contract’s terms are critical here, to cover the school’s legal bases by establishing public policy on student’s mission appropriateness for his or her academic career at your school.)

“Fairness” to an Applicant

Conversely, an applicant’s idea of “fair” admission practices may differ from your Admission Office’s.

For instance, if your mission emphasizes academic achievement, prospective students may try to appeal to that aspect while ignoring the mission’s further articulation to civic duty. Then, when these students are rejected as not mission-appropriate, the families may have trouble understanding why, as the student was “mission-appropriate” according to the family’s priorities and interpretation of the mission.

Therefore, a school must be aware of its reputation in the community—the school’s “story” that forms its public face and narrative—while paying attention to the emphases current and prospective parents place on specific aspects of its educational program. Admission decisions should take into account the entire school mission, and not simply those aspects most popular with or well-known by the community. Emphasis on each aspect of the school’s mission and values helps prospective families understand this holistic evaluation process.

Applicants’ idea of fairness may also include exceptions to the rule, to accept those students who are perfect, except for this one quality or situational hurdle to overcome. Rejected applicants may feel that rules and policies were “bent” for one student, and question why the rules weren’t also bent for them—in the sake of “fairness.”

Schools, then, must adhere to their established policies when making admission decisions, and only grant exceptions in truly exceptional cases. If the rules are applied to every applicant, then it could be difficult for a parent to argue about an unfair admission decision.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 11 No. 4 Wait Pools: Not All About First in Line
The Source for Admission Directors
Vol. 12 No. 4 Admitting Legacy Students
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 12 No. 8 Double Trouble: Dealing With Siblings in Your Applicant Pool

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