Irked - is this normal for private school applications? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 03:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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We decided to apply to the small Montessori school in our neighborhood. We were undecided if it was the right place, but thought we should apply to at least have our options open. We toured, I met with the director, we talked about us coming in from a homeschool environment and how to fill out teacher recommendations forms, etc. The application deadline was Jan 31, and for two kids it cost $140, plus I had to pay $30 to submit the financial aid application.

According to their website, notification letters are supposed to go out next week, but they've never even met our kids. So I called them to ask what was happening with interviews, and they said they usually wait until they see what spots they have available before scheduling interviews, and it looks like they won't have any spots for 1st or 4th grade.

So, why did I pay $170 to apply for spots that aren't even available? If they don't even look at my application if there aren't spots, then what am I paying for? I'm a little peeved - not about there not being spots - but about paying the money.

Is this normal?
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#2 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 03:04 PM
 
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I don't know if it is normal, but I don't think it is right. Did you ask for you money back?
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#3 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 03:13 PM
 
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I don't know if its normal, but it sucks and whats worse, you had to pay to apply for financial aid, it makes no sense to me...

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#4 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 03:35 PM
 
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I'd ask for a refund too- that's a huge bait-and-switch situation and just ridiculous!

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#5 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 04:26 PM
 
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While I agree in general with application fees (they do have to presumabel pay someone to look at the applications and make the determinations, etc) if there were ZERO spots available, it was ethically wrong for them to take your money and application. It might even be illegal. I mean, i don't think i can legally go out and solicit applications and money from people for something, if there is no "something", you know?

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#6 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 04:52 PM
 
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That is not normal, based on my, albeit limited, experience. Nobody ever took an application from me if there were no slots available - some offered to put us on a waiting list but did not request payment unless a slot opened up and I accepted. That really sucks that they would even accept applications for slots that not available. I think that it borders on the unethical and I would ask for a refund since your application was clearly not even considered.

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#7 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 05:44 PM
 
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Originally Posted by oceanbaby View Post
The application deadline was Jan 31, and for two kids it cost $140, plus I had to pay $30 to submit the financial aid application. ... it looks like they won't have any spots for 1st or 4th grade.
Is it possible that spots will open later and your child(ren) could get in? Sometimes families must move or whatever, so I would ask how they handle that sort of thing and where you are on the list.

Depending on their answer, I would request a refund in writing.

It's one thing to have an application pending, it's quite another to know that hell will freeze over first.

but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#8 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 06:51 PM
 
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It's pretty normal here, where competition to get into preschools and privates is pretty high. Here they specifically state it's a non-refundable application fee, and they spell out application procedures, deadlines, wait lists, etc. Application is for a set start date in the fall.

If, however, it's a rolling admission process and they didn't tell you up front that space is limited or questionable, I'd be pretty mad.
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#9 of 27 Old 03-11-2010, 09:51 PM
 
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That isn't normal at all where I live. I have never heard of an application fee much less a financial aid application fee. I think you should demand your money back and call the attorney generals office to report them.
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#10 of 27 Old 03-12-2010, 12:51 AM
 
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Some of that would be unusual here, and some wouldn't.

Application fees are universal here. Schools here receive many applicants, and they pay for large admissions staff and for other staff members to work weekends to host playdates etc . . . So, charging parents significant fees is common. Most, if not all, schools will waive the fees if asked, or at least reduce them for lower income families, but many families either don't know to ask or worry that it will impact their admissions chances -- it might, I don't know.

As far as meeting the child -- in the lower grades here, pretty much all schools require "playdates" where children come in groups and they have sort of a fake class. For the older children they don't do that -- instead they either have kids interview or they have them shadow. It's not uncommon for schools to limit those visits to kids who have been "prescreened" first, through parent interviews, record reviews, teacher recommendations etc . . . so only the final cut is invited in.

As far as having applicants for grades with no openings -- around here application deadlines are in Dec/Jan, and families aren't asked to commit for the following year until March, so schools just don't know if they'll have spaces when they take your application. In addition, schools like to have waiting lists/waiting pools that are ready to go because they often lose kids in the spring or summer -- maybe they got in somewhere else, perhaps at a school that goes through high school if this one doesn't, or maybe the family gets transferred.

So, all of that seems normal (except for no visit for your first grader, that would be unusual here). What is unusual is that you didn't know all of this. Here, at admissions tour and open houses, and all over the website they're very open about which grades are "expansion grades" (where they always have openings), and which grades aren't, and exactly what the process is for applying, whether there's always a visit or just sometimes etc . . . You can generally also find information about the percentage of kids admitted if you hunt -- here it's often quite low, with the "most selective" schools taking about 1 in 10.
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#11 of 27 Old 03-12-2010, 01:34 AM
 
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I would DEMAND my money back! They can't take your money for an application for a spot that does not exist! And if they fight you, I'd find a lawyer to write a letter. (not that you need one to take it on but maybe somebody who could just write a nice legal letterhead letter)

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#12 of 27 Old 03-12-2010, 03:34 AM
 
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I would DEMAND my money back! They can't take your money for an application for a spot that does not exist! And if they fight you, I'd find a lawyer to write a letter. (not that you need one to take it on but maybe somebody who could just write a nice legal letterhead letter)
I guess the question is, did the school imply there would be space? I do the admissions tours for my school (charter, so the applications are free) and this gets asked all the time. How many kids are in grade X, how many are in X+1, do you expect any attrition? Do you know whether you'll have siblings applying to that grade? If so, do they get priority?

Most schools have no idea in Jan. if they'll have spaces in September. Of course there are often grades where spaces are a sure thing. Our 1st grade classes are bigger than our K classes, for example, so we know we'll be taking a handful of 1st graders. But at other grades we have to wait and see. I don't see how it is dishonest to accept applications (fee or not) as long as you give clear answers when asked about the availability of spaces.

OP, did it not occur to you that they might not have spaces (e.g. you thought they were full? you thought they added classes as the grades rose? you just assumed there was always attrition?) or did the school lead you to believe that?
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#13 of 27 Old 03-12-2010, 12:51 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I don't remember speficially asking how many spots would be available because I know they wouldn't know for sure, but we definitely had discussions about the grade my kids would be entering, and at no time was it mentioned that it was possible they would have no room. In our discussions it sounded like the class sizes were a little flexible, so one year they might have x and another year y, since they are combined classrooms. I do remember them saying that a lot of parents have their kids there for prek, but end up leaving for K.

I think I'm going to have to just let it go, but I find it irritating. If they actually interviewed my child, or considered us for a spot, I understand an application fee (although really, shouldn't that just be the cost of doing business?), but to pay just to have it sit in a file is a little annoying.
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#14 of 27 Old 03-12-2010, 01:02 PM
 
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You've got nothing to lose by asking for those fees to be refunded. I'd be pretty upset, too, if they didn't disclose openly how they handle the admissions process and your chances of getting a slot. To not have any slots available in the two grades you specified an interest in....that would definitely be worth a formal letter requesting a refund.
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#15 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 02:29 AM
 
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Under those circumstances, I think you should ask for your fee returned. Though application fees are perfectly normal, part of what they are for is to hold a spot. It does serve other purposes: it says "hey we are serious about sending our kid here, please hang on to a spot for us;" it is also to help defer the cost of processing the application including the interview. However, at every school we considered that was at capacity and would put us on a wait list said they would process the application if a spot opened up and ask us to pay the application fee at that point.


I do have to agree with the person who says the application fee for financial aid is a real annoyance. We went through this with a school we applied for. We were upfront about being unable to afford full tuition, they made us go through the whole application process (which included holding a spot for DS) and paying the application fee (which did make DH not want to apply) before we were allowed to apply for financial aid. I do understand the desire that FA applicants have actual spots at a school, and I also understand them wanting to discourage not serious applicants plus cover their cost by having a fee, but for a family who needs to apply for FA it can be a real burden.

We ended up getting turned down for the FA. Considering how much DH was reluctant to pay all those applications fees, I can imagine many of the people who would actually qualify for FA would be unable to apply in the first place.

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#16 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 06:04 AM
 
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Totally normal, unfortunately.

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#17 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 09:59 AM
 
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What you described is normal. From my experience private schools have an application deadline of December or January. Current families are then required to register for the following year in January, February or March. New families are sent letters of acceptance in March or April.

1st-5th, 7th and 8th grades and 11-12th grades are generally not a good time to apply to a private school. K, 6th grade and 12th grade are generally considered expansion years when additional classes are added or classes become slightly larger.

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#18 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 10:03 AM
 
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Originally Posted by eepster View Post

We ended up getting turned down for the FA. Considering how much DH was reluctant to pay all those applications fees, I can imagine many of the people who would actually qualify for FA would be unable to apply in the first place.
Current students receive FA priority. I don't know if you decided to attend, but if you do, your family should have priority over new students.

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That isn't normal at all where I live. I have never heard of an application fee much less a financial aid application fee. I think you should demand your money back and call the attorney generals office to report them.
Do you live in the US?

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#19 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 11:39 AM
 
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Current students receive FA priority. I don't know if you decided to attend, but if you do, your family should have priority over new students.
If we could have managed to attend w/o FA, we wouldn't have applied for it. The idea that current student get priority is a bit mind boggling, if they need FA to attend, how do they b/c current students? I suppose we could have paid the deposit and the first couple of months knowing we couldn't pay the balance, but if we still got turned down for FA DS would have had to leave in December when he was just getting naturalized.

We ended up finding a much less expensive but similar school. The facilities weren't as perfect. and it was a long drive, but the teachers are great. Over the summer they moved to a new location and it's now only a slightly longer drive, and the new facilities are pretty nice.

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#20 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 04:20 PM
 
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Under those circumstances, I think you should ask for your fee returned. Though application fees are perfectly normal, part of what they are for is to hold a spot. It does serve other purposes: it says "hey we are serious about sending our kid here, please hang on to a spot for us;" it is also to help defer the cost of processing the application including the interview. However, at every school we considered that was at capacity and would put us on a wait list said they would process the application if a spot opened up and ask us to pay the application fee at that point.]
Here, private schools fall into 2 categories -- there are schools that operate like you're describing -- if they have an opening and you apply, your child gets the space, providing there isn't some kind of red flag in the application. Those schools operate what I'd call literal waiting lists -- if a space is full, there's a list of children hoping for a spot in that grade, and they call the next one, or if they're in a position to be a little more picky the next child of the right gender.

There are also private schools (and around here they are the majority) who get far more applicants than they do spaces. They have a process that works very much like college applications. You take a tour, and then submit an application by a specific date. There's usually some combination of parent interview, child interview, child visit, child "playdate", teacher recommendations, in house testing, standardized testing, and an essay -- which ones depends on the grade level. Then in Feb/March the school sits down, looks at which kids they already have and selects the few students they think would best complement the existing class (or if it's the entry year, selects a whole new class). Students are either offered a space, rejected outright, or put into a "wait list" which is in reality a "wait pool". If a child turns them down or tells them they won't be returning the next year, they look through those applications and pick a child who would bring what they're looking for for that slot (e.g. they lose one of their quieter boys and choose another quiet boy, they loose their star JV hockey goalie and choose another strong athlete, yes they are literally that picky). In those type situations, all the application fee covers is the salary of the person interviewing your/running your child's playdate/reading the essay etc . . .

I'm assuming that the situation is more like the latter, and in that case, it would be common for a school to accept an application knowing that it would likely go straight to the wait pool. I know how frustrating this can be, having been in that circumnstance myself.
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#21 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 05:12 PM
 
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Here, private schools fall into 2 categories -- there are schools that operate like you're describing -- if they have an opening and you apply, your child gets the space, providing there isn't some kind of red flag in the application. Those schools operate what I'd call literal waiting lists -- if a space is full, there's a list of children hoping for a spot in that grade, and they call the next one, or if they're in a position to be a little more picky the next child of the right gender.

There are also private schools (and around here they are the majority) who get far more applicants than they do spaces. They have a process that works very much like college applications. You take a tour, and then submit an application by a specific date. There's usually some combination of parent interview, child interview, child visit, child "playdate", teacher recommendations, in house testing, standardized testing, and an essay -- which ones depends on the grade level. Then in Feb/March the school sits down, looks at which kids they already have and selects the few students they think would best complement the existing class (or if it's the entry year, selects a whole new class). Students are either offered a space, rejected outright, or put into a "wait list" which is in reality a "wait pool". If a child turns them down or tells them they won't be returning the next year, they look through those applications and pick a child who would bring what they're looking for for that slot (e.g. they lose one of their quieter boys and choose another quiet boy, they loose their star JV hockey goalie and choose another strong athlete, yes they are literally that picky). In those type situations, all the application fee covers is the salary of the person interviewing your/running your child's playdate/reading the essay etc . . .

I'm assuming that the situation is more like the latter, and in that case, it would be common for a school to accept an application knowing that it would likely go straight to the wait pool. I know how frustrating this can be, having been in that circumnstance myself.
In school where it really is just a matter of taking who ever the next child on the list is, they call it a "registration fee" instead of an "application fee." At schools where it was called an application fee there was clearly the possibility of being turned down. That possibility to be turned down though was always for an existing slot, and we went through the full interview etc, before we were granted that slot.

In the OP's case she hasn't been turned down for a slot, there never was a slot. Also the school did not process her application, they did not interview her kids, they just cashed her checks.

If the school did have 2 slots, and took 6 applications, looked them over interviewed the kids, but then turned her kids down b/c they were too (shy, fidgety, slow readers, tall, whatever) and gave those slots to 2 of the other 4 applicants; then she would have to reason to ask for the fee back. She would have gotten what she paid, the processing of the applications and consideration for the slots. However, her kids weren't turned down for slots and were never actually considered for a slot.

She paid a fee in exchange for being considered for the school and to pay for the application process. She got neither of these.

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#22 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 06:06 PM
 
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Eeepster,

No school knows in Jan. whether they'll have spots in the fall, unless it's an expansion grade or they already have openings. Around here, most private school kids who leave go to other private schools, and they won't know that until private school letters (which all go out on the same day) are out. My son's leaving his current (public) school, but they don't know that yet.

Given that, most schools still accept applications (although they're honest if you ask whether they'll have spaces, they'll say "only if there's attrition"), and go through them so the wait pool is ready to go when a space opens up. If you want to be in that wait pool you still have to pay.

Generally, here, the odds aren't that different if you're applying to an expansion year or not. Often an expansion year will have 200 applicants for 10 nonsibling spots. At non-expansion years the applicant pool is much smaller, so you might have 20 applicants and 1 spot come available.

It's just how it works -- and even though I hate the process, hate being part of it (I've been on both sides and am really glad I'm now not on either side) I don't really see another way to do it, other than something like a straight lottery which I'd love. Managing an applicant pool with hundreds of kids is challenging, it requires full time staff members, and it's hard to justify charging the families who attend your school another thousand dollars to pay for it -- so you're left with charging the families.
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#23 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 11:03 PM
 
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If we could have managed to attend w/o FA, we wouldn't have applied for it.
I know of families who have, it was just a suggestion.

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The idea that current student get priority is a bit mind boggling, if they need FA to attend, how do they b/c current students? I suppose we could have paid the deposit and the first couple of months knowing we couldn't pay the balance, but if we still got turned down for FA DS would have had to leave in December when he was just getting naturalized.
Families who normally would not need financial aid are using funds that in the past have gone to new students. The declining economy is to blame.

Some families sacrifice to pay tuition the first year knowing that they will receive FA the next year.

.

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#24 of 27 Old 03-13-2010, 11:42 PM
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The idea that current student get priority is a bit mind boggling, if they need FA to attend, how do they b/c current students? .
People lose their jobs.

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#25 of 27 Old 03-14-2010, 01:24 AM
 
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If we could have managed to attend w/o FA, we wouldn't have applied for it. The idea that current student get priority is a bit mind boggling, if they need FA to attend, how do they b/c current students? I suppose we could have paid the deposit and the first couple of months knowing we couldn't pay the balance, but if we still got turned down for FA DS would have had to leave in December when he was just getting naturalized.

We ended up finding a much less expensive but similar school. The facilities weren't as perfect. and it was a long drive, but the teachers are great. Over the summer they moved to a new location and it's now only a slightly longer drive, and the new facilities are pretty nice.
Many schools pay for financial aid budgets out of endowments (which are hurting in this economy) or donations (which are also down).

At the same time, applications for aid are up because of job losses, downsizing etc . . .

I do think the schools need to prioritize current families. While it hurts to be turned down for aid (I know, my son was accepted to our first choice school but offered no aid so we had to turn them down), I would think it would hurt far worse to have to remove a child from a school where they were thriving because you didn't get as much aid as last year.

Generally here school's first alot aid to children who were already receiving aid the previous year, then to current families whose circumstances have changed, then to siblings of current families, and finally to new kids. When the economy is good there's plenty to go around, many kids end up requiring less aid than the year before, few families fall into poor circumstances. In hard times however, they may be stretching their budget to offer aid to all of the families in their priority categories, and may not be able to help new families at all.
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#26 of 27 Old 03-14-2010, 07:46 PM
 
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I don't know if its normal, but it sucks and whats worse, you had to pay to apply for financial aid, it makes no sense to me...

we have to pay to apply for financial aid..$115

Not that I like it or anything
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#27 of 27 Old 03-14-2010, 10:32 PM
 
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The idea that current student get priority is a bit mind boggling, if they need FA to attend, how do they b/c current students?
My daughter attends a private school, and we currently don't receive financial aid. Prior to her birth, we saved up 2 years of my income, in case something happened & we needed it. Turns out, unplanned attendance at a private school is what that money was needed for. Once that savings runs out, we'll possibly apply for financial aid. At that point, my child will have been attending her school for a number of years and yes, I'd hope she got priority over a new child. After all, not only has our child become a member of the school "family", but we've also been supporting the school with tuition dollars, donations of money and time, volunteering, etc.

In other cases, people lose their jobs, have illnesses or other financial obligations that crop up (supporting elderly parents, new children, etc.), or tuition simply increases to the point where the family can no longer sustain it.

FWIW, as others have said, the application deadlines for the local private schools are months before current families are required to return contracts indicating whether they're continuing with the school. If you like the school, I might ask if they can hold the application for mid-year or future year admission without charging additional fees.
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