Schoolboy in high school class

Let us give the ISEE some context since you are not taking the ISEE just to take a test. The ISEE is part of a process in which you are presenting yourself as a candidate to a group of people whom you have likely never met.

This same group of people has to then decide if they like you or not based on your credentials and in some cases your personality. No, you are not being hired for a job. This is the admissions process.

You read that right. The admissions process for private high schools and some public schools is not something that is solely on the shoulders of your parents. You, the student, have a job to do. In fact, all of your work for high school admissions will be very similar to the work you will do for college admissions.

You must research schools, attend school tours, “shadow” a school associate for a day, perform interviews, complete your portion of all school applications, prepare for, and take an admissions test (such as the ISEE).

Research Schools

You need to learn as much as you can about where you want to spend your 4-year high school career. By researching your school options, you can identify schools you really want to attend and ones you didn’t even know you wanted to attend.

The joy of the digital age is that information is an abundant commodity, but some sources of information won’t be from the internet. Utilize every resource that you can:

  • School websites
  • Friends and families attending your school choices
  • School visits or tours
  • Community events featuring private and magnet schools
  • Other online sources, such as newspapers

Considerations for Choosing a School 

You do not want to select a school based solely on its reputation. You want a school that fits as many of your needs and interests as possible. After all, the point is to spend the next four years of your life at the school you ultimately choose. When selecting your options, keep the following in mind:

Public versus Private

Public magnet schools can provide you with an excellent education, as can many private schools. You may want the diversity and larger size of public schools. You may want the attention a teacher can provide in a classroom with fewer students at a private school.

Public schools are often chained to state bureaucracy, which can sometimes hamper your education. Small private schools might not have the budget for activities a large public school can afford. You must decide what matters most and weigh the opportunities against the compromises.

Religious Affiliation

Religiously affiliated schools require activities such as chapel and religion courses that are not required at unaffiliated schools. However, schools do not discriminate against religion and accept students of all faiths.

Regardless of affiliation, most private schools require community service to graduate, so do look into the number of hours they require.

Academic Tracks and Curriculum

Think about what you want out of your education. You may want a school that provides many Advanced Placement courses or has the International Baccalaureate program.

You may want to surround yourself with high achieving peers who will motivate you to do your best. You may want a school that provides challenging courses not normally offered in schools, such as Organic Chemistry.

Foreign Languages

Some schools offer the standard fare of Spanish and French language courses. However, many schools are attempting to offer a wider range of options (or already do), such as Chinese Mandarin, Arabic, Portuguese, and more.

Learning foreign languages is important as it can open doorways for you in your career. For example, your fluency in Chinese Mandarin spurs management to offer you a lucrative position dealing with the company’s counterparts in Hong Kong.

Extracurricular Activities and Arts

The larger the school, the more likely it will have a wider range of extracurricular activities in which you can participate. You may find some activities you never even thought of trying out at some of your school options.

You may want a school with a strong Fine Arts program where you can explore your interests in art, theatre, photography, digital art, and more. Pay attention to the number of options a school provides for the arts and the competitions they regularly compete in.


Perhaps you’re into sports or perhaps not. Either way, look at what athletic programs each school provides and the league with which they are associated.

However, don’t worry if a school does not offer a particular sport that you’re interested in. There are usually many athletic programs outside of schools in which you can participate, such as tennis or soccer clubs.

Co-Education versus Single-Sex Education

Realistically, this consideration is not something that you should weigh too heavily. Single-sex schools often interact with each other, bringing boys and girls together on joint projects (such as sports, theater, or band). So, don’t worry too much about being only around boys or girls in school.

Visit the Schools (Tours and “Shadowing”)

Schools will host their own school tours, usually as early as the first month of the school year. Make it a point to attend these tours, even though you may not get as much personal time as you would like. When you walk onto the school’s grounds, you will instantly get a gut feeling about the place.

Pay attention to the state of the building, classrooms, library, athletic facilities, arts buildings, etc. Listen to the tour guide and observe any students you see.

Do not look for only the good things. Find what bad you can so you have a more accurate picture of what you’re getting yourself into with that particular school. Do the same thing with any “shadowing” that you do, where you follow a student or faculty member around for a day at the school.

The Student Interview – Tips and Sample Questions

Some schools require that you engage in an interview with an admissions member. These interviews are informal interactions where the admissions member figures out who you are as a student and as a person. In general, you perform the interview alone with the admissions member.

The name of the game with these interviews is confidence:

  1. Look the interviewer directly in the eye throughout the interview. Wandering eyes suggest that you are not paying attention to or don’t care about what the interviewer is saying.
  2. Remain still in your chair and do not spin the chair if it is a swivel chair. Fidgeting suggests nervousness, and the interviewer will wonder if your behavior will be repeated in the classroom.
  3. Do not fold your arms across your chest! You will seem defensive, which suggests you will not get along well with the school’s teachers and your classmates. Instead:
  4. Rest your hands on your legs OR  Clasp your hands in front of you on the table (if there is one). You will seem more attentive.
  5. Do not talk softly or mumble. Speak up for the interviewer.
  6. Expect strange questions. Expecting the unexpected will help keep you from becoming flustered.

Aside from figuring out who you are, the interviewer will be asking questions that demonstrate how you will fit into his or her school’s environment and academic program. Personality is important, but they may be wanting students more interested in sports or students who want to challenge themselves.

Example Student Interview Questions 

Provide specific examples to support your claims for your response to each question. Some questions will have different responses depending on the school.

  1. What do you hope to get out of your education here at our school?
  2. In what clubs/organizations do you want to participate at our school?
  3. What is your favorite subject and why?
  4. In what sports do you want to participate at our school?
  5. In what clubs and organizations have you participated before?
  6. In what sports have you participated before?
  7. Why do you want to attend our school?
  8. Where would you like to travel next?
  9. What is your favorite book?
  10. What is your favorite movie?
  11. Where have you spent previous vacations?
  12. Where did your parents and grandparents grow up?
  13. What schools did your parents attend (both high school and college)?
  14. What is your family’s dynamic like (how does your family get along)?

For a more in-depth exploration of the private school interview process, check out our detailed guide to private school interview questions.

Complete the Application Responses and Admissions Tests

Most schools require some sort of admissions test, or in this case the ISEE. Along with everything else, you also have to complete an application.

Each application typically includes short response questions for both parents and students. These questions are your chance to give extra information on who you are as a person, your interests and hobbies, your skills and accomplishments, and your expectations from the school.

We have included example questions for both parent and student responses.

Sample Student Response Questions

Provide specific examples to support your claims in each response.

  1. Tell us about your favorite subjects and why you like them.
  2. Tell us what else you would like us to know about you.
  3. Describe how our education can contribute to your future, and what you can contribute to this school.

Sample Parent Response Questions

  1. In what ways, generally or specifically, do you expect your child to benefit from our school’s education?
  2. Upon meeting with your child, what lasting impressions do you think he or she will leave with our admission committee?
  3. Is there any other information you would like to share about your family/child that you feel is important for admission committee to know when making their recommendation?