Access. For children dually confronted by little familiarity with the independent school world and the challenges of a disadvantaged background, the word access can mean something as simple as filling out just one, free application to schools. Over the years, The Enrollment Management Association has provided member schools and organizations with millions of dollars in fee waivers for testing. Now, there is another tool to simplify the equation for families and access organizations—a program that combines the Standard Application Online (SAO) and a school’s application fee waiver process to provide children (and the access organizations with which they work) a simple, quick, and one-stop application option.
The Community-Based Organization (CBO) program, launched as a pilot program in 2015, has proven to be a remarkably useful tool. In 2015-16, Oliver Scholars and Breakthrough New York helped 78 families submit 269 applications to a total of 63 schools. The Enrollment Management Association members who accept the SAO are automatically eligible for and enrolled in the CBO program; for those who do not use the SAO for general admission, it is possible to use the SAO exclusively for the CBO program. Several of our member schools (Choate Rosemary Hall (CT), St. Andrew’s School (DE), and St. Paul’s School (NH) elected to do just that, and saw increased applications from access organization students.
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How has the SAO/CBO program affected the way kids at Breakthrough New York apply to schools?
The SAO/CBO program really simplified the application process in many ways. First, the SAO application itself is very user-friendly, which, in turn, really helped our families to navigate the application process independent of a lot of BTNY support. In addition, the back-end view for BTNY staff allowed us to keep tabs on each student’s application, quickly identifying missing pieces, holes in applications, or portions that needed improvements. The one-stop hub really streamlined the process overall, and it was awesome that SO MANY schools accepted one application.
Did you receive any feedback from kids and families about the ease of using the SAO?
The BTNY students and families appreciated how user-friendly the application was. They found it easy to use.
Did you find that the program streamlined your process?
The automatic fee waivers was a huge time saver and incredible! The process was definitely streamlined.
How have the final results been?
We received great results! We submitted 162 applications using the SAO. Our application coaches saved hours each week due to the ease of uploading documents, and the SAO’s advisor interface made it so much easier for them to review applications. This year, with the help of the SAO, BTNY increased independent school acceptances by 54%, ensuring 100% of BTNY 8th grade students are on track to matriculate to college preparatory high schools in and outside of New York City.
— Whitney Mufson, Middle School Director, Breakthrough, NY (NY)
Juan Carlos and Lina Gonzalez’s daughter, Laura, is an Oliver Scholars student who used the SAO to apply to schools this year. She will attend The White Mountain School (NH) this fall.
Thinking about the application process for private schools, how difficult did you anticipate that it would be?
We anticipated the process to be more logistically challenging than what we actually experienced. The application process was more emotionally challenging for our family.
When you heard about the Standard Application Online (SAO) that Oliver Scholars is using, what were your first thoughts?
We felt a sign of relief. Our first thought was we only have to work with ONE website to submit all our boarding school applications and supplements!
Did you find the process (using the SAO to apply) easier or more difficult than you originally anticipated?
We found the process to be much easier than we anticipated. We found the SAO website to be user-friendly and easy to navigate. We also had the opportunity to access webinars and workshops to help us familiarize with the entire process before we began our application.
What was the best thing about applying to schools using the SAO through Oliver Scholars?
The best thing about applying to schools using the SAO through Oliver was its partnership. We never felt alone in the process. Our guidance counselor, Melissa Providence, organized a webinar for Oliver Scholar families with The Enrollment Management Association, so we understood the application process before going into it. She also managed all our school documents (teacher recommendations and transcripts) as our SAO online advisor, and we had access to check the status of both our family and our school document uploads at any time.
Did you go online to track your application(s) once the initial pieces were complete?
Yes, we checked the status of our application regularly until all the columns read submitted and turned from red to green.
What would you tell another family going through this process for the first time?
Take a deep breath and trust that it will all work out in the end. Even during moments of confusion, the process is not as complex as it may initially seem. Take it one step at a time. Organize your thoughts and documents in one clearly marked folder for easy access. Make the time to attend available SSAT workshops or online webinars before you begin the journey. Mark your electronic or paper calendar with interviews, test dates and application deadlines. And if you are working with your school or an Oliver Scholars guidance counselor, be grateful for their help and mindful of their time. He or she will be a much welcomed extra set of eyes to help keep you on track, go over essays before you hit the submit button, and guide you through the process if doubt lurks in. Taking these steps will give you some peace of mind and keep you sane throughout the process.
If you could use three words to describe your experience using the SAO to apply to schools, what would they be?
Engaged. Supported. Satisfied!
We could not have been happier with the outcome of our participation in the CBO Pilot program. With other methods of application, we see such a wide variety of application forms that it can be a bit of a challenge for us to compare and assess them. The SAO allowed over a dozen qualified applicants to apply to St. Andrew’s with ease. We saved staff time spent gathering recommendations and transcripts; we helped lift the burden of multiple forms and communications off our hardworking colleagues at the schools and CBOs; and most importantly, it allowed us to meet great students we might not otherwise have encountered (one of whom sent her contract yesterday!) We hope this pilot program becomes a regular offering from the SAO.
— Matthew E. Wolinski,
Director of Admission, St. Andrew’s School (DE)
(St. Andrew’s accepts the SAO for CBO applications only.)