“Seriously? You pay what for kindergarten?” Ah, the bliss of ignorance and marriage sans kids. But now that you’ve got your own little bundle of joy, you’re suffering less over sticker shock of private schools in Atlanta than you are from sheer panic about whether your kid is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner (or what any of those are, exactly). Before you throw your anxiety into overdrive, remember that knowledge is power. Here’s what you generally need to know about the application process for private schools, and the registration process for public. Be sure to consult individual schools for specific guidelines.

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Get Your Game Faces On
The admissions process for most private schools in Atlanta begins in October and goes through January, when your official application must be submitted. Supplemental materials can be added after your application is due in January, but think of it this way: regular season for admissions runs from October to January, and post-season playoffs and bowl games happen in February. Admission announcements are generally made in April. Public school registration, on the other hand, begins in early Spring, usually around February or March.

Pre-Season Conditioning
You’ve already got a kid, so check box numero uno on your to-do list. Assuming he or she is in Pre-K (aged four or five), you’ve probably already checked the second box as well, which is to subtly pick the brains of everyone you know with kids between the ages of five and ten. After you’ve come up with a list of schools you want to check out, it’s time to hit the open house circuit, happening at nearly all private school campuses in November and December. See something you like? Schedule a small group tour through the admissions office of each school, which usually run through January.  Most public schools offer campus tours as well, so be sure to go to your school’s website to find out when.

Insider Tip: Open houses at private schools usually happen on the weekend and are parent-only events. Translation: book your babysitters in July to make sure you’ve got kid coverage!

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The Drill
“Now I just apply, right?” Wrong. After you’ve narrowed your list and taken your tours, you need to line up a few very important appointments. First, most private schools in Atlanta require prospective students to take the Joint Admissions Testing Program (JATP), where one of several independent psychologists evaluate applicants for cognitive and behavioral development. And yes, you do need to get cranking on admission applications (most are available online through the schools’ websites). You also need to request that your son or daughter’s Pre-K teacher fill out the requisite evaluation forms for each school, and call each potential school to schedule an observation (typically done on-campus, in a group setting, and without you). Once you’ve submitted the application by the deadline, completed the JATP, ensured that teacher evaluation forms have been forwarded to prospective schools, and breezed through the student observation part of the process, you’re nearly there!

Extra Credit: While most private schools don’t require letters of recommendation, it never hurts to have someone vouch for you. If you do opt to take someone up on his or her offer to write a letter on your family’s behalf, first make sure that it’s a voice you want speaking for you, and also make sure that they understand your reasons for applying to said school. The last thing you want is a disingenuous letter in your kiddo’s application file that gets it all wrong. And make sure that the letter comes from the writer, not from you. 

Keeping It Real
Here’s the most important part: DON’T FREAK OUT. There are lots of private schools in Atlanta, and they’re all different. The right one is whichever one is right for your kiddo, not anyone else’s. And don’t discount your public school option without giving it as good a look as the private schools. Maybe its campus doesn’t look like Hogwart’s, but dedicated teachers and strong parental involvement can make any school hold its own. Go to its website, go for a visit, and form your own opinions. Registration packets are available in the Spring for most public schools, and be prepared to provide Social Security cards, proof of residency, and immunizations, among other documentation.

Buyer’s Remorse
For those of you who are terrified of the seeming permanence of the decision looming ahead of you, keep in mind that private schools have expansion years (often in the fifth and sixth grades, as well as at high school), and they do sometimes have spots open up during other grades, due to attrition. And, you can make the switch to your local public school at any time. Check out each school’s website for grade-specific application and registration requirements, and to confirm application opportunities beyond kindergarten.

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Have you survived the Atlanta application process? Share your secrets below!

—Shelley Massey

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons via Flickr