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The application process can be especially confusing and frustrating without the right expectations and knowledge of the process. Steppingstone Scholars has created this resource page to give you everything you need for a stress-free application process. Please be sure to start this process as early as possible to position yourself for the best results!


The Steppingstone Placement Fair is a time for all Admissions reps from our  various partner schools to come out and meet scholars and families. It is a unique experience because it is the one time Steppingstone Families will have so many schools in one room, whose only interest is getting to know their scholars. The fair usually takes place the second week in September. If interested in placement please look out for more information about the fair when we get closer to the date.

Placement School Fair


After deciding which school(s) you want to apply to, the next step is to complete their application and submit all of the documents requested. We have listed the websites below to schools that may be on your list. Unfortunately, due to the TSA Admissions & Placement season also coinciding with application season as well as requests from placement schools, The Common Application will only be used for applying to grade 6; families must go through the traditional application process to apply to grades 7 and above. Please email Sonnia ( with any questions.

* This is not a comprehensive list. If the school(s) you are interested in are not listed here, a quick Google search will provide you the link to the information. 

Applying to Schools


When Applying to schools all scholars and parents should anticipate missing school for school visits. The purpose of the visits is to allow scholars to spend the day in the schools and get a feel for the environment. It is also a time for schools to get to know our scholars in a school setting. During these visits, schools also have family interviews. It is a conversation between parents and admissions reps. It is  a time for schools to get to know the families, but also a time for families to ask questions as well.  School visits are to be rescheduled after The Common Application is submitted by Steppingstone. Families will be notified when it is time to schedule visits.

School Visits & Interviews


Independent Schools are not free to our families. As a result, we work very hard to make sure all of our families complete the forms on time and correctly. Schools know that if you are a Steppingstone Family, you can not afford 30,000 tuition. As a result schools are prepared to offer aid packages our families. In order to make sure this is possible, we must complete the SSS forms (School and Family Services by NAIS)  There is a Financial Aid workshop held each year for new Families, if new to the financial aid workshop we welcome our older families as well. The application is waived by Steppingstone. In order to receive a waiver, you must add Steppingstone as a school when completing the forms. Once this is done, and forms are complete and Steppingstone will be able to go in and waive all applications fees.

Financial Aid


* Applying to New Schools *


Why should we consider an independent school for our child?

There are many qualities that make an independent school different from other schools, such as class size, teacher-student relationships, school-home communication, extracurricular activities, educational resources and, most important, academic programs that challenge students and prepare them for college and beyond. The learning environment that offers these qualities can vary from school to school: there are single-gender schools, middle schools where students graduate in the 8th grade, schools located in the city, schools located in the suburbs, even boarding schools. Steppingstone’s role is to help you recognize that best fit between a school and your child, to assist you and your child in the application process, and to prepare your child for that school. Independent schools are always seeking academically capable students capable of success long after the admissions process is completed.

How can I afford to pay the tuition at an independent school?

Many families worry about affording and independent school education. This is a valid concern, given that tuitions in the Philadelphia area average about $18,000. However, financial aid is available; please don’t let the price keep you from investigating your options. Every school has money set aside in its budget to assist families who otherwise could not afford to pay tuition. Some schools have more money than others and all schools receive more requests for financial aid than they have to distribute. Steppingstone will assist you with the paperwork necessary to apply for need-based financial aid.

What is the application process like?

The admissions process for an independent school is much like the application process you went through for the Steppingstone Scholars Program. It consists of a standardized entrance exam, the ISEE, which tests English and Math. There is also a written application that allows a student to describe his or her extracurricular activities, interest and hobbies. And finally families arrange for an interview where they can meet a member of the admission staff personally. A completed student application will also include an academic transcript (grades) and recommendations from teachers and administrators. This process is long and involved, but it is designed to ensure that a good match is made between the school and the student.

How many schools should we consider?

Steppingstone will help families select a list of approximately six schools to research. Ultimately, this list will be shortened to four schools to which a family will apply. It is important to consider a variety of schools in order to determine the best academic environment for each Scholar.

Generally speaking, how do we begin to learn about the schools?

Start with this placement guide. This should help you focus your ideas. Additionally, there are three source books that provide excellent information about the schools: Peterson’s Guide to Independent Schools, Private Independent Schools by Bunting and Lyon, and the Porter-Sargent Guidebook, all of which are available at any library or bookstore. You should also call or write schools directly for their brochures.

What if we wish to look at an independent school that is not The Steppingstone Scholars Program list of placement schools?

You may do so. Steppingstone exists to support Scholars who wish to pursue educational opportunities in independent schools anywhere, not just those with whom we work most closely. If there are other schools you wish to consider, let us know and we will assist you as best we can.

What deadlines must we meet?

The deadlines to submit applications to independent schools are generally in November. However, in working with Steppingstone, earlier deadlines are established so that we may do the work necessary to complete the applicant files and deliver them to the schools. Please refer to the list of deadlines for the academic year distributed at the Summer Placement Meeting.

General Deadlines/ Timeline:

  • August- September ...... Individual Meetings

  • Mid-September ............. Placement Fair

  • Mid-September ............. Saturday Classes Start

  • Early October ............... Individual Meeting

  • Late October ................ Common Application complete and submitted to schools

  • November .....................Families Schedule Visit for schools

  • Early November ........... ISEE Exam taken at Germantown Academy

  • Early December ........... Financial Aid Workshop

  • EarlyDecember ...........  Teacher Recommendations due to Steppingstone office

  • Mid-December ............ Steppingstone Holiday Party

What are the main pieces of an application to an independent school?

Written application: Much like the Steppingstone application, an independent school application will consist of a student essay, a parent statement, evaluations from the student’s English and math teachers and a copy of the student’s academic record.

ISEE test scores: The results of the Independent School Entrance Examination are automatically forwarded to the schools to which you will apply and considered part of the application.

Interview: All students must interview at the school as part of the application process. Depending on the school, this may mean the student visits for a full day to sit in classes and take some additional academic tests. Parents are also interviewed and should expect to participate in this part of the process.

NOTE: Interviews are usually scheduled during the school day, so it is likely that parents will need to take some time off from work and Scholars will miss some time at school

What is the general time frame involved in the school search process?

The application process lasts until December/early January when all application materials are completed and submitted to Steppingstone. Below is a recommended schedule you should follow:

  • September: Fill out the placement questionnaire you received at the August placement meeting. Review the Placement School Guide and call or write schools for catalogues, brochures and Open House schedules. Parents meet with Steppingstone staff to review the Summer Session and placement questionnaire and to jointly establish a list of schools to investigate. Families attend the Placement School Fair hosted by Steppingstone. Also, Scholars will register for the November ISEE.

  • October-December: During this time, parents and Scholars should research and visit the schools they are interested in. Families should plan to attend as many Open Houses as possible. Keep a journal of each school you visit that records your likes, dislikes, questions and concerns. The journal will be helpful when you need to decide which schools you will apply to. Most Steppingstone placement schools have agreed to accept our common applications, so there is no need to request applications from individual schools.

  • Families begin developing a final list of schools to which they’d like to apply and begin submitting drafts of their applications to Steppingstone. Scholars begin writing application essays and submitting evaluation forms to their English and math teachers. Families will also ask their child’s academic records be forwarded to Steppingstone. Parents also attend the application workshop.

  • November: This is the busiest month in the Steppingstone placement process. Families must have informed Steppingstone of their final list of four schools to which they will apply and begin finalizing applications. Final drafts of applications are due by Thanksgiving. Parents send copies of their most recent completed tax forms and W-2 forms to Steppingstone and attend the financial aid workshop. Steppingstone writes evaluations for each Scholar and prepares complete applications to send out to schools. Applicants may continue to interview at schools. Scholars take the ISEE.

    • NOTE: Be sure to keep a photocopy of everything submitted for your records.

  • January: Applicants may continue to interview at schools.

Which parts of the application process are we responsible for, and how does Steppingstone assist?

Families are responsible for visiting schools, arranging interviews, filling out applications and ensuring that their child’s file is complete. Also, attending the two Steppingstone admission workshops described below is mandatory.

It is important that families keep Steppingstone Staff updated throughout each step in the application process.

Steppingstone maintains a file on each Scholar that includes test score, English and math teacher evaluations and an academic record. We will ask parents to fill out the necessary release forms so that we can request copies of this information. All information is submitted to Steppingstone before it is sent to an independent school.

Steppingstone also writes an evaluation of each Scholar to be included in his or her file. This is a summary of the Scholar’s performance in The Steppingstone Scholars program and is based on feedback from his or her summer and fall teachers. Finally, Steppingstone offers a series of workshops in the fall to help families through the process. These include:

  • Placement School Fair: Representatives from all of the Steppingstone’s placement schools will attend this event to hand out information and to answer questions about each school. The more research you have done and specific questions you have, the more you will benefit from this morning. The Fair begins with a panel discussion designed to explore a few of the differences among the independent schools, such as single gender/coeducational schools, middle/high schools. Boarding/day schools, etc.

  • Application Workshop: What do you write on an application? This workshop will focus on how to prepare effective applications with an emphasis on content. The goal is to enable families to write strong applications that showcase the talents and abilities of each applicant.

  • Financial Aid Workshop: This workshop will assist families in filling out the necessary paperwork.

Will the comments I receive from Steppingstone be sent to the schools?

Because the Steppingstone faculty is made up of teachers who understand the academic challenges in independent schools, their comments are valuable in identifying Scholar’s strengths and weaknesses. When appropriate, their comments will be sent to the schools as additions to an applicant’s file.

Are there application fees?

Schools normally charge an application fee to cover administrative costs. Depending on the school, this fee may be waived or reduced for Steppingstone families. You’ll receive additional information about fee waivers/reductions later in the fall.

When are we notified about a school’s decision regarding admission?

Independent schools generally notify families about admissions decisions in mid-March. Applicants then have one month to respond to a school’s offer of admission. Many times, an applicant is invited to spend a day at a school visiting classes and speaking with current students before making a final decision. Each school will require a deposit to hold a child’s spot for the fall. Generally speaking, this amount is adjusted depending on the amount of financial aid.

School Visits...

As part of the process of researching schools, you should visit those that interest you and see them in action. Please not that Steppingstone works with 19 independent schools. You do not need to visit every one of them. However, we will help you select 5-6 schools to research and to learn about through a personal visit.

Open Houses...

All schools have open house days or days set aside during the week or on weekends for prospective students and their parents to tour the school, to meet with members of the school community and to ask questions in an informal setting. Attending an open house is not a mandatory part of the application process, but we strongly encourage you to go to these events at the schools that interest you.


The interview is one of the most important pieces of the application process. After you have done the research on a particular school and are sure that you would like to apply there, you should call the admissions office to schedule an interview. This is your opportunity to present yourself personally to the admissions staff of a school. During an interview you’ll receive a tour of the campus and Scholars and parents will meet separately with an admissions officer. The entire process lasts approximately 90 minutes.

Interviewing Tips:

  1. Be punctual. Try to arrive 15 minutes early.

  2. Read the school catalogue before the interview to avoid asking questions that one should be able to answer after reading the catalogue. This preliminary research can also help you to prepare thoughtful questions that will help you to make a positive and lasting impression on your interviewer.

  3. Know why you are at the school: to personally present yourself as a strong candidate for admission. Show your interest in the school and in being a student there.

  4. Dress comfortably but appropriately. In general, the more conservative, the better. While you don’t necessarily need to wear your “Sunday best,” blue jeans and t-shirts and inappropriate. Boys should wear a nice pair of pants and a button-down collared shirt; girls should wear a nice dress or a blouse and skirt. If you have concerns about what to wear, call Steppingstone or the admissions office at the school to ask.

  5. Anticipate some questions that your interviewer might have for you. “Why do you want to come to this school?” “What do you feel you can add to our school?” Be able to list your favorite subjects, hobbies, interests, goals, etc. Also, be prepared to explain why these things are important to you.

  6. Be enthusiastic and don’t be shy talking about yourself. Like the personal statement on the application, the interview is your chance to show the interviewer what makes you unique among all the other applicants. At the same time, be honest: a good interviewer knows when you are exaggerating.

  7. Think carefully before answering questions. Don’t worry about a moment of silence to collect your thoughts.

  8. Write a thank-you note to the admissions officer who interviewed you. It is best to write this note within 24 hours of your visit, so that the visit is fresh in your mind. Thank him/her for taking the time to see you and say how much you enjoyed your visit. You could also mention that you would be excited to be part of the student body next year. Feel free to mention something that you particularly enjoyed, remembered or appreciated about your visit. You would be surprised to know how often a thank-you note has made the difference in schools’ final admissions decisions.


Questions you may have during the interview:


During the interview, you may also be asked if you have any questions about the school. If you have not found the answers in your preliminary research, you may want to ask about some of the following topics or others of interest to you.

  1. What is the school’s commitment to families with financial need?

  2. How many students will be in a class? What is the student/teacher ratio?

  3. Does the school have an advisor system, where teachers serve as mentors for the students’ social, moral as well as academic needs?

  4. What other support systems are available for students to help make the academic and social transition to a new school?

  5. What are the academic requirements needed to graduate?

  6. What extracurricular activities are required of students?

  7. Do students like attending the school?

  8. Is there a parent organization at the school? What role does it play?

  9. Are there support groups for students/parents of color? Is there a multicultural organization?


NOTE: It is time-consuming to visit schools. Parents will have to take time off from work and Scholars will need to miss some days from school. This is part of the sacrifice necessary to conduct a successful school search. It is important that you plan these visits carefully to work best with your schedule. You may want to spread your visits over a few months, or you may want to condense your visits into only a few days off from school and work. We strongly recommend that you do not try to schedule more than one or two visits on any given day. Planning ahead is the key to a successful and anxiety-free school search.

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