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31 October 2019
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

The Essentials #4: How to win a place at a top UK boarding school

Hello from Oxford!
At von Bülow Education we feel honored to be able to help pupils get places at some of the best boarding schools Great Britain has to offer.
Whether it’s top IB schools like Sevenoaks School and Wellington College or elite single sex schools like Eton College and Wycombe Abbey School, we are proud of our record of placing at least one pupil in one of these schools over the last three years.
So, how DO you get into one of the best british boarding schools?
Over the years, we have accumulated a fair bit of wisdom on this topic. Today we will share our five things to increase the likelihood that your child will win a place at a top UK boarding school.
Sevenoaks School
1. Apply early
This is absolutely key. No matter how suitable your child is, if you miss a school’s application deadline, the chance of being considered for a place are very slim.
Why is this so important?
Because the top schools process hundreds of applications each year for only a few places. This requires a stringent application process with set deadlines that the schools will unlikely stray from.
So, make sure that you know the schools’ application deadlines. Some deadlines can be up to three years in advance e.g. Eton’s for Y9 entry. Most top schools’ deadlines are two years in advance.
Is missing a deadline it? No chance at all?
No, you can still get lucky. All schools run waiting lists. If families with offers do not accept places until a certain deadline, wait-listed pupils will be offered the places instead. Chances will always be remote though, so make sure you apply early!
Eton College - the Chapel
2. Make sure you have good grades
This almost goes without saying. The top schools are highly selective and the first thing they will look at when considering an application are a pupil’s most recent reports.
However, we deliberately choose our words carefully: grades need to be good - even very good - but not necessarily excellent for most schools.
Because even the top schools will consider a pupil’s application in its entirety. The schools are aware that pupils’ eligibility cannot be reduced to grades only. Even the brightest have slip-ups; and the most academic aren’t necessarily the brightest!
So, the odd dud grade should not put you off. Other key elements to an application such as the quality of the personal essay, or how well a pupil performs at interview or the admissions tests can compensate.
There is further important thing to remember: not all grades are created equal. Maths, the sciences and English carry more weight than languages, the humanities or creative subjects.
Wycombe Abbey School - the lawns
3. Write a stellar personal essay
Most schools expect applicants to write a personal essay in which they introduce themselves.
This is an amazing and important opportunity to make an impression!
A good personal essay grabs a reader’s attention. It needs to be interesting, personal and well written. It needs to convey a pupil’s personality, passions and genuine interest in pursuing a place at a top boarding school. Very importantly, it needs to be written by the pupil him-/herself. Schools can always tell from a mile off if a parent or teacher has helped. In extreme cases will turn down an application if they feel the statement isn’t written by the pupil.
In our experience a genuinely interesting personal statement will neutralize the odd mediocre grade.
Sevenoaks School - School House
4. Show up for the school visits
If a pupil’s reports and personal essay convince, he/she will be invited to visit the school.
Congratulations! This is a huge win and a solid foot in the door.
The visits to top boarding schools all vary slightly. Some like Eton, Wycombe Abbey and Wellington have proper assessment days, where pupils will sit tests, have one-on-one interviews and even attend classes.
Others like Sevenoaks School will consist of a tour through the school’s facilities followed by an interview with the head of admissions. Admissions tests are usually written at a pupil’s school back home a few days after the visit.
The interviews with admissions staff are key. Pupils are given an opportunity to present themselves at their best - a chance to shine. The schools are looking for intelligence, a good command of the English language and a sincerity of intent.
We recommend that your child prepares for the interview. How they can do this we explain in more detail in a different blog post.
Eton College - the front entrance
5. Prepare for and show up for the assessments
All top boarding schools will assess a pupil’s academic suitability. Normally this will be done through admissions tests - either the school’s own, or the so-called UKiset test.
Some boarding schools will insist that pupils take the tests in situ at the school. If this is not required it is our strong recommendation that tests are NOT taken on the same day as the school visit. The visit itself is stressful enough as it is, and will inevitably impact test performance.
Most schools will insist that one cannot and should not prepare for the tests. We disagree! Preparing for the admissions tests is important for two reasons. Firstly, because it allows pupils to address any potential gaps or weaknesses. Secondly, the right amount of preparation will reassure pupils and calm nerves come test day. This is especially true for international pupils unfamiliar with the specifics of the British academic curriculum.
We hope this helps! Please never hesitate to get in touch with us if you want to learn more.
Yours von Bülow Education team
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