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As Independent School Deadlines Approach, Admissions Director Shares Advice

 A toddler signs herself up for GEMS World Academy at an informational expo hosted by the school in October.
A toddler signs herself up for GEMS World Academy at an informational expo hosted by the school in October.
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DNAinfo/Lizzie Schiffman

NEW EASTSIDE — For parents hoping to send their kids to one of Chicago's 17 tuition-based independent schools, the holiday season is also crunch time, with most application deadlines approaching in early- to mid-December.

Applications for kindergarten at Francis Parker, Chicago City Day School and the Latin School are all due Dec. 1.

Deadlines for Chicago Academy for the Arts and Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School are the next day, and all but one of the 12 schools that don't offer rolling admissions require materials to be submitted before January. University of Chicago's Lab School's deadline for freshmen was last Friday.

By now, parents should have made contact with their schools of interest, and pored over their websites to get basic questions answered, according to Ryan Hannon, admissions director at the soon-to-open GEMS World Academy in Lakeshore East, who previously worked in admissions at Francis Parker.

"The most important the first step is always to attend an admission coffee event, [like] a tour or an open house," Hannon said. "I think that's particularly helpful when you're looking at all the schools. If you don't have time to do that before Dec. 1, your first priority would just be submitting that application before that deadline."

Hannon recommends parents consider a variety of options.

"It's always best practice to cast your net wide, given the competitive landscape of the independent school admissions process in Chicago," he said. "So it's always best to apply to multiple schools, and schedule those open houses or coffees to get a flavor of each."

For families with older siblings already enrolled in an independent school, little brothers and sisters can get a leg-up through sibling priority policies within some programs.

Families with multiple kids who want them in school together should ask for those programs upfront.

"It doesn't guarantee admission, but it's accommodating [the fact] that siblings and families want to be together in the school community," he said. "You should ask each school as you tour: what is their philosophy for sibling priority?"

This can get tricky for twins, he said.

"Sometimes it can take some time if you have two age-eligible children applying in, and that's just a reality."

If you find your kids on a waiting list, it's not the end of the world, Hannon said.

"If you find yourself in a waitlist position with your school of choice, be sure to communicate that to the admission office. That can be just a simple email, it can be a phone call, and just restate why you're interested, why you feel it's a fit for your child," Hannon said.

By now, parents should know the admissions staff at their school of choice fairly well.

"Then periodically, I'd say monthly, follow up with the school and say, should there be a space available, you would take that space without hesitation, and you are fully interested in enrolling.

"If by August you're still waitlisted, I would suggest re-applying," Hannon said. "It can't hurt: it shows you're committed to the school, and all of us want families who are committed to our school and our community. I think re-applying shows you are committed to that school."