Navigating the Five Stages of High School Applications

Navigating the Five Stages of High School Applications


When you're making a big, emotional decision, knowing what to expect is half the battle. Thankfully, the five stages of applying to high school are predictable and follow a specific pattern.

Wrapping your head around what's to come helps prepare you and your child for each step in the process, meaning you'll make a better informed decision, and your child will wind up where he or she belongs.


Stage 1: The Vision

All parents have a vision of what they want high school to look like for their child. All kids have their own ideas of what they want high school to look like. Then you also have the child's individual needs to consider. Where do these visions, wants and needs meet?

How to Navigate It

Write out your vision, listing must-haves and things to avoid, and have your child do the same.

Use the following questions as a guide to get started:

  • Do you have strong feelings about public versus private?
  • What can you afford?
  • Are there schools that match the talents or interests your child is passionate about?
  • Is size important?
  • Do you need a big traditional high school, Friday Night Lights and all, or is a small, cozy campus the place for your child?
  • Is religion a factor?
  • What type of accommodations is a must to ensure success at the next level?
  • What activities is your child passionate about?
  • How far are you willing to commute every day?
  • Does the school offer transportation?

Discuss this as a family. It is important for your child to understand that this is a very personal choice. It is ideal to go to high school where they'll be surrounded by friends, but it is more important to go to the right school. Compare your lists. Together, try to prioritize the most important aspects of what high school looks like for all of you. Once you have a combined vision with some non-negotiables for your family, you are ready to move on to stage two.


Stage 2: The Investigation

Stage two is all about research. You need to find a handful of schools that meet your top requirements.

How to Navigate It

Research can be daunting, and it is hard to know where to start. Start simply with, how long is the commute to the prospective school? For Joy School parents, this is also a good time to make an appointment with your trusty Transition Coordinator so she can help narrow your choices. At other schools, a counselor or registrar might be able to assist in this process.

Once you have researched a few choices, it's time to dig a little deeper and visit schools in-person. Parent tours allow parents to visualize their kids at a school.

Initially you need to attend a tour without your child. Yes, it is important to include your student in this decision, but it is not their turn yet. The first set of tours needs to pass the parent test first.

Ask yourself:

  • Which of these schools fits your family's top needs?
  • Will this institution accommodate your child?
  • Does your family fit? This is the perfect time to trust your gut.
  • How does it feel?

Sometimes tours can be a dog and pony show. To get an authentic feel for a school community's vibe, look at the school calendar, and try to meet other families by attending a school carnival, play or sporting event. Do you fit in with these families outside of the tour context? Try to look behind the curtains to see if it's a place in which you're willing to invest four years.

At The Joy School, we connect alumni parents with parents of mainstreaming students so they can talk from experience about what certain high schools will feel like. I love being able to make these connections.

From here, you should be able to narrow down your handful of schools to two or three. At this point, you can include your child. Allow them to tour, and then reflect on the experience as a family.


Stage 3: The Application

Stage three is characterized by deadlines, paperwork, shadow days and more paperwork. Here are some tips on how to keep up with it all without becoming overwhelmed.

How to Navigate It

Our recommendation is always to apply to at least a few schools. When you tour schools, they should be able to answer any application questions you have. The top items on your to-do list should be keeping track of deadlines, paying all necessary fees and submitting the initial application. At The Joy School, there are forms for you to sign and turn in to your friendly Transition Coordinator, such as transcripts or records release forms and teacher recommendations. For non-TJS families, you will likely coordinate with a counselor or the registrar. Once this part is complete, you can take a breather, and the school will take the reins. All necessary documents are gathered and sent directly to the schools to which you are applying.


Stage 4: The Wait

This might be the most difficult stage. I can tell you to relax because the hard part is over, but the stress and weight of wondering what's to come can be overwhelming. You've done your research, so you have a list of backups, but everybody wants their number one choice.

How to Navigate It

There is no magical cure for the wait. It stinks. You have officially given up all control, and there is nothing else you can do. The vulnerability you feel is palpable. One thing to keep in mind: the parent is actually more stressed out than the child at this point. For the students, this is very "out of sight, out of mind," but parents continue to think, "What are we going to do?" The truth is, in most cases, everything ends up working out the way it should.


Stage 5: The Answer

FINALLY! All your work, stress, research and energy has paid off. You have your answer.

How to Navigate It

The day comes when you receive the answers you have been waiting for. This day can leave you with one choice or several. Whatever you decide, embrace it, celebrate and be confident that you have done everything you needed to do to help your child find the right place to start their future. Take a long, well-deserved deep breath. Follow your child's future school's procedure to secure your spot. And last but not least for TJS parents, call or email your Transition Coordinator and tell her what your decision is, because she is waiting on pins and needles, dying to celebrate your choice with you.


*This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of KeyNotes, an annual publication of The Joy School.


Jan Flowers

About the Author

Andrea Dorr is a native Houstonian and comes from a family of teachers and public servants. She received her Bachelor of Social Work from Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State. After serving in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as a child abuse investigator, she sought teaching certificates in special education, math and science. Andrea spent five years at her alma mater, Taylor High School, teaching in the special education department and coaching girls soccer. She helped lead her team to the district's first 5A state championship in 2006. After moving to Houston, she taught middle school for five years, where she implemented a program for struggling students and served as a testing coordinator. Andrea found The Joy School in 2014 through a childhood friend who is now her colleague. She is thrilled to work with The Joy School students and faculty every day.

Degrees Held:
Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from Texas State University