Even though school has barely begun, if you are looking for a new school for your son or daughter to start next fall, particularly if it is a private or highly sought after public school, you are likely starting the search and application process now. Today’s post comes from writer and editor (and GCP contributor) Rachel Christmas Derrick. In this article, which was originally posted in Let’s Talk Schools, Rachel offers some great tips to parents who may already be feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of finding and applying to the right schools for their children.

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Do stories of parents applying to seven or ten different schools keep you up at night? Does the thought of filling out all those applications make you want to pull the covers over your head each morning? Does the prospect of writing the essays and parent statements seem as daunting as applying to college or for a new job?

Take a deep breath and prepare to be pleasantly surprised: Applying to schools for your child doesn’t have to be an ordeal. In fact, with some planning, organization, and guidance, exploring how you and others see your child and your family can actually be big fun.

Here are some tips to help you jump-start the school admissions process:

1. Do your homework! School websites can give you a sense of what makes each educational environment different from the rest.

2. Don’t apply to a school simply because everyone you know is applying or it’s on some Top Ten list. Remember, there are lots of excellent schools out there—and you’ve never heard of many of them.

3. See if your family’s values match those of the school. For instance, do you believe that allowing learning to be incidental to having fun can be detrimental in the long run? Or do you think that rigorously training a young child in the basics can have a negative impact?

4. Keep an open mind. Even if you’re positive you want a co-ed school, for example, consider single-gender schools. If you’re convinced that a progressive education is the way to go, visit a more traditional school or two.

5. Consider the neighborhood. If you live in Manhattan, you can certainly send your child to that phenomenal school with the main campus miles away in Riverdale. However, make sure you’re comfortable with what that will mean for play dates, birthday parties, and long bus rides for your young child.

6. Once you identify the schools that interest you, attend their tours and open houses. Take detailed notes of your impressions of each school, including the demeanor of teachers and other staff, the classrooms, the cafeteria, gym, and auditorium, the hallway artwork, the outdoor spaces, even the bathrooms.

7. Feel free to ask administrators and teachers questions—but not those whose answers could easily be found on their websites.

8. As you walk through each school, can you visualize you and your child as part of this community for the next 6, 9, or 13 years? Do teachers look happy? Do students seem engaged? Are children well-supervised?

9. Remember, the “best” school is the one that feels right for your child and your family.

10. Tailor your application essays or parent statements to each school and explain why YOUR child and YOUR family could be right for THAT particular school. A quick way to turn off an admissions team is to submit a generic essay, one that could be written to any school about any beloved child.

11. If you’re applying for financial aid, don’t put down “$0” when asked how much your family can contribute to tuition. Schools are drawn to families who understand that your child’s education is a partnership that both you and the school have a stake in.

12. Apply early! (Applications go online at the end of August or right after Labor Day.) Schools like enthusiastic, organized families who plan ahead. Even before you know what schools you’re applying to, get started on your basic essay. You’ll then be ahead of the game when it’s time to adapt it to the questions asked by each school.

Rachel Christmas Derrick is a widely-published writer and editor whose Words Rule! program helps guide families through the essay-writing process for school applications. For details, contact her at WordsRuleCommunications@gmail.com.