Choosing to apply to a selective independent school like Kinkaid is a big commitment. The experience of applying for admission can be confusing and stressful, in part because of the highly competitive pool of applicants that apply each year – as the School receives more than four applicants for every one opening. In this article, we take a look inside the School’s Admissions Program to clarify the factors and processes that help determine which students are ultimately offered admission.
During the 2010-2011 school year, Kinkaid trustee Tad Mayfield chaired a subcommittee that reviewed Kinkaid’s admissions policy and program. In the report that the subcommittee submitted to the Board of Trustees, Mr. Mayfield observed that, “In addition to affirming that the admissions process is very professional, comprehensive, fair and consistent with the School’s mission and goals, one of our key findings was the need for the School to be more transparent with how admissions decisions are made.” He added, “We learned that many members of our community were unaware of the comprehensive, faculty-led admissions review process, and they did not know that the Admissions Office acts as the facilitator, not the decision maker.”
The Admissions Office staff (left to right): Admissions Assistant Sarah Dinger, Assistant Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Coordinator Meredith McLeod, Director of Admissions Iris Bonet, and Admissions Assistant Ashley Wright.
The Kinkaid Admissions office staff works to help families manage their way through applications (about 1,000 annually), testing, interviews, and teacher recommendations. The Admissions staff collects and organizes all this information and presents it to the grade-level committees, which are charged with the responsibility of reviewing applications, carefully discussing each applicant to that grade, and identifying those students who best merit an offer of admission. Iris Bonet, who is in her fifth year as Director of Admissions at Kinkaid and her 18th year working in independent school admissions, oversees this work. “Much of what we do is very well-known and visible to our community,” Ms. Bonet reported, “but much of it is not. As the Admissions Subcommittee of the Board found during their review of our policies and procedures, a great deal of thoughtful, informed and highly collaborative work goes into the selection process, but many are not aware of the specifics of that work.”
The Admissions staff facilitates the work of the faculty who serve on 11 different admissions committees in the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools as they meet and evaluate all candidates. The work of these faculty admissions committees is extraordinarily time consuming and complex as they take into consideration each individual candidate’s abilities and record of achievement, the needs of our School, and the admissions policies established by the Board.
In keeping with Kinkaid’s tradition as a family school, the Board of Trustees follows its long-established policy that among qualified applicants, preference is given to children of alumni, siblings of currently enrolled students, and children of faculty and staff. Families with children accepted for Pre-Kindergarten in the fall are also considered priority families regarding their additional children applying for other grades in the spring. The policy states that approximately 80% of those students accepted each year be qualified priority candidates and that 20% are “new” to Kinkaid. Because of the number of applicants, the priority policy has its greatest impact in the Lower School, where 80% of the offers are made to priority applicants. In the Middle and Upper Schools the number of priority applicants is lower.
The admissions committees begin by first reviewing all the applicants to identify those who are academically qualified to meet the challenges of a Kinkaid education. After the initial academic review, there still remain several times the number of students who meet these criteria as there are openings. The committees further evaluate the pool of academically qualified students, taking into consideration each applicant’s potential contributions to the life of the School outside the classroom. The committees seek students of strong character and diverse talents in academics, the arts and athletics, to enhance the “whole child” educational approach and experience at Kinkaid.
So, just how do the committees choose which students will receive an offer of admission? Tom Peden, an English teacher in the Middle and Upper Schools for 31 years, and member of an Admissions Committee for about 30 years explains, “In the Upper and Middle Schools we review transcripts from their previous schools, their interviews, testing scores, letters of recommendation, and comments from previous teachers/coaches.” The Upper and Middle School committees in their search for mission-appropriate students also consider a candidate’s character, leadership potential, and talents in the arts, athletics, and other extracurricular activities. After hours of reviewing each student’s file, and lengthy discussions about the candidates, each member of the committee is given the opportunity to privately vote for his/her top candidates. Once the results are compiled, the committee’s recommended applicant list is reviewed by the totality of the committee before being presented to Headmaster Don North, who per Board policy, has final approval of which students are admitted. “Kinkaid’s admissions committees do a great job of assessing the strengths and readiness of applicants to the school, for they know well what it takes to be successful here. I endorse their recommendations wholeheartedly and thankfully,” observes Headmaster North.
In the Lower School, committees have a similarly rigorous review process. The grade level faculty meets each student and reviews each individual’s file. After taking into consideration the make-up of the class, gender balance, and the priority policy established by the Board, the committee sends its recommendations for approval to the Headmaster.
Mr. Peden has seen the admissions process strengthened over the years even as the number of applicants has grown. “I can assure you that our process of admitting students works. Our current admissions process has more steps, but it helps make each decision more thoughtful and deliberate. The process has become more exacting, more time consuming from our end because we like to compile well-reasoned recommendations. We literally spend hours reviewing each applicant.”
Many of our candidates find their way to our School through word-of-mouth from our current families, the School’s reputation and history of excellence in the city of Houston, and the strength of our programs in the arts, athletics, and debate to name a few. “Our parents often are our school’s leading advocates, and their endorsement of the School carries great weight in the community,” says Ms. Bonet.
Does Kinkaid actively seek applicants to the school? Yes, we do. Along with 100 or so other schools, we participate in the private school preview held annually in September. We host an Open House for all interested families and applicants here on campus in mid-October each year, and we count on our faculty and staff to help identify students with particular strengths—in the arts, in athletics, in community service, in leadership. During Open House, our Admissions Ambassadors provide tours of Upper School. This group of 14 Upper School students are chosen from approximately 50 sophomores, juniors and seniors who apply for the position. Student Ambassador Niki Frishberg ‘12 comments, “I think that one thing parents and kids really enjoy seeing is how personable we are as Admissions Ambassadors and real students. The parents like to picture the possibility of having a child who could potentially be as eloquent and well-spoken as the students at Kinkaid.” Families interested in Kinkaid have responded very positively to this program and appreciate getting the "student perspective" of school life.
“When I am asked if we recruit students, “ Headmaster North relates, “I answer that we absolutely do recruit great children and young people.” In fact, most great schools, especially in our community, are competing for a very select group of well-rounded students who are able to meet high academic standards as well as bring other talents. The major attraction that Kinkaid has, of course, is the high quality of the faculty and staff. The facilities of the School, especially in the arts and in athletics, are also a significant attraction.
Kinkaid is a school with unparalleled opportunity. The greatest testaments to our admissions process are the wonderfully talented students and incredible families that comprise Kinkaid. The admissions staff and faculty and so many others invest their time, talent, and energies to ensure our important mission is achieved.
“Kinkaid’s trustees are committed to a need-blind admissions process that maintains the commitment of our founder, Mrs. Kinkaid, to ensuring that no talented student would ever be denied a Kinkaid education because of economic circumstance,” says Chair of the Board of Trustees Tom Simmons. Generations of generous donors have helped build a significant need-based financial aid endowment that combined with support from the operating budget produces funding to help maintain this commitment.
Financial Aid at Kinkaid
With the exception of four donor-created scholarships given in the senior year, the awarding of financial aid is based solely on demonstrated financial need. The Financial Aid program does not grant academic, athletic, performing arts, visual arts, or any special interest scholarships. The Financial Aid Committee, composed of four trustees, Headmaster Don North, Chief Financial Officer Joanne Margraves, and Assistant Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Coordinator Meredith McLeod, meet each spring to objectively determine financial aid grant awards that are commensurate with each family’s needs. The School maintains the confidentiality of the recipients and their families while a student is attending Kinkaid. This year, 10% of the School’s students receive some level of financial support, ranging from partial grants of $1,500 to full “tuition plus” grants.