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Wait lists are a Melbourne private school thing.  The wait listing process isn’t generally transparent and can cause a lot of anxiety and heartache among Melbourne school parents who have their hearts set on a particular school for their children.  

I interviewed Paul O’Shannassy, Melbourne’s leading education consultant about private school wait lists.  

Paul and his business Regent Consulting help match students with private schools and is a sponsor of Melbourne Schools.  He has been operating the business for over 15 years now.

Wait lists for private schools are just a queue to get in.  It’s no different from a queue at a popular restaurant or lining up outside a popular bar.  Having to wait for a popular offering or a scarce offering is just a fact of life.  

The first thing to know is that it is far worse for boys than it is for girls.  This is because there is a shortage of independent boy schools compared with girls schools –  7 boys schools compared with about 19 girls schools in Melbourne. There are also a number of co-educational schools. 

Another thing to note is that private schools  are allowed to exercise discretion as to which students come to the school and will choose students they think will fit into the culture.  It makes sense for both the school and the students to have new students who will fit into the school culture and that the school can cater for.  

Some schools, Scotch and Melbourne Grammar for example, will also have an entrance exam or a placement test prior to entry to the school. Other schools will have an informal screening process prior to making an offer.  Schools may take into account NAPLAN results, school reports, extra curricular activities and other achievements.  

Q2. What are some of the key criteria that schools look at when offering a place?

Some criteria schools may look at include:

• When their name was put down on the wait list 
• If they have a prior relationship with the school – if their parent an alumni 
• If they have siblings at the school 
• If they have other relationships with the school eg. grandparent as alumni, parent is a teacher at the school
• If the student is suitable for the school  
• What their NAPLAN results are
• What school reports say
• Some may have religious requirements

Schools may take into account if the family has recently come from interstate or overseas and has not had the opportunity to be on the wait list.

Q3. Which schools have the longest wait lists?

All boys schools generally have the longest wait list for reasons mentioned above.  So schools like St Kevin’s, Scotch and Melbourne Grammar are some of the hardest to get into.  

Parents need to have their boys’ names down within the first 3 months of birth ideally.  Sometimes even that isn’t enough, and sometimes even having a father who is an old boy isn’t enough, it’s that tough.    

Carey is another tough one to get into, in some part due to its location.  It’s attractive for families in the Eastern suburbs looking for a good co-ed private option.

Q4. What are some of the schools that don’t have such a long wait list?

Some of the smaller girls schools will have shorter wait list, simply because there are more of them around.  Also in the Outer East has some private schools that aren’t as established as the APS schools in the inner suburbs and may have a shorter wait list but can be quite accessible in terms of location.  

Just a note here that wait list times shouldn’t be confused with quality of education.  It’s not the case of longer wait list means the school is better and shorter wait list means it’s not as high quality.  How long wait lists are just a matter of supply and demand.

Q5. How do scholarships work with wait lists?  Can my child get a scholarship to a school even if they aren’t on the wait list?

Generally yes.  Scholarships are a different offering.  Great students who win the scholarships will jump the wait list.

Q6. How many schools should parents wait list their children for?

I suggest waitlisting for two to three schools in case you don’t get into your first choice, you still have plan B and plan C.  Should you wait list for 7 or 8 schools?  You probably don’t need plan D, E, F etc.  Schools generally charge about $150 to $200 to have a child on the wait list.

Q7. So when do you recommend waitlisting your child?

For boys, asap – ideally from birth.  For girls it’s probably not as urgent, but within the first few years.  It’s probably too late by the time they are 11 years old.

Q8. How can you help students gain a place with the advocacy service you offer?

About 50% of the work I do is school recommendation plus advocacy ( the other 50% is just recommendation ). I can sometimes help students gain a place at schools by presenting them in a good light.  Because I’m a third party and have a good working relationship with staff and leadership at schools, sometimes I’m able to help children gain a place at an in demand school.  

It’s never guaranteed and I make sure parents know that.  But it’s much more effective when I say a child is gifted for example, compared with when their parents say they’re gifted.  

I also want to make clear that absolutely no money changes hands and there is no bribery involved. 

Q9. Any tips for parents to give them the best chance at entry to desired schools?

• It’s generally easier to get a spot in primary school because there is less demand for private primary school.  A strategy may be to enter the school in primary school and then just continue to move up to senior school. 

• Co-ed schools generally want a gender balance and generally have more boy applicants than girls.  A strategy may be to leverage female siblings to enrol male siblings into co-ed schools. 

• Once the children’s names are on the waitlist, it’s a good idea to be in touch with the school over the years, but don’t hassle them and don’t be annoying.

Q10. Why isn’t the wait list process more transparent?

There’s a good reason schools are vague about wait list times and if they are able to offer a place.  The reason is circumstances change all the time.  There may be hundreds of kids on the wait list, but when they come to offer, they may find that the students have already accepted a place at another school if they are on multiple wait lists.  

So when they are vague, they likely genuinely aren’t sure how many students are on the list and if there will be a place for your child.  Places may also come up in later years if students leave the school and places come up.

If you are interested in learning more about Regent Consulting, please visit their website www.regentconsulting.com.au

* Regent Consulting is a sponsor of Melbourne Schools. Learn more about them here​ 

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