The Admission Process, a conversation with Jennifer Meyers, Director of Admission

Recently, Content Writer John Holt sat down with Director of Admission Jennifer Meyers to discuss our Admission process, changes in Admission since COVID, rewards from the work and more. Meyers has served in her role since 2014 and also currently is President of the Independent Schools Admission Association of Dallas.  

Q: Can you give me an overview of our admission process?
A: Our admission process is linked in with our consortium schools. There are currently 16 schools participating in our consortium. We’re all under the governing body of NAIS, and we’re all ISAS (Independent Schools Admission of the Southwest) accredited schools. As members, we agree on similar dates for application deadlines and when decision letters will be sent, typically the Friday before spring break. 

The application process typically begins with interested families coming to Good Shepherd to take a look. We schedule prospective parent visits and tours to show them around Good Shepherd. We want to give them the opportunity to see the school in action, so to speak. They visit classrooms in the division they're interested in and have the opportunity to ask questions of our Division Heads. They hear from me about the process, the testing and all those pieces that go along with it. We also offer an annual Open House for all members of the family, including the prospective students.  Often, families familiar with Good Shepherd will reach out to us via email or a phone call, not necessarily needing a tour or visit to the school. Once they’ve decided to apply, they will fill out an online application and pull together the application pieces that are specific to the grade they are applying. All students will have the opportunity to come to campus whether it is for testing for our younger applicants or a school visit for our older applicants.  

This is our second year of having a digital application, and we are really excited about this change. It has made the process so much easier on our end and also for our applicant families. This is huge for us. Having the application online encourages people to apply because it is much more streamlined. 

Q: Can you talk about the yearly admission process timeline?
A: For people who are new to private schools, you really want to start looking the year before you’re looking for entry, usually the process begins in August or September. All of our applicants right now are for the 2022 - 2023 school year.

Q: What would you say is the most unique aspect of the admission process at Good Shepherd?  
A: I think probably the most unique thing we offer is during our early childhood testing sessions. We have observation days for those students where they come to campus for testing. Our Pre-K team and Kindergarten teams meet all of the students applying to Good Shepherd. That’s pretty true for all of the schools. We all like to see those kids who potentially will be on our campus. We want to make sure it’s a good fit academically, socially, behaviorally; overall, a “Good Shepherd” kind of student. During that testing time, parents have to wait. Because of the age of the students, we like to keep parents on campus because sometimes those little ones have a hard time being away from their parents. 

My first experience with admission was with my own children, and I learned from this process to use the time while children were testing to speak to parents about our school and to answer questions. At Good Shepherd, we have current parents offer some insights about the school. The parent conversation is what it’s about. Getting that kind of insider perspective of what it is like being a parent at Good Shepherd. We usually have 2 - 3 current parents speak. We always like to have parents who have had children who have been through that grade level. It’s something informative (to prospective parents) and a piece I don’t think other schools are doing - at least they weren’t doing it when I first came.

Q: What has changed in admission since you arrived at Good Shepherd?
A: With admission specifically, obviously COVID has changed everything. I think pretty much everyone, no matter your job, is going to say there were really some great takeaways from it and some things I think we do a lot smarter now. We’ve streamlined our process. Moving applications to digital was a huge change for us. 

Also, we have found some creative ways to meet and do the observation pieces for students who are coming from out of town. We now make better use of technology for student interviews and also for testing by using zoom and video recordings. I think that’s a good thing. We always have that as a fallback for a family that’s not able to get to us during the testing season. Now, we have some kind of standard to say, well since you can’t be here in-person, here’s something you can do in place of that, in lieu of that.

Q: What do you believe families enjoy most about our admission process?
A: Families appreciate the informative nature of the process. One of the things I always hear from prospective families is that everyone on our faculty and staff is so warm and welcoming. When we have visitors on campus, they see and feel that the warmth and welcoming nature is just part of the fabric of Good Shepherd. It’s just part of the tapestry that is Good Shepherd, it is who we are. Families applying to Good Shepherd feel welcomed here and they feel it is a place they can see their children growing and being happy. I hear “happy” used quite often to describe Good Shepherd. 

Q: What’s an area the Admission Team is still trying to improve?
A: One of the things we are always trying to improve is once we have families here, helping them continue to hang onto the same sense of feeling welcomed, they belong here, and this is the right place for their child. They don’t need to keep exploring their options. 

Attrition to a degree is something we always keep an eye on. But it is also more than that. It really is just making sure Good Shepherd is the best fit and that families are happy with their decision. 

I wouldn't say it’s an improvement to work on, but you can’t do this work without having the support from the whole administrative team and faculty. Admission is really everyone’s job in an independent school. In particular, the Division Heads are key. They play such a large role in the admission process. They are the ones working with our families once we finish the application process. There is a really tight relationship between the two, and we are fortunate our division heads are extremely supportive of admission at Good Shepherd.  

Q: How did your team have to adapt during the pandemic? Is there anything you have learned during the pandemic you will continue to use moving forward?
A: Big picture - adaptability, flexibility, I think that’s something we all learned. You just have to pivot and be okay with that. Looking a little bit more deeply, definitely some of the testing pieces we do have changed. We have some alternative ways of getting information from our students when we are not able to see them in-person on testing days. We’re doing it through videos now or Zooming interviews with students. While it’s still not quite the same, it’s more information than we would have had pre-COVID, and that is really nice to have.

Q: What’s something you would like an outsider to know about working in school admission?
A: There are a couple of things. Knowing the admission process really begins one year prior to when you want your child to be entering school is key. A big misconception around admission in particular is people get really hung up on the number of spots you have available. Truly, you should not let that hinder you from applying somewhere. If you hear some place only has two spots, well maybe it is for a grade they don’t have a tremendous amount of applicants. This is  usually true for Good Shepherd in our grades from 2nd - 4th grade. We generally do not have as many applicants as we do at some of our other key entry points. People will hear there are two spots available and think ‘oh my goodness! That’s it-we’re not getting into this school.’ But the other side of it is that you have to think of it like a party, and when you’re inviting people to a party or a wedding, for example, you’re always going to send more invitations than you know guests will actually attend. We’re not just sending two acceptance letters out when we have two spots available. We’re looking at several factors. We’re weighing how likely students are to attend Good Shepherd. All of those things will depend on how many acceptances we’ll send out.

Along those lines, it’s also good for families to know that there are always openings at grade levels considered an entry point. For Good Shepherd the entry points are PreK, Kindergarten, and then at division breaks, 1st and 5th. 

Q: What is the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?
A: The most challenging part is definitely meeting our goals for the year. It seems like there are some years where one school in the area will be overflowing with students who have accepted their offer. This means other schools might be struggling a little bit with trying to meet their admission goals. Some years are more challenging than others in meeting the goal of having a full school. We are always looking for fit, and that is something you will hear from every admission director. It is about families asking the following questions:
Can I see my family here? 
Does this feel like the place where I can be involved as a parent? 
Will my child become involved as a student ? 
Do I agree with the school mission statement?
Do the school’s values align with my family values?

Is this school a good fit? On the other side, we, as admission officers are really looking for a similar fit in our applicants. Back to the challenge, we want to make sure we find families who are the right fit, because we always want students to succeed and become their best selves as they grow throughout their time at Good Shepherd. 

As far as the things I find most rewarding and things I love about this job, I love working with the families. I’ve met some really incredible, lovely people. I enjoy meeting families I believe will be strong supporters and partner with Good Shepherd. Each of our families is unique and brings different gifts to our community, and it’s so rewarding when a family can see their child and themselves as part of our community. While everyone is enjoying their Spring Break, the admission officers are watching so closely to see who is accepting their offers and who is declining to go elsewhere. It is so fantastic when you find a family you know is going to be a great fit and they accept your offer. That is really rewarding because you know you’ve done your job in showcasing the school.
    
Q: Why should a family consider sending their child to Good Shepherd?
A: I’m biased. This is where I sent my children. I know the stellar education they get, the strong academics. But, it’s so much more than the academics. There are so many pieces here. COE (Classroom of the Earth) is definitely a unique program we offer. I’ve worked at several different Independent Schools and there is no other school in Dallas doing an outdoor education program the way Good Shepherd does an outdoor education program. I just really think the program feeds into other aspects of a child and their academics. We all know our Good Shepherd families, and I love that about Good Shepherd. Even if you don’t know a name, you recognize those families. You know they are a Good Shepherd family. I think that’s something to say about the community here. The school has a really strong and vibrant and welcoming community overall. 

Q: When a family accepts, do you try to connect them with a current family?
A: Once a family has accepted our offer, we do some kind of welcome for our new students. It looked very different during COVID. In the past, we hosted an Ice Cream social in early April. With COVID, we shifted our mindset a little bit about the timing of the event, and we will be moving the event to late April/early May this year. We’re hoping it will be an in-person gathering where new families have the opportunity to meet faculty, staff and other new families.
We also assign Shepherd families to students new in grades Kinder-8th. The Shepherd family is there to answer questions and give all the “behind-the-scenes” information.
 
Q: How many new students enroll at Good Shepherd every year?   
A: It really depends on the number of strong applicants and spots available. We always have 48 available spots in PreK, and 8 spots going into Kinder, and obviously our hope is to fill those spots.  We’ve had a record number of applicants this year. I think probably coming off COVID and the way public schools have handled the pandemic, more families are interested in private schools.
 
Q: Is attrition a factor in the number of openings you have each year?
A: Yes. Particularly in grades where we’re full, we will only have space available based on any attrition.
 
Q: What is the acceptance rate you target each year?
A: It changes from year-to-year. Again, depending on the number of applicants and also depending on the number of spots we have available. It also depends on the grade.  The acceptance rate is our offers out. The students who come here are students who accept the offer. Not everyone we accept takes us up on the offer. 

Q: How can families learn more about our application process?   
A: Typically what families are doing before they even reach out to us is Googling and asking friends and family members about Good Shepherd. If you know people within our community, I always think it is the first and best place to go because you’re going to get a good sense of what the community is like at Good Shepherd. Find out from your friends and neighbors and family members what they like about the school. Our website is fantastic. There’s so much information to be found on the website and it is the best place to start. The website guides you through the application process. The vast majority of people who apply to Good Shepherd we never hear from individually. They just go directly to the website to complete the application process online. Parents may come on campus for Open House and/or tours, but the admission office doesn’t necessarily get a phone call or email asking for assistance. We are, of course, here and happy to answer any questions or offer assistance to anyone who needs or would like.