Time to hunt for a high school!

For most government schools, applications for Grade 8 the following year are due by March. I know: you’re trying to get over the shock of this while simultaneously wondering how to navigate the application process. Fear not.

Here are a few tips from a mom currently in the throes of this stressful procedure:

- If you were uber-proactive and moved close to your high school of choice as soon as your pregnancy was confirmed, congratulations! The high school closest to your home is obliged to take your child. This is known as the geographic catchment area and is defined as “the geographic area within which the school is the nearest to the home when the distance is measured along a public road by the shortest route.” For you, the application will be a relative breeze. Be sure to get your application in early, though, because state schools try hard to keep their class numbers down. If your application is number 31 of 30 places, you might have to go to Plan B.

- If, like me, you’d rather dig your eyes out with a spoon than send your child to the place they call a school in your area, the road will be a little bumpier. Word is that for some schools, there can be up to 600 applications for just 100 places. At the first parent-educator meeting of the year, we heard horror stories of families who, thinking their child would get into the school of their choice, applied to only one school. They were rejected and one week into the new school year, they were begging for a place anywhere. Best advice, then? Apply to as many schools as you can.

- Beware, though, of application fees. During my investigations, I’ve come across application fees as low as R50-R100 and as high as R7000. Some of these fees are refundable or get put towards the first term’s fees. Some you’ll never see again.

- Before applying, consider whether you would be able to afford the fees over 5 years, given inflation and the standard annual increases on fees. Some schools might seem affordable if you cut back on this or that, but remember to factor in extra murals and other hidden costs.

- Most high schools have open days, when you get to tour the school and hear principal sell his institution to you. Many schools offer downloads of application forms on their web site, but the value of being at the open day is that you can pick up application forms and find out a bit more about what’s expected during the application process. Some schools ask for confidential letters from the principal of the current school, others ask for certified copies of all documents, while still others ask for a DNA sample and a lock of hair… I’m only slightly exaggerating.

- You’ll begin to wish you were more organised right about now. Some schools require you to prove that your child is an academic or sports whizz and will want copies of all the certificates and accolades he has earned throughout his primary school career. Start digging…

- A few schools offer academic, music or sports scholarships. Be on the lookout for that if your child is a prodigy in any of those areas. Beware, though: few scholarships are for 100% of the fees and many will only be for a portion of your child’s high school career. For academic scholarships, some schools require your child to write an exam.

- Don’t forget to discuss the process with your child. After all, your choice in school (single-sex vs. co-ed, for example) may affect his academic performance and general development throughout his crucial teenage years.

- Finally, before letting your application out of your sight, check it and then check it again. An incomplete application form is anathema to a school and you might never hear from them.

Do you have any tips for parents embarking on the high school hunt?
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