A few weeks ago I posted about how tough the school application process is here in Santiago, Chile.
There’s an under supply of schools and a huge demand from parents, resulting in a scarcity of places. While in some countries a large bank balance will get your pick of the top schools of the country, here in Chile it’s much more complicated.
For any parents going through the application process right now, I thought to round up some top tips I’ve learnt along the way:
Sure, you can check websites, read online interviews, but a better way to get to know the school is to ask around fellow parents. The Facebook group Discover Chile: English Speaking Moms is a useful start, and if you’re considering an international or English bilingual school then the group Chile English K-12 Schools Review is great too.
But don’t be fooled. Parents may have very different views from your own. Don’t believe everything you read online. The best way to get to know the school is to see it in person, but unfortunately many schools won’t offer visits until you’ve applied.
A long list
There are lots of schools in Santiago, but they vary widely in terms of cost, academic standards, level of English tuition, facilities, educational style and values.
There are generally less places available at Pre Kinder level (age four to five), while parents with children already at the school and former pupils of the school will be given preference, so be prepared to hunt around.
We drew up a very, very long list of schools and discarded many one by one after managing to secure visits, after learning about the school and deciding it wasn’t for us or after being rejected.
We are still applying to quite a few however, as places at any school are very rare and as mentioned, the only way to really get to know the school is to see it in person.
In short, keep your net wide until you’re sure to scrub any off the list.
If, like us, you’re looking for a Catholic school, then you’re in luck as many of the best schools (academically speaking) are Catholic. Most international schools are more secular in nature, but Catholic values may still be weaved in. Some Catholic schools espouse their values more directly, while others follow a looser system and it’s up to you to gauge the difference and decide what suits you best when you look round.
There are other religious schools available, such as Jewish, but they are few and far between, so if this is important to you, then be sure to make inquiries before you start your relocation process.
International, bilingual or Spanish?
We chose to focus on Spanish schools rather than international ones.
As I speak to my children in English full time, as we read English stories together, we watch television in English and we speak to family back home in English, we’re not worried about the degree to which English is spoken school.
For us, with Spanish relatives, Spanish is a very important language and my children are already pretty comfortable speaking it.
Depending on your child’s age as well as their ability to adapt to Spanish and a new educational style, it’s up to you to choose the style which suits you best. Be aware, that many schools claiming to be ‘international’ may not be international as you know it. The majority of children may be local and barely speak English, the teachers may be non native speakers who might not hold the same level of English as you, and the educational style might be very different from other international schools your child has attended previously.
Also, don’t assume that if your child is not a native speaker they’ll be ruled out. For example, the German school (Deutsche Schule) in Santiago accepts all nationalities, but the family must prove some connection to Germany or the German language. The same applies for the French and other international schools in the city.
I regret to say that parents of children with special needs or disabilities will be sorely disappointed. Most schools do not have the facilities or teacher training to accommodate children with additional needs (or flat out refuse to). Some, such as the Montessori fare better, but may only accept one child with special needs per class.
One parent mentioned how very blunt and insensitive schools can be towards disabilities.
Another parent explained how he chose not to settle in Chile as their child with autism was not welcome in any of the schools in Santiago. Personally, coming from a school which welcomed all children and looked beyond disabilities to see their inner potential, I find it all very, very sad.
If you’re considering a move to Chile and you have a child with a severe learning issue or disability, I would definitely look into options before the move.
School fees in Santiago don’t come cheap. Sit down, take a deep breath and expect to pay a lot. Hefty school fees do not necessarily guarantee excellent facilities and teaching, so do your research.
In addition to an administration fee, all schools I know of require a one off, non refundable incorporation fee, which can be anywhere from around $5,000 USD up to around $14,000 USD per child. Yes, you heard right. So be prepared to fork out a huge amount, even if you only plan to stay in Santiago a year or two, or be sure to discuss this as part of your expat package.
On top of this come the annual school fees which vary wildly. We decided against an international school for our children, but word on the block is that they do seem to charge the highest fees, with one of the best in town, the Nido de Aguilas charging around $16,000 USD per year. While these are generally much lower than independent schools in the UK be aware that fees can increase hugely as your child ages, so you might want to check the fees for the later stages of school life, if you plan to settle here for the long term.
Most schools are located up in the suburbia hills of Lo Barnechea and La Dehesa, while some are based more centrally in Providencia or Las Condes. Most schools offer school bus rides from an early age (for example five years old) and other private transport solutions are available, but you will still have the traffic to consider. Many parents chose to relocate to Lo Barnechea to ease up the school run. Location may be a factor when drawing up your short list of schools.
You’ll need to keep a close eye on the school websites as some processes open at very short notice and only stay open for a week. Most applications open in mid March, with interviews taking place in April. Some schools, such as The Grange, open earlier, in February. Others, such as the Colegio San Ignacio open later, around August. But dates change from year to year, so be sure to check with the school directly.
Deadlines are deadlines and most schools will not budge. Others say that deadlines are strict, but in fact if you explain that you’ve just moved from abroad then they may be more lenient. A phone call may work better than email.
Some schools are more open to international students and understand that if you’re arriving in August, you’ll have missed the main application process. But that’s still not to say they’ll have spaces available.
Set aside some time
While everyone has recommended that I apply to as many schools as possible, in reality it isn’t so simple. The process is horribly long winded, with online application forms requiring a whole host of information and running up to ten pages in length.
Some online systems will require details that you don’t yet possess, such as your identity number (RUT). If in doubt, just use your passport number. Forms are always in Spanish, even if the school claims to be fully international, so make Google Translate your friend.
Don’t waste time translating your entries into Spanish however, and if you feel more confident in English, stick to English. While the forms are in English, most schools (even non bilingual ones) will accept forms including the application letter, completed in English.
Most forms will require a registration fee of around 20-140,000 Chilean pesos, some asking for online payment, others asking for cash in hand.
The application letter
Most schools will require an additional letter addressed to the head master or rector. This should be a detailed account introducing your child, your family, the way you choose to raise your children, the values that are dear to you, why you have chosen this particular school and what you think both your child and you as parents can bring to the school. As mentioned in my last post, one parent even went so far as to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, but I think this is going a little too far personally!
It’s horrible, but schools will openly ask you whom you know within the school, so if you have any contacts, do not be ashamed to mention them briefly too.
After the initial online registration, if you’re lucky you’ll be contacted for a follow up interview. As detailed in my last post, this will generally include both a formal interview with the parents, as well as an exam alone with the child.
For the parental interview, no questions are off limits, with marital arrangements, religious beliefs, moral values and more all laid bare. Personally I’ve only attended one interview and I went along with the attitude that it was chance for us to interview the school also. The school will most likely want to see how good a fit you are for them, how you will contribute to the school life, your personal values and so forth.
As for the child’s exam, this can be anything from a 30 minute chat with a child psychologist, to a couple of hours drawing and talking about family life, to a full on three day intensive round of role play and other activities.
Please go easy on your kids. I’ve heard nightmares about parents stressing out their kids with preparatory courses and the like. I’ve told my child he has won a very special invitation to a school play date, and he can’t wait.
Don’t take it personally
While many schools do favour international students and especially native English speakers, don’t think that your child’s passport will guarantee him a space.
Preference is given to children with siblings already at the school, to children of former pupils and regrettably often to those with the best contacts. Most schools have a real scarcity of spaces so please, please, please don’t take it personally – your child isn’t a reject, but a superhero and more often than not it’s simply down to a lack of spaces, and is by no means a reflection on you or your child.