Guide to the High School Admissions Process

A – First Things First (your month-by-month guide)


  1. Start to identify schools that meet your criteria. Consider the following when developing your initial list of schools:
    • Jewish philosophical orientation;
    • Size of the school and classes;
    • Location (urban, suburban, etc. – ease of commute)
    • Athletics, arts, special programs, and co-curricular offerings;
  1. Contact schools of interest and request an application packet. Don’t forget to register for each school’s open house.
  2. Attend the open houses! Come prepared with questions. Sample questions can be found in Section G of this document.
    • Prepare recommendation requests for administrators and teachers;
    • Brainstorm topics/answers for essays or questions in high school applications
    • Request a phone call/meeting to discuss options with Andrew Katz, Director of Academic Affairs (public and/or non-sectarian independent schools) or Rabbi Fred Elias, Middle School Principal and School Rabbi (Jewish schools); please contact Lynda Tortorello ( to schedule that appointment.


  1. Begin writing and editing essays, as necessary. Our Language & Literature faculty will be available to work with each student.
  2. Send Transcript Release and Recommendation forms to Lynda Tortorello in the Middle School Office. She will log and distribute accordingly.
  3. Submit applications to the schools of your choice.
  4. Set up visitation days at schools.
  5. Once you’ve set your visitation day, email Lynda to inform her so she can set-up your child’s “mock interview” with either Mr. Katz or Rabbi Elias.


B – Admissions Testing

The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) – Conservative, Independent, and private schools (i.e., Golda Och Academy, The Abraham Heschel High School, and Dwight-Englewood) require the ISEE.   Registration (including testing fee) is online only.  Please visit for further information.

Please Note:
  SSDS will offer a preparation in mathematics course to 8th grade students this fall.  (This course is recommended for students planning to take the ISEE, or Bergen County Academies test.)

Jewish Studies Achievement Test (JSAT) – Orthodox schools such as The Frisch School, The Ramaz School, SAR Academy, Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, each require prospective students to take the two-part JSAT Exam.  If you have not done so, it is important to email Lynda as soon as possible if your child is interested in one of these schools.  Registration is done through SSDS. There is a $50 fee for the test and the test-practice book.   

C – Enrollment in Public Schools and/or Bergen County Academies (BCA)

For Bergen County public high schools, please contact the high school’s Guidance Department for the particular requirements, and request to be placed on the mailing list for “Orientation Day” and other related events.  Some students may choose to apply to the Bergen County Academies, a public magnet high school; Mr. Katz is available to review this unique admissions process with any interested SSDS MS student.

D – The Essay

High schools usually require a writing sample in the form of an essay or in a response to a question or prompt in the application. We encourage students to seek faculty support to help prepare their individual essays. During that consultation, the student and faculty member will brainstorm topics and the appropriate tone of our students’ essays. Our experience has been that most students need to work through three to four rewrites before their essay is ready for submission.  

Please Note:  Neither our administrators nor our faculty will write or rewrite your child’s essay; we ask the same of you. High school admissions directors are savvy enough to know when they are reading a parent’s essay; they want to be able to read and evaluate the independent work of your child in order to make an informed acceptance decision.

E – Faculty Recommendations

All private schools and certain public schools require teacher/faculty recommendations. Blank recommendation forms may be found online or in your admissions packet.

  1. Identify the faculty members (i.e., English, Math, Science, Foreign Language, Judaic Studies) the high school requires for recommendations and are best suited to write a recommendation for your child.
  2. Fill in your personal information and return all hard copy recommendations for processing to Lynda Tortorello in the Middle School Office. Please do not give forms directly to teachers or administrators; all forms need to be first logged to ensure proper handling and deadline requirements are met.
    If the high school to which you are applying has a completely online application, including requests for transcripts and recommendations, please be sure to email Lynda Tortorello at to provide her with the details of the recommendation requests, so that the same procedure can be followed and we can ensure proper handling and deadline requirements are met.
  3. After completion, recommendations along with transcripts will be forwarded directly to the selected schools.

Note: Recommendations and transcripts will not be sent without a signed “Transcript Release Form” for each school to which you are applying. Please bring this signed form along with all your recommendation requests to the Middle School Office.

All high school deadline dates are different.  Please make sure you carefully read the school’s requirements. (i.e, application due date for parent section/student section, transcript and recommendation due dates, etc.)

F – The Interview

To help your child prepare for his or her high school interviews, we will conduct mock-interviews and discuss the importance of a personal interview.  This includes advising students about body language, maintaining eye contact, projecting a positive attitude, response style, and wearing appropriate attire.  Students are asked to think about the qualities that make them unique and to highlight them in their essays and interviews.  They should include information regarding their volunteer histories and participation in extra-curricular activities. Please email Lynda to ensure that we have the date of your child’s interview.

G – Questions to consider when visiting schools/open houses

  • How does the school look, feel and sound to you?
  • How do the teachers interact with the students?
  • Are the teachers and other faculty accessible to the students?
  • Do the students seem happy, interested, and engaged in activity?
  • What impressions do you get from the student work displays?
  • Do you feel comfortable in the school’s atmosphere (e.g., large/small, formal/informal, competitive/non-competitive, etc.)?
  • What extra-curricular activities are offered?
  • Where do their graduates continue their educations?
  • What do you notice in the areas of the school that they don’t immediately take you to on the tour?