The admissions director of an exclusive, $56,000-per-year private school in NYC explains exactly what it takes for students from pre-K to high school to get accepted

Katie Warren/Business InsiderAvenues is a highly selective school.

Avenues: The World School is a private school in New York City for nursery through 12th grade that costs $US56,400 per year.

Parents of Avenues children range from hedge-fund managers and entrepreneurs to tech millionaires and celebrities. Suri Cruise, the daughter of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, reportedly attended the school. Students are given MacBooks and iPads, take yoga and dance classes, and graduate fluent in either Mandarin or Spanish.

Read more: Inside an exclusive, $US56,000-a-year NYC private school, where hedge-fund managers and tech millionaires send their kids and every student gets a MacBook and an iPad

Unsurprisingly, the school is highly selective. David Buckwald, the school’s admissions director, said that while Avenues doesn’t publicize its admissions rate, the school receives many more applications than it can accept.

So what exactly does it take to get accepted at this ultra-exclusive school?

Buckwald told Business Insider that although Avenues looks at various qualities in a candidate, there’s one key quality that can help a student stand out.

David Buckwald AvenuesAvenuesDavid Buckwald is the admissions director at Avenues.

“I think a student’s curiosity is the key differentiator in our application review,” Buckwald said.

Each prospective student must submit an online application with a $US100 fee, and the rest of the admissions process at Avenues varies by grade level.

For younger children, Avenues conducts supervised playgroups to assess early literacy and maths skills and social behaviour.

In the Early Learning Center (nursery, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten) and first grade, children are evaluated through supervised playgroups.

“With kindergarten and grade one, you are starting to assess a little bit of early literacy, early maths skills,” Buckwald said, adding that they try to create an environment that’s as relaxed as possible for both the student and the parents.

“And then within the playgroups, we’re seeing how students, for one, play with the different activities set up in the room,” he said. “How do they play supervised, unsupervised? How do they play with other students?”

Avenues nycKatie Warren/Business InsiderNursery through first grade applicants are evaluated in small playgroups.

The admissions team also pays attention to how a child follows directions from a teacher and how well they make transitions.

In grades two through four, students must demonstrate grade-level proficiency in either Spanish or Mandarin.

Because children in these grades take half their classes in a foreign language, foreign language skills are crucial.

Children at this level will be assessed one-on-one in English and also in either Spanish or Chinese.

Starting in second grade, all applicants will take a standardised test: theISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam). For grades two through four, the test version is the ISEE Primary.

In the middle grades, students perform “design challenges.”

For grades five through eight, Avenues does things a little differently. The school used to conduct student conversations with applicants at this age but has now moved towards what Buckwald calls “design challenges.”

Students are paired with another applicant at the same level and given a challenge to build an object – usually an object for their partner – in about 60 minutes.

“So first, they’re going to interview their partner on what kind of thing they want,” Buckwald said. “So let’s say it’s a backpack or a purse or a wallet, or they’re building a skyscraper. What would you want yours to look like? They’re sort of taking in the cues of their partner.”

Avenues nycKatie Warren/Business InsiderApproximately 1,650 students attend Avenues.

This helps assessors evaluate signs of empathy – “Are they listening to the needs of their partner?” – which Buckwald says is Avenues’ number one learning outcome for students when they graduate.

They’re also looking for creativity, resourcefulness, collaboration, and a willingness to ask questions if the applicant gets stuck.

“So the outcome sometimes is this wonderful new object that they have created for their partner, and sometimes it’s not,” Buckwald said. “But it’s that they went through the process, right? The iterative design process. We learn a lot about the student and if they may be a good fit here.”

Grades five through 12 take either the ISEE or the SSAT. Avenues notes that there’s no minimum test score to be accepted and that students are evaluated based on a range of criteria.

For high school students, the process includes a 20-3o minute student conversation to get a sense of a student’s passions, strengths, and challenges.

For high school candidates, part of the evaluation process at Avenues is a student conversation that lasts between 20 and 30 minutes.

The interviewer will speak first to the student alone, and then to the student’s parents without the student in the room.

“If the parents were in the room, as you can imagine, it might be a different conversation with the student,” Buckwald said. “We also then want the parent to have space as well to share.”

Avenues nycKatie Warren/Business InsiderHigh school students at Avenues take seminar-style classes.

In these conversations, the interviewer tries to get a sense of the student’s academic interests as well as any clubs, sports, or organisations they have a passion for.

Other questions might include how a student worked through a disagreement in a group project. The interviewer will also talk with the student about diversity and try to get the student to discern why diverse perspectives and a range of opinions around them is a good thing, Buckwald said.

Parents are asked to submit a ‘parent statement’ as part of the application.

For all levels, parents can submit their own written statement as part of the application.

“At Avenues, we consider parents as partners in the education of our students,” Avenues’ website reads. “Share anything that you feel will help us better understand your family and your child.”

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