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You are wrong! Many don't need to write a check! I know 4 families whose kids were straight A's, full of personality and play 2 sports well and barely pay a dime!!
The admit rate, SSAT percentile rank average and other stats are all available online but beware that they may be self-reported and manipulated to some extent. Colleges do the same for prestige ranking purposes.
As to the SSAT percentile score of your straight A public school kid it is true that a public school kid who ranks in the 90th percentile on national standardized tests may score as low as the 50th percentile in the math and verbal sections of the SSAT. This is partly because the group of kids taking the SSAT is self-selective, but also because the international kids are often years ahead in math and the kids who have attended independent primary schools are often years ahead in both math and language arts. Your 8th grader who is currently taking pre-algebra will compete against 8th graders currently taking pre-calc. Algebra and geometry are on the SSAT upper exam, and the verbal section requires knowledge of terms that your public school star will never have heard. It's a real eye-opener for the parent of a public school kid but they can't really compete in subject matter which they have not yet been taught. The reading comp score seems to be less teachable and your kid from the under-performing public should do fine if he is an avid reader.
As to admissions in general, being an FA applicant is a major handicap. If you are full pay and your kid fits the stats of the school then your chances are probably good unless the kid has a lousy interview and no ECs. If you are an FA applicant then your kid will have to be a real standout. That might be athletically, academically or artistically, and preferably more than one way. Amount of FA required is also important. Although this may lead your kid to a less prestigious school there is an argument to be made that it is better to be in the top 25% anywhere than in the bottom 25% at even the most prestigious school.
Ask yourself if prep is right for your kid and your family. It's big $$$ that will go up every year your kid is enrolled. They say it's need based but the reality is they will try to get every nickel from every family they can. Sure you will see stats that say most kids get aid and the "average" is $x but look at the tuition. Day schools are now in the 40's and boarding 60k. Can you really swing that for four years and then college? And if you think your kid is going to play D1, remember most kids get a 2/4 which on a $60K per year school means your still need $120K to pay for college.
Prep's can be great and worth the investment if your kid is going to maximize everything the school offers. If not, or you are going to jump to USHL or something else half way through, then there might be better options for your money.
Talk to every school you can and ask tough questions. Will he play right away? Many of the big boarding schools won't play freshmen much as they have to play all the PG's paying big bucks. What can you expect to pay? How will that change year to year once he is in the school. Remember that once your kid is enrolled, they have the leverage financially knowing it's unlikely you will take your kid out once he is in.
I'm sure most parents will tell you how great prep is and how much their kid loves it but most have chased it because that's what everyone else's kid was doing. The reality is many have been severely impacted financially and have huge regrets. Again, it all comes back to best fit for the kid and family. You really need to project out and say is my kid going to be that much better off justifying the investment and what is the opportunity cost you are giving up.
OP here - Thanks all for all the input, the pros and cons - very much appreciated. Lots to think about. We have our first campus visit and interview scheduled for tomorrow.
We definitely will look at other schools too over the next couple of weeks. To be frank without a substantial aid package this is not going to happen anyway as I will not put be able to put up 50k annually over the 4 years. so we will see. Apart from that, the fact that interest is there from schools is pretty amazing in itself.
Again thanks, and I will keep you posted.
OP and second responder (11:12) - at what age were you approached by the prep coaches (or after which grade), and was it completely unsolicited? Or did your sons attend a camp or have previous conversations with connected people?
Some coaches get out and scout, few have the time to take in all that much so they leverage tournaments, giving talks to AAA teams that coaches set up for them, or simply emailing coaches for contacts of good players who might be seeking Prep as an option.
Don't get all that giddy or disappointed if your kid has or has not been recruited. It's not college and there are no scholarships. These schools have college like campuses with very small student bodies so they need kids to pay tuition. They have their formulas for the mix of kids that pay full v. get need based aid so if you think a headmaster is going to go before their BOD saying he has blown the FA budget on hockey players to eek out a few more wins your crazy.
I can give you this advice from the few kids I have coached that have gone onto private HS or preps. 99% of the conversations went exactly like this
School/Coach: "would your kid be interested in coming to _________ to play hockey ? "
Parents: "yes, but we cant afford that for high school !"
School/Coach: "well, what do you think you could afford ? "
Parents " Probably around(insert low ball offer here) or we were paying $4000 for private middle school "
School/Coach: "SO you would play for 4k ?"
School/Coach : "He's in"
Parents to each other: "****, we should have said 2k"