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School Searches: Planning, Process, and Serendipity

By Camille M. Bertram

We are just days away from March 10, the annual date when boarding schools announce acceptances. Every year families eagerly await this day, anticipating the excitement of new adventures and bright futures. The day also carries a bit of apprehension, as very few candidates are accepted by every school to which they apply. These moments illustrate how school searches help students build resilience and life skills. This process is a chance for students to gain self-awareness, confirm values, rebound after setbacks, and celebrate accomplishments. 

Last week Holly Treat wrote a column about how increased demand for independent schools has led to record-breaking numbers of applications this year. While it is gratifying to see day and boarding schools be recognized and valued for their remarkable work, we understand that some families may worry about what a more competitive landscape means for their child. Given the widely reported increase in college applications this year, college applicants and their parents may have similar concerns. For those launching school searches now, be aware that admissions officers expect these trends to continue for the next few years. Nonetheless, take heart! In the three decades since I began doing this work, I can say with confidence that wonderful opportunities await every student who fully engages in their education and planning their future.

At The Bertram Group, our work with students—whether for high school or college—focuses on identifying schools that are an excellent fit for students. We are fortunate that our candidates and families understand and value this approach. Within this context, we of course support students in including a “dream school” on their list. We also motivate students to reflect deeply on what inspires this choice, to look for desirable qualities in other schools, and to develop a well-rounded list of schools that offer the perfect match. Alongside this effort, we encourage students to be open to serendipity because sometimes we encounter important gifts from unexpected directions. Because school searches occur during times of tremendous developmental growth, we often see students change their minds about what is their “dream school.” Young adults gain a significant amount of maturity by setting goals and proactively working toward them. They find confidence in knowing that they have put their best foot forward. They also build perspective when evaluating the resulting possibilities. What is most important about any school is what students make of their opportunities once they enroll. 

Everything about this past year has reinforced the importance of thinking holistically, of trusting the process, and of embracing both the challenges and blessings of life. For students who are making decisions this spring about their next schools, we are excited to hear your news. For those planning farther out, we recommend starting by honing in on the authentic interests that are unique to you.

With the release of Holly’s article last week, we have launched our spring newsletter series and will continue to keep you up to date on developments in boarding school and college admissions, as well as in the field of therapeutic educational options. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.


Cammie Bertram, Founder and President of The Bertram Group, is highly respected within the educational community for her dedication to helping families accomplish their educational goals. She has more than twenty-five years of experience assisting students through both traditional and therapeutic advising at junior, secondary school, and college levels. She can be reached at