Making The All Important New School Choice

The month of January is generally regarded the best time to start the application process at schools in Dubai. For first time parents, it can be a taxing task, so here’s a guide on some of the things that can make the admission process simpler and easier for everyone. We got industry experts on board to answer some of the top questions that everyone deals with as they embark on a new journey into the education system: 

How Early Should Parents Start The Admission Process?

With over 200 private schools in Dubai, it is recommended that parents should start considering options 12 to 18 months in advance. It will give them enough time to do research, shortlist three to five top schools of their choice and enrol as soon as the selected schools open their registration process.

Victoria Lumby, Vice President Enrolments at GEMS Education says, “Schools open admission for the following academic year one year in advance, usually in the month of September. Parents need not worry, with many GEMS Education schools in the UAE, we make the process as easy as possible, and do not have deadlines for when parents should complete the process. Admission for new students is ongoing all year round. “

Sharleen Samuelson, Head of Admissions and Enrolment at Raha International School says, “Each school has a separate calendar and applying early will better your chances of getting a place at your first choice school. Be aware of the opening dates and put a reminder in your calendar.”

Lisa Whyte, Head of Admissions at Arcadia School says , “It’s recommended to start the research for a new school 12 months in advance. Make your shortlist from your investigation of schools, no more than 4 schools should be chosen from your essential checklist that should include, the curriculum you are wanting, location of the school and the right price.”

Hibah Halwani, Admissions Manager At Jumeira Baccalaureate School (JBS) says, “Depending on when the parents feel their child is ready, they can start the admissions process. The average age of a student starting school in the UAE is 3 to 4 years old. School availability is also something parents need to consider especially with the constant changing economy. We recommend parents start the admissions process in January for a September start.”

Should Parents Apply In Multiple Schools?

While it is always good to have a back up option ready if you are not able to secure a spot in the school topping on your priority list, it is a must to take into consideration that each application comes with certain fees and requires students to sit down for an assessment. Therefore, it is advisable to not apply to more than three or four schools to save parents from financial burden and children from emotional burden.

Asia Minervini, Admissions Manager at Dwight School Dubai says, “I would encourage parents to tour up to five schools, but only apply to their top three. Kindly note, that most schools require an application fee and an assessment, it would not be advised to subject your child to more than three assessments.”

Yasmin Fiederle, Registrar at Sunmarke School says, “Parents often apply to more than one school in case they are not accepted to their first-choice school however, this can be costly in time and registration fees. We aim to be the school of choice and as we have 2 schools currently available in our group, should we not have space available in one school we will always try and offer a seat, if a similar year group is available, at the alternate school giving more options to our parents.”

Tim Richardson, Principal at Raffles International School says, “I would recommend identifying your first choice and calling the registrar and asking for frank and honest guidance about the likelihood of admission. Most schools charge an application fee which is non-refundable and will probably require some kind of admission assessment or interview. Financially, this can be expensive and, more importantly, emotionally may be unsettling for your child repeatedly doing ‘tests’ at different schools. Ideally, children should be part of your selection process and are likely to settle much better if you and they have chosen a school together.”

What Are The Major Things To Keep In Mind Before Starting The Process?

Before you start the application process, it is advisable to prepare a checklist of documents that you may require to attach with the application form. It will save parents time as well as make the process simpler. 

Tim Richardson of Raffles International School says, “Most schools in Dubai require a small number of key documents in order to finalise admissions. While Dubai school admissions offices are generally open throughout the summer break, not all schools maintain an admin staff on call in July and August, so make sure you have your child’s transfer certificate, previous year’s school reports, immunisation records and any other documentation listed in the new school’s admissions requirements before the summer starts, if you can. This makes the whole process much simpler and therefore quicker.”

Yasmin Fiederle of Sunmarke School says, “Depending on the location the child is arriving from, correctly attested documentation, subject to year group requirement, is essential, this is especially important if coming from overseas and entering Year 3 and above.”

Before you start the application process, it is important to learn to not take rejection personally.

Hibah Halwani of JBS says, “It is essential for parents to remember that the admissions process is, in many cases, not done to determine whether a student will be accepted or not to a school, but instead carried out to evaluate the student's readiness for school as well as helping the school to identify any learning needs they may have. We find that the admissions process helps to prepare everyone, students, family and the school, for a smoother transition and to help offer any required learning support resources whether at school or at home.”

What Are The General Timelines For The Admission Process?

In general, the admissions process takes 3 to 5 days, primary admissions are generally quicker than secondary where there may be subject options to review with an academic counsellor before joining classes. Asia Minervini of Dwight School Dubai says, “Exact registration dates for a given academic year vary from school to school, however most schools open for admission 12 months in advance. If you can, try to secure your seat by January, as many schools will fill up quickly in specific grades that are more in demand.”

Yasmin Fiederle of Sunmarke School says, “Once an application is submitted we aim to complete the admissions process within 2 weeks if the student is available for the entry assessment. Timings will vary depending on whether it is an immediate admission request or for a later term or year. Typically most parents apply between 3 and 12 months ahead of the admission date. We aim to send an offer to a successful candidate with 4 days of taking the entry assessment.”

What Is The Policy With Regards Fees Paid And Transfer To Another School?

The KHDA sets out a framework for school transfers and this is followed by all Dubai Schools. This policy is available on request.

Victoria Lumby of GEMS Education says, “The refund of fees is in line with the school regulators such as KHDA. However, with the number of GEMS Education schools that we have, families who want to move often do so within the network, and therefore we support to make this process seamless. In cases where this happens, we will transfer the fees between our schools to ensure that our parents are not out of pocket.” Sharleen Samuelson of Raha International School says, “It is important to ask for the written refund policy before paying if you are still holding out for availability in another school. For families that move overseas, schools should be more understanding of the circumstances and you may be able to get even a very late refund.”

Suggestions By Industry Experts

Hibah Halwani of JBS says, "Parents should not stress about the admissions process and should involve the children in the process. At JBS, we advise that once the parents make a decision on their final school choices to take the child to the school to show them the campus and allow them to interact with people in school. This will help parents make a decision that they are confident with.”

Sharleen Samuelson of Raha International School says, “Remember that you are not just choosing a school for your child, but a community for your family to be a part of. Find one where you and your child will feel safe and happy.”

Yasmin Fiederle Of Sunmarke School says, “If coming from overseas and English is not your first language please prepare your children by finding good English Language Programs even a short course can build your child's confidence when entering a new school and curriculum.” 

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