It’s not uncommon for parents to pay non-refundable application fees ranging from HKD 300 to HKD 4,000 without any guarantee of a place, at least in the immediate future. If parents choose to apply to multiple schools to help increase their chances of securing a place, this can be a costly exercise.
So, to avoid paying a ‘wasted’ application fee, parents need to contact schools directly for availability information for specific year groups; it’s important to gather as much information as possible. If not, parents could be applying for a school place, unaware if their child will be on a waitlist of tens or hundreds.
Kellett School says: “Check on availability/waitlists for the applicable year groups via the Admissions Office; arrange a school tour where possible; and ensure all relevant and up to date information is sent with the application.”
Very few schools post their availability online – and we encourage all schools to update this information on their review page on whichschooladvisor.com/Hongkong. ESF, however, does list vacancies for each year group at all of its schools on its website.
A spokesperson for ESF explains the application process for its schools, saying: “Parents may only submit one online application per child with their selected preference of schools. Parents may choose up to three selected schools: the ESF school of zone, and/or two all-through schools (Discovery College and/or Renaissance College).
"If a parent chooses the ESF school of zone as a selected school, there will be an additional option available for parents to select an alternative ESF out of zone school. The application fee per applicant is HKD 2,000.
“If a student meets the entry requirements for the school and there are no immediate places available, the student will remain on waiting list. Only when a place becomes available, the admissions office of the school will contact the parents for admissions assessment.”
Most schools will keep an application ‘on file’ until places become available; so, in other words, that application fee is buying your right to sit on the waitlist. Once again, this policy varies by school. For example, after paying the application fee for an ESF school, you will be placed on the waitlist and invited to reapply the following year without having to pay the application fee gain. Kellett asks families to pay HKD 100 to stay on the waiting list for the following academic year, while CDNIS offers a discounted application fee of HKD 1,000 to reapply.
According to the 2019 International School Admissions Industry Report, less than half of schools worldwide operate at least a small waitlist in one or more grades. Due to a rapid growth in expat numbers, there has always been an undersupply of international school places in Hong Kong. But this is changing. With the opening of more than five schools in the past five years, and with three new schools opening in 2020, waitlists are getting shorter. Yes, places at many top-tier, ESF and well-established schools are still in short supply, but classrooms at some of the newer schools are yet to be filled.