We Get 8th Graders Accepted to Private High Schools

2021 High School Admissions & Test Prep Program Classes for HSPT ISEE SSAT and SHSAT Are Filling! Entering 8th Graders Start the Week of September 1st and meet once per week. Classes Start at 5:30pm with schedule options for every day of the week until they fill.

Top 10 Admissions Mistakes Parents Make

There is a lot of mystery around how high school admissions directors work.  Misunderstandings lead to a lot of heartache when rejection letters go out and otherwise qualified students are dinged and rejected due to avoidable mistakes.  Over the years, we’ve seen a clear pattern of fallacies that lead parents to these frustrating results:

“My daughter has good grades, so she just needs a good test score to get in.”

There are 6 areas in the admissions process that determine if a student will be accepted or rejected by admissions directors.  Each has its own weight of importance:

  • 25% HSPT / SSAT / ISEE / SHSAT Score
  • 20% Grades
  • 20% Essays
  • 15% Extracurriculars
  • 10% Letters of Recommendation
  • 10% Interviews

A great test score and good grades are not enough.  We hear from parents every year who want help applying as sophomore transfers who were rejected because they failed to craft their application considering the importance of the other areas of impact in the admissions process.

“She’s a good test taker. So she just needs to brush up on a few concepts and take the exam.”

Most 8th graders are not in a regular practice of taking timed exams.  In fact, over the years, teacher performance is increasingly tied to testing outcomes. Teachers now give students ever more time to take tests, even using multiple days to complete them.  Students are often encouraged by teachers to reconsider their answers and take more time, “You know the answer to that.” 

Entrance exams are different. They are timed. Some test sections only allow 16 seconds per question while others require brisk reading. Our course is designed to equip students with the tips and tricks needed to be accurate and also efficient, leaving them with plenty of time to review answers.

“My son has average grades, so he’ll never get accepted.”

These are the 6 areas of the admissions process and the weighting of their importance in getting accepted or rejected. Grades are only part of the equation:

  • 25% HSPT / SSAT / ISEE Score
  • 20% Grades
  • 20% Essays
  • 15% Extracurriculars
  • 10% Letters of Recommendation
  • 10% Interviews

Every year we work with students who have challenging grades.  A solid test score, coupled with focus on the other areas of impact, have gotten the vast majority of our students acceptances into top high schools.

“My son has the perfect extracurricular profile for this school.”

Extracurriculars are misunderstood by nearly all parents.  They assume some extracurriculars are great when they aren’t and those smaller ones aren’t as important as they are.  Admissions counselors and committees are looking for a certain profile of student and it varies depending on school.  In our Admissions Consultation, we review with you all your student's extracurriculars that we will focus on and where there are opportunities, give you guidance on which ones to work on in the summer and during 8th grade.  Make no mistake, extracurriculars are a critical aspect to fitting the right profile of students that get admitted or rejected.

“We don’t have legacy at that school so we don’t have a chance.” OR “We have legacy at the school so my son is a shoe-in.”

Having legacy at a school is a definite advantage when it’s a parent or grandparent.  Aunts, uncles and cousins are less impactful.  We don’t include it in our areas of admissions because it’s not something that can be worked on.  You either have legacy or you don’t.  If you do, as long as you address the other areas of admissions (test score, essays, etc), you have increased odds of acceptance. 

However, about 80% of our students do not have legacy at the schools they are applying.  Meaning that the application they present is of more importance because they are competing with more students for fewer admissions spaces due to legacy admits.  We excel at getting the most competitive profile for each student by focusing on the whole student and comprehensive support of all areas of the admissions process.  That's how we get results.

“He’s a good writer so the essays should be no problem.”

There is perhaps no more underestimated part of the admissions process than the essays. Many mistakes in both grammar and content are made by parents and students alike. Great essays are a huge signal and weigh heavily in the admissions process. Average to poor essays often mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. We focus on strong essays and it’s one of the reasons why we get more acceptances than just taking a test prep class.

“Getting waitlisted is a waiting game.”

Most parents make the mistake of being passive while on the waitlist.  We have a very proactive approach that gets traction on the waitlist.  That said, much will depend on how competitive the year is for admissions.  Much like university admissions, the advent of online admissions applications has increased the applicant pool in most years which makes it more competitive.

“My daughter is only applying to one school.”

This time in life is about exploring opportunities.  We advocate for applying to a minimum of 3 schools even if your family is decided on 1 school already. The reason is that every year we see shifts in thinking by students and parents as they start to go to school open houses and complete their shadowing days.  Many times, we student and parent opinions can change after meeting students and faculty of schools.  Even if you find out that your top choice hasn’t changed, you feel more confident and assured that you’re making the right choice and that brings peace of mind to this large investment of money and 4 years time.

“Interviews are just a formality and we just need to attend.”

An interview will not put your application over the edge in most cases.  But it can add to the overall impact of an application and can be a difference-maker for a waitlisted student.  We focus on giving explicit instruction and training to parents and students on how to ace the interview.

“My son/daughter was admitted last year so my 2nd child will get accepted easily.”

It can be the case that having a child already attending the school will give a family an advantage in admissions.  However, the first student needs to be in good standing and hopefully the relationship between the school and parents has been a good one.  If that is the case, then the sibling applying just needs to do well on their admissions file.  The reason we see the same families come back to Gallagher Prep for all their children is because our program works to ensure students get accepted.

How Our Program Generates Thousands of Acceptances

Our program addresses all the criteria admissions directors review for acceptance.  By comprehensively improving each area, we get much better results than programs just focusing on test prep.

  • 32 Hours of Live Class Instruction--More Than Any Other Course

  • 3 Full Length Practice Tests

  • Essay Instruction--We Teach How to Approach The Essays, Then Essays Are Reveiwed for Content and Grammatical Correctness

  • Students Grouped by Ability Level So They're Learning at a Pace That Encourages Motivation & Confidence

  • Proprietary Curriculum Developed From Over 30 years of Learnings

  • Extracurricular Consultation--Choose ECs for 8th Grade & Which Ones to Exclude

  • In-Class Time to Complete Homework Teacher So Kids Aren’t Burdened Homework

  • Interview Guidance on Best Practices and Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Waitlist Plan of Attack

  • Make-Ups Are Easy--Classes Are Recorded for Make-Ups & to Review of Key Concepts From Class


  • 30+ Years of Experience in High School Admissions & Test Prep

  • Thousands of Students Accepted to Private High Schools

  • Largest High School Admissions Program--Not Just Test Prep

  • Highest Achievement on the HSPT / SSAT / ISEE / SHSAT with Many Students Scoring in the 99th Percentile Nationally

  • Lowest Average Class Size of 5 for Lots of Individual Attention

  • Students Grouped by Ability Level Increasing Motivation & Confidence

Easy Process:

  • STEP 1: Schedule

    The cost is FREE and includes a Diagnostic Exam and a half-hour Admissions Consultation with our Program Director that will cover:

    • Review Diagnostic Exam Results
    • Gather Family and Child Admissions Application Profile
    • Review Schools 
    • Extracurriculars (ECs) Consultation 
    • Letters of Recommendation Ideas

    *Please be sure to pick a date that will give your son/daughter time to complete our practice test before your scheduled consultation.

  • Step 2: Diagnostic Exam

    After you schedule a date for your consultation, you’ll receive an emailed link to the diagnostic exam for your son/daughter to take. It will take approximately 1 hour to complete.

  • Step 3: Admissions Consultation

    During the Admissions Consultation, we will review all the above and determine if there are any deficiencies to shore up before taking the fall program. If we decide your child is a good fit for the Fall Program, we’ll review scheduling options with you (until classes are filled, we have schedules for every day of the week) and you’ll be invited to enroll.


Frequently Asked Questions


We are the only program that offers a 100% money-back guarantee! If in the first month of the program you feel like it's not the right fit, we will refund your money in full.  No questions asked!  We're able to do this because it happens so rarely and is nearly always because a student needs 1-on-1 tutoring which we can provide if needed.

More importantly, we guarantee your child will reach their maximum admissions potential from our program by focusing on test prep, essays, interviews, extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation.

Our comprehensive admissions program has gotten thousands more students admitted into private high schools than test prep study courses which offer no guarantees.

High-quality test prep courses focusing on the test alone cost between $2-3k (often more for private tutoring) but they offer fewer hours, larger class sizes, only cover test prep and lack guidance on interviews, essays, extracurriculars and letters of recommendation.  Acceptance results are mixed at best.  The same can be said of the $400 online self-study courses.  Our program costs:

  • FREE   - Diagnostic Exam and Admissions Consultation
  • $400 - Registration Fee + 3 Full-Length Practice Exams
  • $250/mth - Early Enroll Tuition for 4 months ($325/mth after June 1) includes:
    • 32 Hrs Live Test Prep Instruction
    • 3 Full-length Practice Tests
    • Essay Writing
    • Interview Prep
    • Extracurricular Guidance
    • Letters of Recommendation Guidance

Most test prep courses cost between $400-$3500 but are only doing test prep. Our comprehensive approach is understanding that no one wants just a good test score. Parents and students want acceptances to the best private high schools. Each year we hear from families who just took a test prep course and were rejected even with a good score and good grades. These kinds of mistakes are easily avoidable. Our program takes a comprehensive approach that works on the interview, essays, test prep, extracurriculars and letters of recommendation. That’s how we get more acceptances than any prep course.

Our program is for parents who understand that they are going to pay thousands of dollars to a private school over the next 4 years and they want to have the most options available for them to compare by getting as many acceptances as possible and then deciding on the school that is the best fit after attending open houses and school shadowing days.

No. We will do our best to open another section of class once the day and time you want fills up but that is not always possible. The best way to ensure you get the day and time you need is to enroll early before summer.

Yes. Our Early Enrollment discount before June 1 is discounted $200. Early enrollments help us avoid an influx of last-minute enrollments we have to turn away because we don’t have enough instructors. Enrolling early allows us to plan our hiring and training of instructors over the summer so we turn away as few students as possible and are able to keep our class sizes low.

We also offer a $50 dollar discount for each student who signs up based on your referral.  Every year we have parents significantly reduce the cost of the program by becoming a Gallagher Prep Champion at their school and referring multiple students.

All our classes are taught via Zoom with a low average class size of 5 so the instructor see the students at all times and makes sure they are engaged and participating.

Over the years, as our program became more and more popular, and private schools became more competitive, we became inundated with families who just wanted a free exam and a few pointers. Luckily there are more free online resources for test prep than ever before.

We work with families that are looking for a comprehensive approach to the admissions process rather than just a test prep course of tips and tricks (although we have a few of those too;) These parents recognize that they will be investing tens of thousands of dollars in their child’s education and want to unlock the best options by getting the most acceptances they can. These families are looking for the security and comprehensive advantage in the admissions process which unfortunately is not as straightforward as it should be. Although we get great results, we can’t guarantee admission, but we can guarantee to give your student the best chance. That all starts with the Admissions Consultation and getting the right ECs.

We do it because we’re very concerned about results and acceptances. Kids starting the Fall program with deficiencies that we uncover in the diagnostic exam will be at a disadvantage and quickly fall behind and become discouraged. To remedy this, we implemented the summer program to remedy deficiencies and put students in a position to succeed. About 15% of students will attend our summer program to get ramped up for the Fall.

No. Best practice in test prep is to prep right up until you take the exam. A student who does prep months before taking the exam really isn’t going to score as well as they would if they would prep right up until they take the course. Unfortunately, like any other skill, we forget if we’re not in the material consistently right up until we take the test.

We do not handle sophomore admissions because the process is less competitive and varies widely by school. What we find is that, depending on the school, often it is easier to transfer in as a sophomore and schools will use your previous test score when you re-apply. The reason is that each year, students will leave and there are openings for students to transfer in. While it’s easier to get in as a sophomore in general, it’s less desirable because students have already made friends as freshman and leaving a freshman class to a new school can be challenging.

Unfortunately, we do not offer sibling discounts because our costs are the same for each student.

We do not offer scholarships. That said, having a good application to the schools will ensure your best possibility at getting a merit or needs-based scholarship through the schools you’re applying to.

We regularly have students score in 99th percentile nationally because our proprietary test prep curriculum is the best and we offer more hours of instruction with the lowest class size of any program.  Our test prep truly is exceptional for these reasons.

However, the reason we are better than other elite programs is that they don't handle the essays, interviews, ECs or letters of recommendation.  By working on all of these critical areas together, we get far and away more acceptances than any other program.

A lot of these free classes offered by schools are just focused on test prep largely and the courses are far too short and often taught from an off-the-shelf-book. Our course is 39 hours of live instruction and practice plus 3 full-length practice tests. Then we also focus on the other elements of admissions: interviews, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation and essays.

All of our classes are recorded for students to review the class they missed and complete the work.

We focus on more than just the test. We focus on every aspect of the admissions process.

Much like choosing which college to attend, being able to choose which high school to attend is an opportunity. Attending with friends is great but it’s also a bigger decision than that. Which school has extracurriculars that are going to develop your student into a more competitive college applicant? Which school has the right overall social fit? What about the commute? We encourage families to explore all the options so at the end, even if the student decides to stay in their same school, they feel confident that they explored all the options available and they feel excited at the school they will be attending. At the end of the day, that is the peace of mind we get to with families. Compare that to other families we hear from every year who got rejected because they didn’t really prepare and weren’t able to create the opportunities.

We realize that kids are already burdened with lots of homework. So during the last hour of class, kids work on homework and get it completed before the end of the class. They’re able to ask questions just like a student would if they were staying after class with the teacher to ask questions and get work completed. That way, parents and students aren’t worried about getting the homework completed during the week.

It depends on the learning difference. Every year we do work with students who are allotted extra time on the exam. However, this must be negotiated with the school/testing center where you will be taking the exam and documentation is required before the test. If your student has a professional diagnosis following your state guidelines make sure and check that diagnosis falls within a valid window of time. Many schools want a diagnosis within the last 18 months but it depends on the school. So a diagnosis recieved in the 6th grade may not work to get extra time. We advise all parents to start looking into this at the time of the admissions conference.

Yes! The key is having low-class sizes where the teacher has a view of every student at all times and can engage them and make sure they participate. Our class sizes average 5 so our teachers can really work with the students and make sure they are engaged during each class and get individual attention.

Yes. We work with students from all 50 states.

Yes. Each year we see students applying internationally to private schools in the US who take our courses.

What Parents Have to Say




Our founder, Deirdre Gallagher, grew up in Castleisland, Ireland, in a very Catholic household. One day at the Irish Embassy, after embarking on her university studies in Madrid, “By fate, I happened to be sitting right next to Bing Crosby.” Bing's three children, who traveled with him for work, needed a teacher. She had all the qualifications he wanted and wondered if she wanted to come to America to teach his kids. 

She taught the Crosby children, in their Bay Area, California home, until she met her future husband and fellow Irishman. A year later, she was married and began a family in the Bay Area, getting all 5 of her children admitted to competitive private high schools.

She began teaching test prep to her children's friends and quickly got a reputation for being very good at teaching and preparing 8th graders for high school entrance exams, helping with their essays, and getting kids accepted into the best private high schools.

In 1990, she formally launched Gallagher Prep. Her business and comprehensive method quickly took off in the Bay Area

Over the last 30 years, she honed her proprietary curriculum and comprehensive system, which over three decades has helped thousands of students achieve top scores and admittance into the most prestigious and competitive private schools. Today, as President Emeritus, she continues to be the inspiration behind the vision, quality, and success of the program as it continues to grow online throughout the United States.