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    What Is the Standard Application Online (SAO)?

    By Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Reviewed by Cari Shultz

    Cari Schultz is an Educational Review Board Advisor at Scholarships360, where she reviews content featured on the site. For over 20 years, Cari has worked in college admissions (Baldwin Wallace University, The Ohio State University, University of Kentucky) and as a college counselor (Columbus School for Girls).

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: May 2nd, 2024
    What Is the Standard Application Online (SAO)?

    The Standard Application Online, or SAO as it is commonly known, makes applying for private K-12 schools a “one-stop shopping experience” for parents and students. If you plan to apply to private school(s), keep reading to learn why you might consider using the SAO. We’ll also go over the steps involved in setting up an account all the way through sending in applications. Let’s get started! 

    What is the SAO? 

    The Standard Application Online (SAO) is accepted at over 400 top private schools in the United States. The SAO removes one of the barriers of applying to private schools by simplifying the application process. According to data compiled by, the SAO saves K-12 private school applicants time and effort–14 hours on average to be exact! Through the SAO dashboard, families compile their information, essays, transcripts, and recommendations on the SAO dashboard and then submit them to school(s) that accept the SAO. 

    Pros of the SAO


    Using the SAO is a simplified  process because all necessary information and documents are submitted through the SAO dashboard. Once an account is created, applying to schools is a straightforward  process. 

    Time efficient

    Applicants submit one completed application to multiple schools. This includes writing one essay in the completed application that goes to the multiple schools.

    User support

    The SAO application website has a full-time customer support center to help support families as they use the application. The customer support can be contacted via phone, live chat, and email. 

    Ease of use

    The SAO is a cloud based application that operates in real time. Therefore, it allows schools and families to access information anywhere. 

    How use the SAO to apply to private schools

    1. Enter profile information

    The first step to using the SAO is to create an account. The initial setup asks for a wide range of profile and student interest information. This step of the process is quite tedious, but it will make applying to schools faster in the long run.

    2. Use the SAO private school search

    Unfortunately, not every private school accepts the SAO. Therefore, using the SAO private school search feature will allow you to identify which schools accept the SAO. In addition, you can choose to filter your search by location, day or boarding, grade levels, religion, and other criteria  in order to find schools that best fit the student’s needs.

    3. Demonstrate your interest in particular schools

    Once users determine which private schools are the best fit, those specific schools can be alerted through the SAO. While adding schools to your dashboard, select the checkbox to demonstrate your interest in the particular private school. This will notify that school’s admissions team and will open a direct line of communication with that particular school. This step ensures hearing about any additional admissions requirements, as well as upcoming open houses. 

    4. Write and submit the SAO essay

    As mentioned, with the SAO, you only need to write one essay for submission to multiple schools. Parents have the option to review their students’ essays directly through the SAO before the student submits it.

    How much time will I really save with the SAO? 

    The amount of time saved depends on how many applications you submit! One reasonable estimate for how long it takes to complete one application is:

    • Profile and demographic information = 15 minutes
    • Recommendation requests + checking the status of the recommendation= 1 hour
    • Transcript requests = 15 minutes
    • Admission assessment scores = 15 minutes
    • Essay = 3 hours
    • Organizing and understanding the schools process = 1 hour

    Overall, that is around six hours of work for one application! Therefore, if you can apply to multiple schools for the same amount of time, you could be saving hours of your day. 

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • The Standard Application Online (SAO) is an online application that simplifies the private school application process 
    • The SAO standardizes all necessary documentation in one dashboard 
    • The SAO saves time in the private school application process
    • Around 400 schools accept the SAO, however not all private schools do 

    Additional resources

    Deciding where to send your child for K-12 can be a daunting process. Whether you are deciding between public and private or considering charter, Montessori, parochial, or magnet options, there is a lot to consider. Luckily, we can help you through the process.

    To maximize your options for schools to send your child, check out our guides for acing the SSAT and ISEE. And for parents considering a private education who are low on funds, be sure to check out our guide to finding scholarships for private K12 schools. Good luck in your K12 admissions process, and remember, it’s never too soon to apply for “free money” scholarships!

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    Frequently asked questions about the SAO 

    How many schools use the SAO?

    The SAO or Standard Application Online is accepted at over 400 independent schools. Therefore, be sure to double check for a school’s participation either through the SAO or with the school directly.

    Does the SAO charge a fee to use it?

    Yes, the SAO charges $10 per application. Families that receive an application fee waiver from the school will not incur a charge. To see if you are eligible for an SAO fee waiver, contact the particular school to which the student is applying. Each school has their own eligibility and policies, so some schools may not offer an SAO fee waiver.

    When does the school receive an application through the SAO?

    The school receives your application as soon as you submit your profile and school application fees. Once that process is complete, the school will have all completed or submitted required components of the SAO (such as test scores, essays, recommendations, etc.). After, any new forms you submit will arrive in real time through the applicant’s portal.

    Is a refund offered if a mistake is made in an application or accidentally submitted?

    Applications through the SAO are delivered to schools in real time. Therefore, there is a 24 hour refund policy for applications that may have been submitted by accident or are missing critical information. Once an application is refunded, that particular school will no longer receive any updates on that application.

    Can siblings share an SAO account?

    Unfortunately, the answer is no. If there is more than one child in a family, they each need to have their own separate SAO account.

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