What Overseas Parents Need To Know

What Overseas Parents Need To Know
If you live outside the United States, choosing an American private school can be a confusing process. Here is an overview of the process.
If you live abroad and are thinking about sending your child to an American boarding school, you need to be aware of several things.
1. The U.S. has many private schools.
First of all, like everything else in the U.S., the sheer number of private K-12 schools in the United States is positively overwhelming. There are over 29,000 private schools. See Private Schools: A Brief Portrait for an overview of the private school scene.
In North America “public” denotes a school which receives funding from the federal, state and/or local authorities. Private schools, on the other hand, are generally supported almost exclusively by their own resources: tuition fees, fund-raising campaigns and endowments. They do not, as a rule, accept any form of state funding. To do so would jeopardize their independence. Also, “college” in North America generally denotes a tertiary or university level institution.
2. Freedom of choice is a cherished feature of private education.
Secondly, freedom of choice is at the heart of American private education. Many private schools were founded by groups of parents who want their children to be educated according to certain religious or educational principles. Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Seventh Day Adventist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and Quaker schools are examples of some of the denominations which sponsor schools. Disciples of Maria Montessori and Rudolph Steiner have gone forth and multiplied. Montessori and Waldorf schools can be found in most communities.

Private schools further subdivide along residential or boarding and non-residential or day school lines. You will find boarding schools for grades 9-12 and junior boarding schools for grades 1-9.
Day schools generally split into three broad categories:

  • primary/elementary grades or PK-6
  • middle/junior grades or grades 6-9
  • high school or grades 9-12 or 13                  
Grade 13 is what is known as a PG or post graduate year. Many schools offer PK (Pre-kindergarten) through grade 8 and then pass their graduates on to a high school which handles grades 9-12. These high schools in the private school jargon are known as prep schools or college preparatory schools.
3. A school for every need             
All of these schools come in a variety of flavors to suit your needs. There are boys' schools, girls' schools, military schools, choir schools, alternative schools, special needs schools, sports schools, schools for the arts and, fittingly, international schools. In short, if you can imagine a school, the American K-12 education industry probably has it to offer.

Within these various categories you will find a wide range of educational philosophies and teaching styles. That's why it is very important for you to actually visit the school if at all possible. Make sure that the school's way of doing things and what it teaches meshes with your requirements.

4. Finding the right school        
By now you probably are wondering how you will ever identify schools which will work for your particular needs. If you plan to be in the States for just a few years, an international or British school is probably the best choice for your teenage children. British schools offer preparation for the British school leaving examinations.  Slightly less in number are the French and German schools. They tend to be found in major metropolitan areas which attract a substantial expat community.

Another possibility is to enroll your children at a school which offers the International Baccalaureate program. The IB is accepted universally and is held in very high regard. If you have young children, you will have no trouble finding a good school as the options are wide and varied with uniformly high standards. Montessori schools can be found just about everywhere in the U.S. although you need to make certain that the school you are checking out is actually a genuine Montessori school.  Waldorf and Reggio Emilia schools round out the early education offerings available.

5. Seeking expert advice.      
The key to finding the right school is to hire an educational consultant.  American private schools are not ranked objectively by any regulatory authority. What constitutes a good school is largely a product of your own personal expectations and requirements. For example, if your child has the potential to get into Harvard or Cambridge, you need to find a school with solid academics and a proven track record of placing its graduates in top tier universities. If your son has a learning disability, there will be a school which can help him remediate that disability. How do you determine which school meets your criteria? An educational consultant has the knowledge and experience you need to make sense of it all. This is the single most important recommendation I can make for any parent anywhere looking for a private school. It is money well spent.

Remember: finding the right school means a happy, successful child. Truly, nothing is more important than your child's happiness.

Additional Resources [+]
Changing Schools and Moving to New Area
Changing Schools and Moving to New Area
Do Ranks Matter?
Do Ranks Matter?
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