Before You Spend $30k on Private School...

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Before You Spend $30k on Private School...
Before you spend $30,000 or more on a year at private school for your child, you need to ask five questions and be guided by the answers you receive.
Before you spend $30,000 or more on a year at private school for your child, you need to ask five questions and be guided by the answers you receive:

1.  Does it get the results you want?
2.  Does what the school teaches jibe with your requirements?
3.  Will your child be happy there?
4.  Is the school financially stable?
5.  How will you pay for it?

There is a bit more to the process, of course, but asking these five questions will get you started on the extensive due diligence which you must do before you spend approximately $150,000 for four years of private day school or approximately $200,000 for four years of boarding school. Tuitions vary. Some are much less. Some a great deal more. We are
discussing high school and middle school too. The primary grades will run you $8,000 - $15,000 depending on the school.

Remember: private schools in the United States are not subsidized by government funding. So they will charge whatever the market forces and their budgets determine can and needs to be charged. Having said that, be aware that most private schools offer financial aid programs, some of which will pay for everything provided you are able to meet their family income thresholds. Always ask about financial aid.

Scoping out private schools is very much like buying a house or renting an apartment. There are many emotional factors which most certainly influence your final choice of a home. But you also are savvy enough to do your due diligence simply because you are investing so much money. Same with a private school. Your gut will tell you which one is right for your child.  But do your research carefully.

1.  Does it get the results you want?
What kind of results are you looking for? Start with where the school's graduates matriculate or go on to. If you feel that your child must attend an Ivy League college, the school you are looking at should send a large number of its graduates to the Ivies or similar top tier colleges. If that doesn't matter to you - and I am not saying it should - look at the list of college acceptances carefully. Ask yourself if those are the kinds of colleges you had in mind for your child.

Are you looking for specialty subjects and activities such as the arts, robotics, crew, riding and so on? Then inspect those programs and subject offerings thoroughly before committing.

2.  Does what the school teaches jibe with your requirements?
There are about as many educational philosophies in the private school as there are private schools. Wny is there not more homogeneity? Simply because that's the whole point of private schools. Each one is unique.  There are dozens of nuances and variations even within schools affiliated with affinity and religious groups. Is progressive education what you really want? Or do you want the well-defined and highly structured programs which are Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate curricula? The choice is yours. But be sure to explore the curriculum and the way it is taught. Assume nothing.

3.  Will your child be happy there?
This is certainly the ultimate goal of selecting the right private school for your child. You do not want a miserable child on your hands. On the other hand, you must realize that there will be a short period of adjustment while she gets used to her new friends, her new teachers. If the school has a summer session, you might consider sending her to one so that
the school miraculously becomes her school and it's her idea to go there in the first place.

4.  Is the school financially stable?
For many parents this is a tough question to ask  But it is important to know the financial condition of any institution to which you plan to send your child. It's kind of like buying a condo only to discover three months after purchase that the reserves are insufficient to pay for a much-needed new roof.  The last thing you want to face is an unexpected tuition increase or surcharge or worse. Prudent management of a school's resources will manifest itself in little things such as the general appearance of the grounds and facilities. Skimping on maintenance only delays the inevitable.

Not for profit private schools have to file a tax return. These Form 990s, as they are called, are available online. Peruse the last few years returns or better yet have your accountant peruse them and alert you to any red flags. He will most certainly be able to spot them.

5.  How will you pay for it?
Not every child who attends private school comes from a family with annual earnings north of $500,000. Furthermore, private schools proactively seek to diversify their student body as much as they can. Therefore, if you believe in the concept and spirit of private education but feel that you cannot afford to pay all or any of the expenses, ask the school about
financial aid. This is a question which you must not put off until the end of the process. Be forthright and honest when you meet with school admissions staff. They have the answers. And those answers may surprise you.

 


Additional Resources [+]
What Do Schools Say About Ranking?
What Do Schools Say About Ranking?
From a Parent's Perspective: Is Accreditation Necessary?
From a Parent's Perspective: Is Accreditation Necessary?
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EVALUATING SCHOOLS

Here you will find resources and tools to aid in your search and evaluation of private schools. Explore the ranking system and read what schools have to say about it. Learn more about the most important questions to ask and how an education consultant can get answers. Use our checklists to help compare school administration, curriculum and more.