The most important caution which I or any private school consultant will give you is a very simple one: start the process as far in advance as you possibly can. At least 18 months before the fall of the year you plan your child to attend her new school. If you are forced to find a school at the last minute, it can be done. Not easy but it can be done. You will feel much less stressed when you give yourself as much lead time as you can.
This is fun because all you have to do is look at web sites. Look at as many as you want to. If you prefer requesting DVD's and catalogs, that's fine. It won't slow you down too much. Tip: only request catalogs from schools which really interest you.
There are a large variety of options even for preschools. The options multiply considerably if you are thinking about boarding school. Day schools will be confined to what is within a drivable distance from your residence. That will restrict your options to 5-10 schools in most cases, more in major urban areas, of course.
How do you identify schools? By going to their web sites which you can find elsewhere on this site. The important thing for you to do is to look at everything out there. Then begin to narrow the field by deciding what is or is not important to you. For example. let's say you want to send your child to a Montessori school. Those are day schools. So you will be limited to Montessori schools within driving distance of your residence. There may be a great Montessori three towns away but that's just not practical to travel to on a daily basis as a rule. Or perhaps you want your child to receive her education in a faith-based school. Again, your choices will narrow considerably once you put those filters in place.
This is the part of the process where you narrow the field. Say, for example, you identified 20 schools which interest you. Now you must determine which of those schools you have identified meets your requirements and trim the list from 20 down to 3-5 schools. That's a manageable number to visit and evaluate before you apply. To accomplish this part of the process, you need to review several criteria. Make a list of the schools you identified earlier and then put the answers next to each school. Then ask yourself the following questions.
Does the school's programs and educational philosophy match your requirements?
For example, if you are looking at a college prep school, is the academic program strong?
Where do its graduates go to college? If you have aspirations of sending your child to an Ivy League school, you'd better make sure that the schools you are considering send some of their graduates to those top universities.
Are the extracurricular and sports programs a good match with what your child needs?
If your child plays hockey, then scope out the hockey program and make sure it offers the depth and breadth of experience and ice time your son needs.
Does the teaching style suit your child's requirements?
Courses in an academic course catalog tell you what is being taught. They do not tell you how it will be taught. Make sure that you observe a class or two if possible. Essentially you will probably want to decide if the activities and discussions allow your child the freedom to explore and move at her own pace or will she have to do everything in lock step with the rest of her classmates.
Evaluating schools is most likely going to be the most time consuming part of the process of finding the right private school. Wny? Because you have to allot precious hours - even days - to visiting the schools on your short list and meeting with the admissions staff. That's another reason why you need to start the search process well in advance. Visiting schools in your local area will be less time consuming. Traveling to see a boarding school or two is entirely another matter.
Use our checklists to help you organize your observations and findings. While private schools are unique, there are certain aspects such as curriculum and extracurricular activities which can be compared. Your thoughts and comments written down at the time of each school visit will be invaluable as you make your final decision.
You will probably begin your applications in October and put the finishing touches on them by the end of December. The important thing to remember in this part of the process is meeting all the deadlines. The application deadline is a fixed target in most cases. Getting the teacher recommendations and transcript requests into the right hands by the end of October is another must.
There it is. IDEA sums up the private school search process. If, after reviewing what's involved, you feel like throwing up your hands, don't panic. You can always hire a professional consultant to help and guide you through the process. This will be invaluable assistance when it comes to finding the right boarding school for your child.