In 2000 choosing a private school was at a crossroads. Back then you had the traditional ways of finding schools and finding out more about them. You asked around. Personal recommendations from family and friends were an important starting point. Indeed they still are. Then you contacted schools you knew about and requested a catalog or brochures. You could also buy a print directory of private schools, if indeed one was available. (I still have a vintage copy of The New York Times Guide to New York City Schools written by Grace and Fred Hechinger published in 1968.) And you could always hire an educational consultant. Researching schools was fairly labor intensive. It also took time.
It is remarkable how all that has changed in just a few short years. First schools adopted web sites as their primary means of reaching families world-wide. The transition from the printed materials to the digital media took time as there was a certain amount of worry about whether or not the web would reach families. As we adopted the web for just about all our day-to-day activities such as banking and shopping, looking for private schools on the web just made great sense. It is so easy and convenient.
Word of mouth
|Finding out more about schools
Call the schools
Knowing what to look for and where to look
I think that the toughest part about finding anything on the web is filtering out all the useless and/or irrelevant information. With respect to private schools you will save huge amounts of time by beginning your search on sites like Private School Review and Boarding School Review. The search tools are robust and you have an array of filters to refine your searches. For example, if you are only interested in schools within 50 miles of zip code 27615, you can set the search parameters accordingly. Then if you are looking for schools with PK through 6th grade, you can add that additional filter. And so on. In a matter of minutes you have a list of schools which match that initial search.
The next step is to visit the school web sites. Most schools have very informative web sites. They want you to know what they teach and how they teach. Those are the basics which matter to us parents after all. We have spent years teaching our children at home. It is a perfectly reasonable expectation to want to find a school which will build on that foundation which we have built.
Using Social Media
Facebook and Twitter allow you and me to see yet another side of private school life. Games, concerts, theater, fund-raisers and all the other accouterments of private school are at your fingertips when you 'Like' or 'Follow' a school. Once you 'like' a school you will receive anything the school posts via the news feeds on your page.
Some schools have figured out how to use social media effectively. But many have not. I always recommend searching for the school's YouTube channel. That channel will contain the story which the school wants you to see and hear. As I noted earlier, some channels will offer a comprehensive view of the school, its campus and community. Use this information as you do all other information which you gather about schools, as a starting point in your development of a short list of schools. For example, if you are looking for schools with a natatorium for your child who aspires to be a top swimmer, the channel will probably offer a glimpse of those kinds of features simply because they are distinctive. Don't forget to subscribe to the channels of schools you intend to review later or plan to include on your short list.
Generally speaking I avoid videos posted by folks who are not part of the school administration. In many cases they will have an ax or two to grind. They are entitled to their opinion. Just don't let it prevent you from seeing the school for yourself. Always visit schools and ask questions which play to your interests and requirements.
Social media will keep you connected after you have chosen a school too. Reviewing your child's school's news feeds and its web site regularly will keep you in the loop efficiently. For busy parents that saves time and money.
Using an Educational Consultant
The one constant in the process of choosing a private school over the years is that it is still a good idea to ask an educational consultant for help. I realize that it costs money. But it really is worth it. We approached searching for private schools back in the days before the Internet existed by trying to do everything ourselves. We thought we were pretty savvy. We knew what we wanted. What we had not come to grips with was the idea that our child and the school had to match. We were looking for certain criteria. But so were the schools on our short list. And they weren't necessarily the same criteria we had in mind. The next time we embarked on the school search process we ponied up the fees for the educational consultant. His sage, experienced advice produced good results.
Just as you wouldn't make any other major decisions without professional advice, it makes sense to ask a professional to help you find the right school for your child. The last thing you want is an unhappy child. An educational consultant knows her schools. She can ask questions you can't ask or perhaps haven't even thought of.
A consultant can save you time and money by preventing you from visiting and applying to schools which your child simply doesn't stand a chance of getting into. You may have had your hopes set on school X until your consultant reminds you that a transcript with several B's in math and English and average test scores will not be competitive. She will explain why it is better to concentrate your efforts on visiting one school which is a bit of a reach, one school which is a fairly sure thing and a safe school. As long as each school is a good fit for your needs and requirements, does it matter if it is extremely competitive? A consultant's expertise can save you time and money.
Finding the right school is a process with many moving parts. Use the resources available to you on the web. Use them wisely always looking for the features and requirements which are at the top of your list. Then consider engaging an educational consultant. Your child's happiness is at stake. It will be money well-spent.
Have questions? Ned help? You can reach me on Twitter @privateschl