As you begin to think about sending your child to private school you will quickly become aware of at least ten challenges you will face. If you are intrinsically well-organized and able to cope with a major project, tackling all that's involved with getting your child safely off to private school shouldn't be too difficult. There's just a lot to the project. If you find projects daunting, hopefully this short essay will help you focus on the main sections of the process. Let's get started.
1. Deciding whether to send your child for primary grades or high school
I am assuming that you have made the decision to send your child to private school. We have several articles on Private School Review which explain the differences between private and public education. If you still need help making that decision, then read those first. Then circle back and pick up with this first challenge.
There are two schools of thought on whether you should send your child to primary grades or high school. One line of thinking is that your child needs a solid foundation in core skills such as reading and math, for example. That's why proponents of that approach are so adamant that you should send your child in the early, formative years. The other school of thought touts the idea that a solid college preparatory education in the high school years is important. The thinking is that an intensive preparation for college level studies will help your child get into a good college or university, perhaps even a top tier college or university.
Personally, if you can afford it, you should send your child to private school right through from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade. Perhaps not to the same school all the way through. You could, for example, start with a Montessori school through sixth grade. Then a day school through eigth or ninth grade. Finish up with boarding school for grades ten through twelve.
2. Convincing your high school aged child to go to private school
The secret here is to make her think this is her idea. It cannot be anything which you thought up. You can certainly support her decision once she has actually made that decision. If you ignore my advice, you will probably end up with a very miserable teenager.
I know that you know what is best for your child. You can certainly get away with that kind of unilateral thinking and approach while she is very young. But I strongly counsel against employing that approach with a pre-teen or teenager. The idea of going away to private school has to be her idea. Start well ahead of time with general discussions about high school and where it can lead. Listen carefully to her needs, concerns and wants. You will come to a common ground after a while. It will be worth it because she will embrace the idea and make it hers.
3. Deciding which school is the right one
Many people think this is the most daunting part of getting into private school. In fact it is rather fun and so much easier these days because just about everything you need to know about a school is online. So poke around, explore and begin to refine your requirements. You will end up with 10-12 schools which more or less fit the bill. Whittle that down to 3-5 schools. Still not sure which ones will work best? Hire an educational consultant. There's nothing like an expert to save time. Her advice will be well worth her fee.
Involve your child in this part of the process. Remember that going to private school must be her idea.
4. Deciding whether to go to boarding school or day school
The answer to this question has a lot to do with your lifestyle. If you or another adult cannot be home at the end of a school day to supervise homework and after school activities, then perhaps boarding school is the best option for you. If you live within a short drive of a day school - 5 miles or less - then day school might well be a viable option. Much depends on where you live. If you are in a large city with reliable public transportation, day school makes sense. However, if you have to make two trips to school every day through heavy traffic, you might want to reconsider either the day school you are thinking of or reconsider the boarding school option.
Having raised four children I can honestly say that the after school supervision was always my biggest concern. We were the kind of parents who wanted to be within earshot. And we never let our teenagers ride with another teenage driver. Review the supervision issue carefully. Perhaps boarding school is ultimately your best option.
5. Getting in
Assuming that you have been realistic in selecting schools which your child has a reasonable chance of getting into, then this part of the process simply is time-consuming. There are school visits, interviews, admissions tests and applications to get through within a rather compact time-frame of approximately four to six months. This video explains what you need to know about private school admissions.
That is why it is so important not to leave all of these tasks until the last minute. Try to schedule school visits over the summer or in the early fall. Admissions testing usually takes place in late November -early December. Then you have until January 31 to submit your application in most cases.
6. Planning school visits
Visits to boarding schools require careful planning. So begin that process as soon as you can. It's always a good idea to use the summer and early fall for visiting schools. Schools are very busy in November and December. Be considerate. Peter Baron of AdmissionsQuest offers practical advice for the interview part of your visits.
Day schools typically will schedule open houses with group tours. You will the opportunity to explore the possibilities, ask questions and meet the admissions staff.
7. Preparing for the admissions testing
Like planning school visits, preparing your child for admissions testing is something which you will want to begin as far in advance as you can. Buy the practice tests. Have her work one or two. If she needs help with something, you will at least have a few months in which to get that done. Hire a tutor. This video gives you an overview of how to prepare for the SSAT.
Finally, a couple of weeks before the test have her work a practice test under test conditions. No distractions. No interruptions. No smartphone or tablet. She must work to the clock. Simulating the test conditions will help her conquer test day nerves. She will take a deep breath and do her best.
8. Meeting the application deadlines
Once again, this part of the process has been made a lot easier because you can do most of your applications online. But don't let that lull you into thinking that you can submit your application at the last minute. Have your applications ready to review and submit no later than the second week of January for schools with January 31 deadlines. Submit applications to schools with rolling admissions deadlines as soon as you have completed them.
If you require financial aid, it is vitally important that you submit your Parents Financial Statement and supporting documentation together with your completed application as soon as you can. Do not miss the deadlines.
9. Paying for it
Yes, I saved the best - or worst depending on your perspective - to the last. If you need financial aid, then file your PFS as soon as you can. Financial aid pools are always limited. Don't miss any deadlines if you need to be considered for financial aid. Work tuition payments and the sundries into your budget. Keep things current. This video introduces us to financial aid in private schools and how it works.
You have several options including free schools. If you have been posted overseas, most large international companies will include schooling for children of expatriate employees as part of your package. Also, several dozen private schools over free or greatly reduced tuition for families with incomes below certain thresholds. Always ask about financial aid if you feel you need help.
10. Being involved with your child's school
If your child will be attending day school, you will have plenty of opportunities to be involved with her school. Be supportive and do as much as you can to help out. If your child is heading off to boarding school, your options are somewhat restricted. At the very least plan to attend parents' weekends especially if you do not have to travel very far.
The idea behind offering this list of ten challenges which you will face is to help you organize the process of choosing a private school for your child. Major projects like choosing a school can be intimidating. There are so many things to do, so many forms to fill out and appointments to arrange. When you take this major project apart and realize that it has ten parts to it, hopefully it will be a little less daunting. Good luck!