Choosing a Private School

This section will provide expert advice, valuable tools, and relevant resources to aid in the decision making process. Learn more about what factors to consider when choosing a private school, what to expect at an open house, and how an educational consultant can help.
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One of the main reasons many of us parents look at private schools is because we want our children to receive a religious education. I define a religious education for the purposes of this article as an education which adheres more or less to the religious beliefs which we hold dear. In other words if you are Roman Catholic, you will want to think seriously about educating your child in a Roman Catholic school.
 
It has been several years since I examined the data on religious schools in the National Center for Education Statistics Private School Universe Survey. This survey covers academic year 2011-2012.  So I was fascinated to see that out of the 30,000 private schools in the United States approximately 21,000 were described as religiously-oriented schools. About 9,000 schools were what we call non-sectarian or not affiliated with any specific religion.  By comparison there were approximately 99,000 public schools in the 2011-2012 academic year. That would mean that private K-12 schools are educating approximately 30% of school-age children.
 
Let's review the 25 religious categories which the Private Universe Survey documents.
 
Roman Catholic: The Roman Catholic Church has always taken its educational mission seriously. As a result about 7,000 K-12 schools educate 1.9 million students. Catholic schools include parochial schools which are largely K-8 schools and diocesan high schools. These schools are mostly organized and administered at the local and regional level. Add to this mix hundreds of schools which were established by the various religious orders - Jesuit, . . .read more
One of the first things a parent says when she speaks to me about private schools is something along the lines of "I want my son to go to such and such a school." When I diplomatically ask why she is interested in that specific school, the answer is usually "because I heard it is a really good school." That is a starting point in determining which school your child should attend. However, there is much more to the process than merely expressing an interest in a school because you heard it was a good one.
 
So, why not you and I work our way through that initial consultation? Hopefully it will help you refine your private school search process. Ideally it will help you find a school which meets your requirements as well as what your child needs to flourish and be happy.
 
What are you really looking for?
 
Understanding what you are really looking for is a critical part of any private school search process. So, start at the beginning and apply a couple of filters. The first filter asks what type of school are you looking for? Day or boarding? With thousands of private schools here in the United States as well as hundreds more in Canada and the United Kingdom, using this filter reduces the number of schools for our consideration rather dramatically.

As this introduction to choosing a private school states, you have to look at a lot of schools before you find the one that's right . . .read more
Many years ago I had no clue what a private school was, much less how to get into one. I can remember one of my public school classmates announcing that he was going to be attending a private school beginning the next academic year. Indeed about three of my classmates ended up going to what is still a prestigious old Montreal private school, Lower Canada College. I also had a few friends who had transferred in from a boarding school in the Eastern Townships. As I learned a little later, they had been asked to leave the school. In any case, I am trying to make the point that you are not the only person who isn't really sure how private schools work, how to get your child in and so on. So let's keep this really simple. You won't get too stressed. You might actually find it enjoyable finding the right private school for your child. 
 
Find!
 
The first step in the process is to find schools which you can explore and investigate as part of your personal due diligence. Sending your child to private school is a major commitment both financially and in terms of your investment of your personal time and energy as a parent. So it is important that we get it right.
 
Fortunately for us just about every private school has some kind of web site. You will find all levels of web sites ranging from embarrassingly amateurish to extremely professional. Don't let a school's web site . . .read more
We busy parents use bucket lists to keep ourselves organized. Honestly, I sometimes wonder how we could keep going without bucket lists. If you are thinking about private school for your chil, some of these items might just be on your bucket list too.
 
Identify 8-10 schools we like.
 
This is one of the fun parts of choosing a private school. Why? Because most private schools offer video tours both on their web sites and on their YouTube channels. While both web sites and videos are obviously edited carefully to make the best possible impression on you, they are terrific for giving you an overview of programs and the school community. Watch as many videos as you can. Review the academic and sports programs in detail. By casting the net a bit widely in the early stages of choosing a school, you can easily eliminate schools from consideration because they lack something you feel is essential for your child's education.
 
 
Visit 3-5 schools this summer and early fall.
 
Summer and early fall are really the best times to visit schools. Summer has its advantages and disadvantages. The major advantage is that school is not in session. That means you can expect to spend some time with the admissions staff who will have more time to allocate to you than, say, in November or December. Application deadlines are the end of January for many private schools. You can imagine the pressure the admissions team will be under as they . . .read more
I can remember those nagging thoughts we had as our children reached the toddler stage. What about pre-school? Where should we send her for kindergarten? What then? We were pretty ordinary middle class parents. We had good jobs. We would have to sacrifice to send our daughters to private school but we felt that the sacrifices would be worth it.
 
Fast forward from then to now or a span of approximately forty years. One daughter is an attorney with her own practice. The other is an academic head-hunter. Both did their undergraduate work in English language and literature. Both earned graduate degrees. I remain convinced that their private school educations gave both children the solid foundation which they needed to tackle progressively more difficult academic work.
 
The journey started with those nagging thoughts that our children deserved the very best possible educations we could give them. Both of us had superb educations at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Our children deserved nothing less. That was our thinking. That thinking drove our decisions about private school over the next fifteen years.
 

 
Here then are the ten things which mattered most to us as made out decisions about private schools. Everything below the first item seemed to move up or down depending on the needs and requirements we had. That first item stayed fixed in number one position.
 
Their children's happiness
 
I will confess that we were probably the original helicopter parents when it came to our children's happiness at . . .read more
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Choosing a Private School

Getting Started

In this section we offer a look into some of the most important factors of choosing a private school. Investigate single-sex education and read what students have to say, learn more about what is important when choosing a private school, and get valuable advice on transitioning to a new school.

Finding Schools

Learn more about how to find and evaluate private schools. Find out why price should not be your only consideration. Get valuable advice on how to save time and money when choosing a school. Learn more about ranking schools and why it may not work.

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.