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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Over the years I have steadfastly maintained that ranks are not important. The main reason I cite is that each private school is unique and therefore cannot be compared. But enough of what I have to say on the subject. Let's look at what schools and their trade associations have to say about ranking private schools.

Here's what a state association of private schools has to say about rankings. I quote it verbatim.

 

ADVIS Position Statement on School Rankings

The Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools (ADVIS) is implacably opposed to the rating or ranking of schools in any shape or form. Therefore, we do not cooperate, and advise our member schools not to cooperate, with any publication that seeks to rate or rank schools.  A school, or an education, is not a consumer product comparable to a toaster. A great education depends on three key factors: the quality of the faculty, the quality of the student body, and the quality of teaching. These qualities are not quantifiable.

Source: ADVIS Statement of School Rankings

 


ADVIS goes on to reference the Statement on Ranking Schools by The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Once again I quote this document verbatim.

 

ADVIS strongly advocates the following statement from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) as the fundamental position to which we adhere.

NAIS Statement: On Ranking Schools

By: NAIS Board of Directors
Published: June 25, 2004
Updated: . . .read more
The scenario is not as uncommon as you might think. After all you have spent a considerable amount of time researching
and visiting schools in a serious effort to get it right. But after a few months you realize that something isn't right. Your child is miserable. Well, that's just one of the reasons why you might want to change schools. Let's look at some other reasons.

1. Your child has been expelled.
Ouch! This reason for changing schools is rather like being fired. It's enormously dispiriting and in many ways a life-changing experience just like losing your job is. Continuing that analogy, finding a new school for a child who has been expelled is just as difficult as finding a new job. Expect to have lots of questions asked. Have your answers well thought out. Do not equivocate. Answer the questions truthfully. The school will want to know if your child has learned his lesson. Do not speak ill of his previous school. Nobody wants to admit a trouble maker. Contrition is your watchword.

2. Your child has not been asked back.
While not as serious as being expelled, not being asked back indicates that something went wrong. Unless you plan to move out of the country, be prepared to answer some in-depth questions about why your child's previous school was not a good fit. If there were issues which the previous school felt needed to be addressed, then be sure to have your corrective action . . .read more
In the early stages of identifying private high schools for your child, reading the catalogs and scanning school web sites will give you a lot of information. Just be aware that this is the information which the schools want to present. Marketing if you will. While there is certainly nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward, the reality is that you need to lift the hood and see what's inside. These five basic questions should be part of your due diligence as you sort through schools and begin to determine which one is the best fit for your child.

Get the answers to your questions two ways: by reading the materials offered and by asking in person. Incidentally, if you have decided to use the services of an educational consultant, these are questions which she can answer for you. Then all you have to do is follow up when you visit the schools and affirm what you already know.

1. What are they teaching?
For most parents this is the first question on the list. Priority #1. It plays to our concern about what kind of college or university our child will ultimately attend. Preparing for that next step is a huge undertaking and we know that we have to get it right. College preparation is a 3-4 year project.

So do your research carefully. This is where you need to get granular and actually review the various components of the school's curriculum and determine . . .read more
It's certainly fun to navigate different private school sites and see what's out there.  And you must do that, not only on your own, but with your child. For all sorts of good reasons. Remember: your child needs to buy into this important decision. It mustn't be a unilateral decision unless the circumstances are exceptional such as your requiring a school for special needs or a therapeutic school. In those situations, obviously you know best and will make the appropriate decision for your child.

There's another consideration we parents need to review carefully as we decide which private school is the best one for our children. And that's the cost.

But don't just look at the price! Why? Because there are several factors in play when it comes to paying for a private school education.

1. Financial Aid
Depending on your financial situation the school may offer you a financial aid package. This could well have the effect of making that school which charges $25,000 a year as affordable, for example, as the school which charges $18,000 but offers no financial aid. So, ask questions and get the answers you need about financial aid. Financial aid programs vary from school to school. Assume nothing. Ask.

2. Tuition Free Education
The other factor to consider is that you may be able to get a tuition free education at several schools. Exeter and Andover, as well as several other top schools, offer free educations if family income . . .read more
It's rather bewildering perusing dozens and dozens of beguiling private school web sites. Especially if you have never visited a private school before. They are all so different. How can you ever decide which one is best for your daughter? Start with a very basic strategy, a game plan if you will. Here's what's really important in choosing a private school.

Your requirements
Your requirements trump everything. So have a family discussion. Be relaxed and open-minded because your requirements as a parent are going to be different from your daughter's. You are thinking the best educational experience. She's thinking about her life and her friends and the reality that she will have a whole new situation to deal with. That's scary for a young person. But you can make it an adventure and get her to buy into going to private school if you are patient, informative and, above all, a listener. Dictating will get you nowhere in a hurry.

So, what's really important? Ponder these questions and then develop some answers after having that family discussion.

 

  • Are you looking for a traditional college prep school experience or something else?
  • Is your religion a major determining factor?
  • What about sports? Arts programs?

 


If college preparation is your goal, then focus on the quality of the academic curriculum. Look at the faculty. Do they have degrees in their subjects? Masters or doctorates? Is there breadth and depth in the course offerings? Do you require strong sciences? A rich array of languages . . .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.