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.
View the most popular articles in Choosing a Private School:
Small Is Good
Private schools offer individualized attention to their students because their class sizes are generally small.
Private schools learned a long time ago that small is good. Most prep schools have a student population of about 300-400 students. You will find larger and smaller schools, of course. Exeter is an example of a very large prep school. With a population of 1100 students and commensurate numbers of faculty and staff, Exeter is a large institution.

By contrast South Kent School is an example of a small school with 150 students. What do Exeter and South Kent have in common? A low student to faculty ratio. Typically private schools have student-faculty ratios in a range of 10:1. This is the genius of private schools. This is what you are really paying for when you send your child to private school: the personal attention to her learning needs.

Low student to faculty ratio is another way of saying that the class sizes are small. That is a good thing. You see, in a small school your daughter cannot escape and hide from view like she can in a large public school with large class sizes. When she sits around a Harkness table with fourteen other students and the teacher in the middle, there's no hiding anything.

As a result of small classes, teachers are able to dig deeply into the material. They are able to explore the sidebars and cement the fundamentals in place. (Parenthetically, it is a very satisfying feeling to be able to truly teach as one can do in a private...
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Single Sex or Coeducation?
Sooner or later you ought to consider a single sex school as opposed to a traditional coeducational school. Why? For several reasons.
Sooner or later you ought to consider a single sex school as opposed to a traditional coeducational school. Why? For several reasons. First of all, coeducational schools have only become 'traditional' or commonly accepted in the last several decades. Private education has its roots in single sex education, both in this country and in England.
 
Indeed, if you look at the history of most of the legendary prep schools in America, you are likely to find that they began as a single sex institutions. For example, Phillips Academy Exeter began as a boys' school. It only began admitting girls in its summer sessions in 1961 which was fifteen years after it dropped the two year Latin requirement - horrible dictu! It would be another nine years before Exeter admitted girls in its regular sessions.
 
So, what's really happening here? American private schools like Exeter have always pretty much mirrored the society which they seek to serve. Back in the late 1700's and early 1800's when many of these schools got their start, educating girls was not considered as important as educating boys. Those views changed over the centuries as the young republic grew and matured. So did views about education. In the 1960's and '70's single sex schools gradually fell out of fashion. In order to survive, some boys' and girls' schools merged to form coeducational schools. Others, like Exeter, saw the handwriting on the wall and moved with the times by admitting girls.
 
In the 21st century the pendulum...
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The Value of a Private School Education
Why pay $30,000, $40,000 or more for something which public education gives you for free? Here are five reasons why you would do so.
A private school education is not cheap. So why do parents willingly pay $30,000, $40,000 or more for something which public education provides free? Here are five reasons why you would do so.


1. Public education is not free.
You and I pay for public schools directly and indirectly through our property and other taxes. Attend a budget hearing for your local school district. Examine the financial statements. Then you will understand how and where your tax dollars are spent. Private education is an investment in your child's future. You educate your child privately because you want something better for your child.

2. Compare the teaching.
Public school teachers may be highly qualified, but they have to spend inordinate amounts of time on non-teaching responsibilities such as discipline. Much of their teaching time is spent teaching to the test.
 
Private school teachers are also highly qualified. They teach, coach a club or activity and, at boarding schools, act as dorm masters. Discipline is virtually a non-issue. They are able to teach at a high level and in great depth.
 

3. Public school class sizes are larger.
Students who want to stay on the fringe can do so in a public school. The large, impersonal nature of most American high schools allows anonymity to flourish.
You can't hide in a class of 12 students in a private school. Low student to teacher ratio is one of the reasons why a private education is so expensive.


4. Curricula are mandated by the state education authorities.
Public school teachers are often required...
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Do Ranks Matter?
How do I know how this school compares with the others I am considering? Has anybody ranked private schools?
You would think that finding out how one private school compares to another would be a no brainer, right? In a consumer driven age where we can find out information instantly, it is still very difficult and very tedious to find out how one private school compares to another. In other words, there is no easy answer to the question parents ask most often: “What is the best school in _______?”
 
Why is it so hard to get answers? For two reasons. First of all, the private schools themselves circle their wagons and will not participate in any survey which tries to rank schools. The private school community refuses to engage in the sort of annual publicity stunt which U.S. News and World Report and other publications put out for colleges and universities every year
 
Secondly, private schools don't receive any direct public funding. As a result, they are not subject to the kind of reporting requirements with which public schools must comply. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) does not apply to private schools, only to public schools. 
 
The federal Department of Education does maintain data on private schools. The Private School Universe Survey (PSS)   supplies statistical information about K-12 private schools. The PSS does not rank schools. It merely helps you determine how many Montessori schools are located in Montana. It is useful for policy makers and planners who need to know how many students go to private schools as opposed to public schools. It will not...
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Open Houses
You must visit schools on your short list. Open houses are an efficient way to do this. More on organizing this task here.
Visiting schools is a critical part of choosing a school. Yes, you can get a pretty good idea of school programs and facilities from a web site. But remember that the school is presenting itself exactly as it wishes to be seen in a highly edited and sanitized manner.
 
Accordingly, you simply must see the school, inspect the facilities, meet some students and chat with the staff. After all, you are thinking about entrusting your precious child to these people. You must determine if they are a good fit for your child. Your child won't be just a number in a private school. Small class sizes and a low student to teacher ratio mean that she won't get lost in the shuffle. Consequently she needs to be in a setting which will nurture and bring out the best in her. Your practised eye can root out any potential problems. Use a Checklist for Comparing Schools to keep track of your observations and answers to your questions.
 
Remember: a school doesn't shape just educational outcomes; it also strongly influences attitudes and critical thinking. The culture of a school has a lot to do with this. Visiting the school allows you to evaluate all these important aspects.
 
Many schools have open houses. These offer you a wonderful opportunity to visit the school, see classrooms, listen to the school's 'story' and meet admissions staff. How do you figure out which schools have open houses in your area? You can look on the school's...
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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.