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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You have seen the articles in major publications such as Forbes and Chicago Magazine. "Top 10 Prep Schools" or "Best Private Schools in ____" These lists invariably contain the names of schools which are familiar. But are these schools the right ones for you? Let me explain why I believe that ranking private schools makes no sense for parents like us who are looking for the right school for our children.
 
A flawed premise
 
Ranking private schools is intrinsically flawed from get go. Why? Because each private school is a unique entity. The essence of being a private school is that it does its own thing. It accepts the students it wants to accept. It teaches the curriculum it wants to teach. It teaches that curriculum the way it wants to teach. Each private school has its own mission statement, philosophy, code of conduct, programs and traditions. So how is it possible to compare apples to oranges? That is essentially what ranking private schools attempts to do.

For example, look at all the features of Shattuck-St. Mary's. Maybe another school has some of the same features. Maybe it doesn't. It is up to you to determine what you expect from a private school.
 
 
Yes, you can compare things like the number of AP courses, varsity sports, extracurricular activities and so on. But you normally will make those comparisons when you are developing a short list of schools
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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.
 
  2000
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Actually there are many more things to know about private school than the four items I have chosen. But let's get you started with these. They are important. 
 
For most of us the idea of sending your child to private school begins with that nagging feeling that she's very bright and needs the very best kind of schooling possible. She needs an enriched academic curriculum. She needs time to explore subjects which interest her. She needs an athletics program  with lots of options. She wants to be on the stage. These wishes and desires on her part are not always easily fulfilled in a public school settings. As a result you start exploring your private school options. That leads you to individual private school web sites as well as resources like this site. And it also raises many questions. So the four points I am going to expand on below are really affirmations of what you probably already knew anyway.
 
Private schools are not ranked.
 
As you explore schools on the web, you quickly realize that there is no way to rank schools. It is perfectly normal to want to send your child to the best school possible. But how can you identify that school if there is no ranking system? First of all, let's deal with the reality of private schools and ranking. They cannot be ranked. Why? Because they are unique. We have approximately 400 boarding schools in the U.S. Each one is different. Not better. Not worse.
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It is a scenario which plays out more often than you might think. You have been looking at your child's high school with a certain amount of trepidation. The school is very large. The students get a relatively good education. But you have that persistent, nagging feeling that your child deserves more. Besides you both work. Frequent business travel has become a regular feature of your life. The bottom line is that you want your child to attend private school. But how are you going to convince her to go along with you? Let's look at some strategies and approaches which work.
 
Don't dictate what is going to happen.
 
The quickest way to turn your child against any idea, no matter how rationale and well-intentioned, is to dictate. Telling her that she will be going to private school will probably not get the result you want. Think about her feelins. She has friends. They may not be the friends you might prefer her to have, but they are friends nonetheless. Sending her to private school changes the balance of her comfortable little world. Remember that teens are particularly sensitive to change. Take her out of her comfort  zone and she will be most unhappy.
 
She must buy into the idea.
 
The minute she decides that going to private school is a great idea, you will be set. I realize that I sound like a manipulating adult, but that's pretty much what it takes to achieve your goal. Neither can you present the idea
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Use this simple mnemonic to help you organize your search for a private school for your child. From start to finish you will probably invest up to 125 hours in this process if you are looking at boarding schools. About 50 hours if you are looking at day schools. Perhaps 25 hours if you are investigating primary and pre-schools. It's a lot of work with a lot of deadlines to fit into your busy schedule. But if you will scope out the various tasks you have to do and work through them step by step, you will get through it.
 
The most important caution which I or any private school consultant will give you is a very simple one: start the process as far in advance as you possibly can. At least 18 months before the fall of the year you plan your child to attend her new school. If you are forced to find a school at the last minute, it can be done. Not easy but it can be done. You will feel much less stressed when you give yourself as much lead time as you can.
 
Identify
 
This is fun because all you have to do is look at web sites. Look at as many as you want to. If you prefer requesting DVD's and catalogs, that's fine. It won't slow you down too much. Tip: only request catalogs from schools which really interest you.
 
There are a large variety of options even for preschools. The options multiply considerably if
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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.