So, let's assume that somehow we could rank private schools. After all, asking how a particular school is ranked is something most parents want to know. We are accustomed to comparing just about everything these days. We comparison shop constantly. We rank our favorite teams. We know which pop artist is on top of the charts. And so on. Comparing and ranking anything and everything is just the way we do things. By doing so we know that we are getting the best value possible.
That comparison shopping approach works fine for most things in our daily lives. Unfortunately it does not work when it comes to ranking private schools. Why? Because each private school is unique. The way it is run, where it is located, the courses it offers, the sports programs, the extracurricular activities, its philosophy and the results it gets are all unique. That doesn't mean we can't compare the various features of private schools. That is doable but it is a lot of work. As we have pointed out in Do Ranks Matter? it is extremely difficult and time-consuming for ordinary people to find the data and information we need to arrive at some sort of ranking system for private schools. But if we did rank private schools, here is how we would do it. Alexis offers some useful tips for the school selection process in the following video.
Visit the schools.
"Wait a minute!" you are thinking. What about important stuff like how selective the school is, where its graduates went to college, how many faculty have terminal degrees and so on? For now put those considerations on hold. First things first. Visit the schools. Here's why.
You wouldn't buy a house based only on a few pictures and some publicly available information like taxes and comparables, would you? No, of course not. You'd visit the house personally and look in every nook and cranny. You would visualize yourself living in the house with your things. You would make sure you liked the neighborhood. If being close to shops and other amenities is important to you, you would review that aspect of the equation as well. How long a commute to work will you have? The list of questions which you will want answered is your very own personal list of questions. The following video gives you an idea of what to expect when you visit a boarding school.
How do I know which schools to visit?
In the first stage of finding the right private school you looked at dozens of private school web sites. A couple of phone calls and emails later you were able to narrow that list down to three to five schools you want to investigate further. That's why it is so important to develop a list of schools which meet your requirements.
Developing that list is probably the most important part of the process of choosing a prep school. Match what each school offers with your specific requirements. Then hire an educational consultant to help you match your child with the school. That's the secret to the process.
This is the real reason why ranks do not matter as much as the fit. Your professional educational consultant knows her schools. Obviously she doesn't know every private school out there. But she is familiar with hundreds of them and has visited many of them. She also has a vast network of admissions directors and their staff with whom she is in regular contact. She has her finger on the pulse of the private school world.
Match your child with the school's requirements.
Look at this stage of the process this way: you want your child to go to Exeter. Exeter has everything you and your child want. But will Exeter want your child? Why is that relevant? Because Exeter is such a fine school that hundreds more students apply to that grand old school than it has places for. I know you are thinking that "Exeter is a top ranked school." It is indeed and has been for many decades. The reasons why Exeter got to the top of the rankings are many and varied. But the simple answer is that it does a really good job of educating young people, not just academically either. Exeter like many schools strives to develop the whole child. Does your child have what Exeter is looking for? You won't know until you apply and go through the admissions process.
This is another reason why an educational consultant is so useful. She will know that Exeter is probably a reach for your child and recommend two or three other schools from your short list. One of these schools will be a great fit and will likely be quite eager to offer your child a place. We consultants refer to that as a safe school. Does this mean you are settling for second best? Not at all. While you probably won't want to choose a private school in three minutes, the expertise of the educational consultant shines through in this video.