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.
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When you begin comparing schools on your short list, it is important to at least be aware of certain important aspects of the school and its operation. While you can certainly tell whether a school is well-run just by visiting it and observing the condition of the grounds and facilities, it is worth asking a few detailed questions. The answers to these questions can be found online as a rule, so explore the school's website thoroughly before asking the admissions staff.
 
How long has the head of school/principal been in office?
 
This question speaks to the stability of the school. If the headmaster or headmistress (also called head and occasionally director) has been there for a couple of years, that's a good sign. Private school heads will stay forever if they are doing a good job and the trustees are satisfied with his job performance. Nowadays a private school head is the de facto CEO of the school. But his major responsibility is going to be in the area of fundraising. Public relations is another part of his brief.
 
If the door to the headmaster's office has become a revolving one with several heads coming and going over a period of a few years, you might want to find out why they didn't stay. Most private schools conduct national searches for a head of school and involve the school community in the process. So it would be unusual for a school to get the fit wrong.
 
Is there a strategic plan in place?
 
Granted,
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Parents are in a difficult position when it comes to finding out information about schools. Because they are private schools, they are not subject to the usual sunshine or freedom of information laws. They are under no legal obligation to tell you anything. You need to know exactly what is lurking behind those gorgeous web photos and  enthusiastic classroom shots.
 
The following questions are ones you might want to ask but might feel uncomfortable asking. That's why it's a good thing to hire an educational consultant. She can ask such questions with relative impunity. Plus she will think of dozens of other questions and raise many other issues about schools which will factor into your choice of schools
 
1. Why did those five seniors get expelled just before graduation?
 
Perhaps there was an article in the local press. It doesn't matter. The Internet makes unwelcome publicity widely available in minutes. Naturally you want to know what happened just in case the situation is symptomatic of something more serious. You will probably learn a lot about how the school enforces its code of conduct which you and your child could be signing if you decide to go there.
 
2. Is it true that the school is having financial difficulties?
 
There are plenty of signals that a school is in trouble. Declining enrolments and staff turnover are just two of the more obvious signs. No sense in sending your child to a school which is having problems. Your consultant will have made discreet inquiries
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If you are following our timeline for choosing a private school, you will notice that this process starts almost two years before the fall in which you want your child to start school. The process begins in a leisurely fashion as you gather your thoughts and think about schools. The intensity builds in the final six months before the January admissions deadline most schools seem to have.
 
Here's a recap of the steps you need to follow to find the right school for your child. Work through the process in sequence from beginning to end.
 
 
Is private school right for your child? Learn about the things you should consider and the unique benefits of a private school education. Once you are convinced of  the value of a private school education, then you must determine which private school is going to be best for your requirements.
 
 
It depends on your requirements. But in the end only one thing matters most anyway: the fit. When you get the fit right, you will have a happy child.
 
 
Many parents agonize over sending their child to boarding school or keeping them at home and sending them to day school. There are benefits to both kinds of schools. This is an important choice to make.
 
 
You ought to consider a single sex school as opposed to a traditional coeducational school. Why? Because
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One of the components of a quality private school education is sports. A great many private schools offer athletic programs which rival many colleges and universities. Lest you get the wrong idea, academics are paramount in a private school experience. But private schools truly do adhere to the ancient motto mens sana in corpore sano - a healthy mind in a healthy body. Consequently even the most unathletic students in any private school community are required to do some kind of sports on a regular basis. Many boarding schools have a half day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The afternoons are given over to athletics.
 
The intramural and varsity sports attract enthusiastic squads and are very competitive. They practice and compete in fine facilities. Check out the athletic programs at Hotchkiss, Kent, Miss Porter's and Lawrenceville to name but a few examples. Several schools such as Woodberry Forest and Northfield Mount Hermon have their own golf courses. Equestrian facilities are a feature of a dozen or so schools. Crew or shell rowing is also popular in many private schools. Northern schools such as Shattuck-St. Mary's and Avon Old Farms also offer solid hockey programs.

If you have questions about a school's athletic program, be sure to contact the athletic director. The blend of academic and athletic excellence possible in a private school setting will please you. Your son or daughter will be able to
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Use this checklist to keep track of your questions and answers to those questions as you visit each school on your short list. There is a lot of information to assimilate as you make those important visits. It will be easy to forget details unless you note them promptly.
 
School Demographics School #1 School #2 School #3
Day or boarding      
Coed or single sex      
Number of students      
Number of boarders      
Number of day students      
How diverse is the student body?      
Number of faculty      
Student to faculty ratio      
       
Administration and Faculty      
How long has the headmaster/principal been in office?      
How large is the endowment?      
Financial condition of school (Excellent to marginal)      
Number of faculty with advanced degrees      
Staff turnover (If turnover, why?)      
       
Curriculum and Instruction      
IB offered?      
Number of AP courses      
Teaching methods (Harkness, classical, etc.)      
Is technology integrated into teaching?      
       
Religious Emphasis      
Which denomination or faith?      
Intensity of observances (relaxed to mandatory)      
       
Campus and Facilities      
General appearance      
Athletics facilities      
Sports programs      
Arts facilities      
Arts programs      
Security and safety      
       
Location      
Urban? Rural?      
Convenient? Isolated?      
       
Admissions      
Deadline      
Is staff helpful?      
Policies and procedures      
Shadowing permitted?      
Overnights?      
Quality of visit and tour      
       
Financial      
Tuition Fees      
Sundries      
Financial aid offered      
       
Notes
 
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