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.
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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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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 falls below certain thresholds. $75,000 is the figure
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There are about 20 private schools which are very competitive to get into. Think of them as the Ivies if you will. Everybody wants to go to them. Just like supposedly everybody wants to go to Harvard or Princeton. Let's be very clear about something: these are great schools. But the harsh reality is that they receive many more applications than they have places for. The young men and women who do get into these top private schools are talented, academically gifted, and so on. Should you feel bad if your son or daughter doesn't get into one of these schools? Not at all, and here's why.
 
Fit trumps selectiveness.
 
The right school for your child is the one which suits your needs and his needs best. How do you figure that out? By actually visiting the school. Try to do that while classes are in session. If at all possible, arrange an overnight if your child is considering a boarding school.
 
Now I can hear you thinking to yourself that the videos and the Skype chats were so wonderful that the school has to be perfect for your child. There's no need to visit. So expensive and so much trouble.  Perhaps. But, you know how videos are produced. No matter how relaxed and casual they may appear, they show you exactly what the school wants you to see. A Skype chat certainly is useful and can answer many questions. However, and I cannot stress this enough, it is no substitute for
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The idea behind a safe school is that you know your child will get into at least one of the schools on your short list. Let's start by reviewing the steps in the process.

1. Cast your net as widely as you want.

This is the fun part of the process. Look at anything and everything. No holds barred. If a school in Dallas appeals to you, put it on the list. If one in Lakeville, Connecticut floats your boat, add it to your list. You should end up with 15-20 schools on your first list. Be sure to visit each one virtually. Most schools will have videos so that you can get an idea of what the schools are like by watching the videos. This is not a substitute for visiting a school. It's merely the first pass.

2. Create a short list of schools.

This is where you have to determine which school or schools will be your safe school. What exactly is a safe school? It's a school to which you have an excellent chance of being admitted. It's a school which perhaps is not as competitive as some of the others on your list.

That is the challenge of the second step in this process. You must determine as accurately as possible which schools are genuine reaches or schools which you have a very small chance of getting in. Yes, anything is possible. But you don't need to be relying
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