It's rather bewildering perusing dozens and dozens of beguiling private school web sites. Especially if you have never visited a private school before. They are all so different. How can you ever decide which one is best for your daughter? Start with a very basic strategy, a game plan if you will. Here's what's really important in choosing a private school.
Your requirements trump everything. So have a family discussion. Be relaxed and open-minded because your requirements as a parent are going to be different from your daughter's. You are thinking the best educational experience. She's thinking about her life and her friends and the reality that she will have a whole new situation to deal with. That's scary for a young person. But you can make it an adventure and get her to buy into going to private school if you are patient, informative and, above all, a listener. Dictating will get you nowhere in a hurry. So, what's really important? Ponder these questions and then develop some answers after having that family discussion.
- Are you looking for a traditional college prep school experience or something else?
- Is your religion a major determining factor?
- What about sports? Arts programs?
If college preparation is your goal, then focus on the quality of the academic curriculum. Look at the faculty. Do they have degrees in their subjects? Masters or doctorates? Is there breadth and depth in the course offerings? Do you require strong sciences? A rich array of languages and humanities? What about the enrichment programs offered? If you are looking for a military education or a progressive approach, that will narrow the field considerably. Ditto with regard to your religion. If you have very specific requirements, that too will narrow the field of choices. Other considerations are arts and sports programs. If your child is really good at a particular sport, then inspect schools closely to see if they fit your needs. A strong interschool athletic program will probably be a requirement for most sports. Plenty of performing opportunities in the music program would be a requirement on the arts side. The important thing is not to take these for granted. Inspect and verify. Now you are beginning to see how your organizational skills fit into the school search process. Use our checklists to help you keep the details in order.
Your comfort factor
Now we start to get into more nebulous territory. This is where you have to trust your instincts. Because you will probably end up with several schools which meet your requirements fairly well. This is where you will finetune those choices.
If financial aid is a factor in your school choice, work that in at this stage. That will most likely eliminate some schools on your list.
Setting and location
Private schools come in two main locations: urban/suburban and in the middle of nowhere. If the location and setting matters greatly to you - and it should - look closely at this and determine which schools are most practical for you.
You looked at philosophy when you were discussing your requirements. But educational philosophy is such a subtle thing that you need to circle back and examine each school on your short list very closely with regards to educational philosophy. After all, the school is pretty much casting the die for your child in those critical high school years. Make absolutely sure that the school's educational philosophy meshes with your own.
Visiting the school
I have said many times in previous articles on choosing schools that the process is is much like buying a house. You wouldn't buy a house sight unseen. Same thing with choosing a private school. Visit every school on your short list. Satisfy yourself firsthand that it meets your requirements.
What's not important
Rankings are not important. First of all, there are no private school rankings. You can safely ignore beauty contest listings of private schools which appear in the press. I don't recall ever seeing one article which purported to rank private schools that made any sense. Titillating reading, possibly. Sensible information? No. If you want to know where one school fits in relative to another, ask your educational consultant. She will point out important facts and data to consider. But even she will not rank schools except in a casual, anecdotal way. Ranks are not important. The fit with your requirements is. Find a couple of schools which are good fits and you will have a happy child. That's all that matters. Good luck!