You have started the process of choosing a private school for your child. You have done a bit of reading about the reasons for sending your child to a private school. You have listened to the suggestions and recommendations of family and friends. You have explored dozens of school websites. None of this is particularly difficult to do. It just takes a lot of time, right? Not exactly. Here are five reasons why you might be looking at the wrong schools.
1. They don't offer the kind of curriculum you are looking for.
You need to think carefully about what is taught and how it is taught in each school. And you need to do this important bit of thinking well before you creating a short list of schools for you to visit. The school's curriculum, how it is taught and the quality of the faculty should be at the top of your checklist. That's how important an issue this is as you go about choosing the right school for your child. Listen to the Head of the Math Department at Nichols School in Buffalo, New York explain the school's philosophy about teaching math specifically and teaching in general.
What makes this part of the process a bit daunting is that private schools are unique. They won't all offer the same courses and they most certainly will not approach teaching them the same way. By now you have a pretty good idea of what your educational goals are. Are you looking for schools which offer a solid college preparation using the College Board's Advanced Placement courses or the International Baccalaureate's Diploma Program? You will have plenty of options for schools offering AP; fewer offer the IB programs. Is a progressive school better suited to your needs? There are about 70 schools to consider.
What about religious affiliation and/or religious instruction? When you send your child to a Jesuit school, for example, he will be expected to attend mass and take religious instruction following the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The same applies if you send him to a Jewish school or a Christian school and so on.
Filter schools carefully by examining the academics both what is offered and how it is taught. Then filter by the importance of religious teaching.
2. They don't offer the kind of athletic programs you seek.
While this consideration may not appear critical to some parents, it can be an important one to others. Your child may be a gifted hockey player, for example. You would have an unhappy child on your hands if he ended up at a school with an ordinary program. Involve the experts if need be, but make sure that schools on your short list have the athletic programs which you and your child feel are must-haves. Some private schools such as Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, have superb athletic facilities combined with fine coaching and team management.
When you visit schools on your short list, arrange to meet the coaching staff and see the athletic facilities first-hand. Photos will give you an idea of what the facilities are like. Social media and emails will yield some more insight. However, nothing substitutes for seeing for yourself.
3. They don't offer the kind of extracurricular activities you seek.
One of the reasons we decide to send our children to private school is because extracurricular activities have been reduced or eliminated from our public schools for financial reasons. This is an area where most private schools truly excel. Review the range of extracurricular activities offered at each school on your short list. Do they mesh with your requirements? For example, how many musicals and plays does the school mount annually? Does it offer travel clubs? How about opportunities for public speaking and debating? Can you just imagine your child having the experience of a lifetime both visiting a foreign country and helping those in need like this student of Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC is having?
Private schools pride themselves on educating the whole child. Academics, athletics and extracurricular activities all combine to develop character, confidence and maturity in young people. You have a huge advantage when you decide to send your child to private school because you can actually calibrate the ratio of academics to athletics to extracurricular activities to produce the balance which you and your child need.
4. The location is problematical.
I am building this list of things which you may have overlooked as you choose a private school for your child in order of importance as I see it. Location of the school deserves a place on this list but it is not as important as the other considerations which have come before it. How does location fit into your school choice process? Let me give you an example.
Suppose you live in an area with a private school which has all the characteristics you require except for one thing: location. It is a 45-minute drive to the other side of town. You have two solutions to the problem in my opinion: you can move closer to the school. (Some families actually will do that although admittedly as part of a longer range plan.) You can also consider sending your child to boarding school. Don't eliminate discussion of boarding school without exploring your options completely. Several things will probably surprise you, indeed please you as you seek to find the right school for your child. I have always liked the idea of my child being looked after 24/7. If you and your spouse have busy careers and put in long hours and travel a lot, boarding school certainly takes care of the supervision aspect of your family life. Another fact to consider is that most boarding schools offer generous financial aid. There is more paperwork to fill out and submit, but it is worth doing.
5. You didn't hire an educational consultant.
I have saved this one for last. My argument is a practical one. To me, hiring an educational consultant just makes good sense. You consult professionals when you are sick or have to buy a house, right? It is the same principle. Educational consultants know their schools. They are in touch with admissions staffers. They know what the current admission requirements are and can guide you accordingly. The most common mistake which parents make in choosing private schools is putting too many highly competitive schools on their short list. I remember doing this myself. We got lucky. One out of the three schools to which we applied accepted our daughter. Ideally, she should have been accepted at two out of three, possibly even three out of three schools had we hired an educational consultant to help us. Incidentally, we did hire an educational consultant the next time we had to choose a private school. The results were much better and the process was decidedly less nerve-wracking.
It all boils down to getting the right fit.
When you find the school which offers the best fit for your requirements, you will have a happy child. In the end, that is the point of the exercise, isn't it?
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