Choosing Schools: Look Beyond the Competitive Schools

Choosing Schools: Look Beyond the Competitive Schools
Competitive schools are wonderful. But they are not the only game in town. Here's why.

Approximately twenty private schools are very competitive as far as admissions are concerned. Think of these schools as you think of the Ivy League colleges, if you will. Everybody wants to go to these highly competitive private schools, just like everybody supposedly wants to go to Harvard or Princeton. Now, let's be very clear about something: these are great schools. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that these schools receive many more applications than they have places for. The young men and women who do get into these top private schools are very talented, academically gifted, and so on. Should you be upset 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. Fit trumps just about every other consideration. How do you get the fit right? You do that by actually visiting the school. It is always a good idea to visit schools while classes are in session. If at all possible, arrange an overnight when your child is considering a boarding school. Then your child can truly sample what the school offers, as this short video ofrom Proctor Academy illustrates. 

Now I can hear you thinking to yourself that the videos and the Skype chats which you had with the admissions office were so wonderful that the school has to be perfect for your child. There's no pressing reason to visit schools, is there? Besides, visits are expensive and inconvenient.  That may be somewhat true. But, you know how videos are produced. No matter how relaxed and casual those videos may appear, all they show you is precisely 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, an electronic visit is no substitute for actually experiencing the school in person. After all, you wouldn't buy a house or rent an apartment sight unseen, would you? You should apply the same common sense to selecting a private school.

There are hundreds of gems out there.

For every Exeter, Andover or Hotchkiss, there are hundreds of excellent private schools out there. Furthermore, they are not all in the northeastern states either. How do you find these 'gems'? You search for schools on this site which match your requirements. Start by eliminating all the things you don't want in a school. For example, if you only want to send your child to a boarding school, don't bother looking at all the day schools in your area. Or if you feel that your religion is an essential selection criterion, then eliminate the schools which don't meet your needs. It will take some time but eventually you will identify 10-15 schools which you think might be a good fit. Whittle that list down to 3-5 schools on which to focus. Visit these schools. Visit each and every one. This video gives us a quick look at life at The Rectory School.

If you can afford a consultant, then this is one reason you need one. Your consultant will match your needs and requirements with schools which will be a pretty good fit. One of them will be the 'right fit'. That's what consultants do.

Determine what you need and want in a school.

While it is important to ask advice and to listen to the opinions of friends and family, in the final analysis the school which you will select is the one which best fits your needs and requirements. Think carefully about why you plan to make such a substantial investment in your child's education. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you seeking to prepare her for college? Certainly a college education is important; however, as you know very well after the severe recession of 2008 which we are still muddling through, a college education does not automatically guarantee employment. Wouldn't you be better running with your child's strengths? If she is an avid rider, then find a school which will allow her to excel at riding. Is he a hockey player? The situate him in the school which offers the best mix of ice experience and competition combined with solid academics. A private school can help its students identify a niche which works best for them. This is one of the ways in which Westover School nurtures its students as you can see in this video.

What the right private school can do is to bring out all kinds of attributes and possibilities which your child intrinsically possesses, but that you never thought would blossom. The right nurturing atmosphere can make that happen. A competitive school isn't the only place where you can achieve results like these. After all, those results and a happy child are what you are looking for. Don't ever lose sight of that objective. You know better than anyone what your child can accomplish. Find a school which is the best match.

The last piece of advice which I want to give you is not to be a helicopter parent when it comes to charting your child's educational path. Read Frank Bruni's book Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be to understand that we parents must be willing to do as the eminent educator Dr. Maria Montessori advised us years ago, namely, to "follow the child". You may want your child to go to Harvard and be a doctor. On the other hand, she may have the aptitude to develop software which will make some new medical breakthrough possible. That is why it is so critical that you lay the solid foundations in her middle school and high school years. Surround her with accomplished, competent teachers who will open her eyes and mind to endless possibilities. Be willing to accept her as she is at every step of her journey. Let her sample and test ideas and theories. Encourage her to pursue excellence. The right school will complement your efforts and give her the sound academic foundation which she needs to lead a successful adult life.

Look beyond the competitive schools. They are not the only game in town. As wonderful as they may be, they may not be the best fit for your child. Your job is to identify the private school which will meet your needs and requirements while at the same time encouraging your child to be the best she can be in a warm, nurturing environment.

Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl

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