I've been writing about private schools for twenty-five years. I always come back to how little we knew about private schools when we started looking for schools for our girls. My late wife had attended several private schools when she was growing up in New York City. So, she was at least familiar with them. She spoke favorably of the small classes and individual attention she received. I attended the Westmount Public Schools growing up in Montreal. Those schools were run along English public, i.e., private, school lines and might as well have been private schools. They had small classes and lots of individual attention. They also had strict codes of discipline.
However, when it came to identifying private schools for our children, our choices seemed limited. Back in those days before the Internet and smartphones, we had to research schools by phone and snail mail. We asked around and found out about schools from friends and associates. Fortunately, we lived in the suburbs, which always seemed to have a school or two for us to consider.
In any case, in the 2020s, you have some truly amazing tools to help you identify the right school for your children. So, let me save you time and lay out a road map for your research. Your decision process will include consideration of cost, suitability of schools in your area, the reputation of schools and their teachers, curriculum, athletic and extracurricular activities programs, among other items.
The first thing you need to do is to decide when you want to send your child to private school. The easiest way to see what schools are in your local area is to use the search tool on this site. For example, I set the filters to list every school within 10 miles of Evanston, Illinois.
That's too many schools to review. So, refine your search by the grade level you want to
explore. In the following example, I set the grade level filter to Grade 10 because I wanted to see what high schools were available. As a result, the search results list 53 high schools. Much more manageable. But still too many to review.
Grouped by Age
- High school
Next, I refined my search further by adding filters under the Advanced Search options. Finally, I asked the search engine to look for Catholic girls' schools. So, I now have three schools to explore from an initial list of over 150 schools.
Grouped by sex
Single-sex Education At A Glance offers an overview of single-sex schools. Don't take my word or somebody else's word for it. Explore single-sex school websites. Visit the schools. Listen to the admissions staff say that their school creates the right environment for a boy or girl to be all he or she can be. That is admirable. And as you explore the option of sending your child to a single-sex school, when you find a school that meets your requirements and is the best fit for your child, don't give it another thought. Go for it.
Day or Boarding
Boarding or Day? looks at both types of private school, their advantages, and disadvantages.
- Roman Catholic
- Seventh Day Adventist
If you want your child to attend a school with a vital religious component, you will find various options in the private school universe. I wrote Religious Schools: An Overview using data from the federal government's National Center For Education Statistics. Depending on where you live, you could have several schools to choose from.
You will discover that most military schools are residential schools. However, many private schools offer a JROTC program. When Should You Consider A Military School? provides some reasons why military schools might be worth exploring.
Cristo Rey schools offer a compulsory work-study program. As deputy director of a private high school, I organized a similar work-study program for my juniors and seniors. Watching young people learn how to be on time for work, gain new lifetime skills, and take pride in their accomplishments is an experience I shall never forget. Cristo Rey Schools: A Different Kind Of School gives you an overview of these outstanding schools.
- Christian Classical
- International Baccalaureate
- Advanced Placement
I know what you're thinking! "Private schools give me a choice of educational philosophies?" They do, indeed. College prep schools generally offer Advanced Placement courses designed to prepare students for the AP tests in the spring of their senior year. What is AP? explains how this works. The other common college prep curriculum is the International Baccalaureate. What is IB? offers an overview. Christian classical schools use an older educational approach.
Classical Christian education (CCE) is a time-tested educational system which establishes a biblical worldview (called Paideia), incorporates methods based on natural phases of child development, cultivates the seven Christian virtues, trains students in reasoning through the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric), and engages children in “the great conversation” through the historical Great Books. Source: Classical Christian Schools
Finally, progressive schools offer a distinctive approach to education.
Progressive educational thought stems from the work of John Dewey and has as the central tenet the education of engaged citizens for a democratic society. Progressive schools value the diversity of thought and culture, as well as a commitment to equity and justice. At Putney, we have a program that fosters personal initiative and adaptability, engaging all parts of a student’s development, not just the academic part. The culture embodies respect for the individual and the rewards of participation in a community. Source: The Putney School
- Arts schools
- Sports schools
- Special needs
If you have a gifted musician or hockey player in your midst, consider schools that emphasize that special training. If your child has been diagnosed with special needs, you will find day schools in major urban areas that offer the specialized curricula and skilled teaching you require. On the other hand, you may have to consider a boarding school if none of the day schools in your area offer the programs you need.
One size does not fit all in the private school world. You will find one or more schools that fit your needs and requirements. Know what you are looking for.
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