Evaluating Schools

Here you will find resources and tools to aid in your search and evaluation of private schools. Explore the ranking system and read what schools have to say about it. Learn more about the most important questions to ask and how an education consultant can get answers. Use our checklists to help compare school administration, curriculum and more.
View the most popular articles in Evaluating Schools:
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5 Questions Your Consultant Can Ask and You Can't
Use an educational consultant to ask those tough questions you are not comfortable asking.

We parents are in a rather difficult position when it comes to finding out information about private schools. Because they are private schools, they are not subject to the usual sunshine or freedom of information laws. They are just like a privately-held company. They are under no legal obligation to tell you or the general public anything. You need to know exactly what is lurking behind those gorgeous web photos and enthusiastic classroom shots. You need to know the condition of the school from reliable sources. That's where hiring an educational consultant comes in. These professionals know their schools from the arts curriculum to the vintage of the Zamboni machine used on the hockey rink. This is information which you need in order to permit you to make the informed decisions you need to make about finding the right private school for your child.

One caveat, and it is a major one: there are educational consultants who claim to be able to get you into a school. Be careful. The sign of the genuine article is an educational consultant who will offer to help you find the best match for you and your child's requirements. Just be aware.

The following questions are ones you might want to ask but probably feel uncomfortable asking. That's why it's a good thing to  hire an educational consultant. She can ask such questions with relative impunity. Plus she will think of dozens of other questions and raise many other issues about

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Choosing a Prep School
Here's a recap of the steps you need to follow to find the right school for your child. Work through the process in sequence from beginning to end.
If you are following our timeline for choosing a private school, you will notice that this process starts almost two years before the fall in which you want your child to start school. The process begins in a leisurely fashion as you gather your thoughts and think about schools. The intensity builds in the final six months before the January admissions deadline most schools seem to have.
 
Here's a recap of the steps you need to follow to find the right school for your child. Work through the process in sequence from beginning to end.
 
 
Is private school right for your child? Learn about the things you should consider and the unique benefits of a private school education. Once you are convinced of  the value of a private school education, then you must determine which private school is going to be best for your requirements.
 
 
It depends on your requirements. But in the end only one thing matters most anyway: the fit. When you get the fit right, you will have a happy child.
 
 
Many parents agonize over sending their child to boarding school or keeping them at home and sending them to day school. There are benefits to both kinds of schools. This is an important choice to make.
 
 
You ought to consider a single sex school as opposed to a traditional coeducational school. Why? Because
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Sports: Part Of A Balanced Education
Sports are important in private schools. But they are also balanced properly by the emphasis on solid academics.
One of the components of a quality private school education is sports. A great many private schools offer athletic programs which rival many colleges and universities. Lest you get the wrong idea, academics are paramount in a private school experience. But private schools truly do adhere to the ancient motto mens sana in corpore sano - a healthy mind in a healthy body. Consequently even the most unathletic students in any private school community are required to do some kind of sports on a regular basis. Many boarding schools have a half day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The afternoons are given over to athletics.
 
Athletics are one part of a comprehensive program most schools adopt to educate the whole child in mind, body and spirit. What do you do if your child is not athletically inclined? Don't worry. Schools are accustomed to students with just about every background you can think of. Your child will surprise you after a few weeks at school by exclaiming "Mommy! I love sprinting!" If you live within driving distance of her school, even better. You can attend games. We used to enjoy driving up to the old girls' campus of Kent School on Skiff Mountain to watch our daughter play field hockey. The toughest issue with boarding school athletics which she will encounter is which ones to select.
 
The intramural and varsity sports attract enthusiastic squads and are very competitive. They practice and compete in fine facilities. Check out the athletic programs at
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Checklist For Comparing Schools
Use this checklist to help you compare schools on your short list.
Use this checklist to keep track of your questions and answers to those questions as you visit each school on your short list. There is a lot of information to assimilate as you make those important visits. It will be easy to forget details unless you note them promptly.
 
School DemographicsSchool #1School #2School #3
Day or boarding   
Coed or single sex   
Number of students   
Number of boarders   
Number of day students   
How diverse is the student body?   
Number of faculty   
Student to faculty ratio   
    
Administration and Faculty   
How long has the headmaster/principal been in office?   
How large is the endowment?   
Financial condition of school (Excellent to marginal)   
Number of faculty with advanced degrees   
Staff turnover (If turnover, why?)   
    
Curriculum and Instruction   
IB offered?   
Number of AP courses   
Teaching methods (Harkness, classical, etc.)   
Is technology integrated into teaching?   
    
Religious Emphasis   
Which denomination or faith?   
Intensity of observances (relaxed to mandatory)   
    
Campus and Facilities   
General appearance   
Athletics facilities   
Sports programs   
Arts facilities   
Arts programs   
Security and safety   
    
Location   
Urban? Rural?   
Convenient? Isolated?   
    
Admissions   
Deadline   
Is staff helpful?   
Policies and procedures   
Shadowing permitted?   
Overnights?   
Quality of visit and tour   
    
Financial   
Tuition Fees   
Sundries   
Financial aid offered   
    
Notes
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Private School Admissions: Open Houses
You must visit schools on your short list. Open houses are an efficient way to do this. More on organizing this task here.
Visiting schools is a critical part of choosing a school. Yes, you can get a pretty good idea of school programs and facilities from a web site. But remember that the school is presenting itself exactly as it wishes to be seen in a highly edited and sanitized manner.
 
Accordingly, you simply must see the school, inspect the facilities, meet some students and chat with the staff. After all, you are thinking about entrusting your precious child to these people. You must determine if they are a good fit for your child. Your child won't be just a number in a private school. Small class sizes and a low student to teacher ratio mean that she won't get lost in the shuffle. Consequently she needs to be in a setting which will nurture and bring out the best in her. Your practised eye can root out any potential problems. Use a Checklist for Comparing Schools to keep track of your observations and answers to your questions.
 
This video from Your School Marketing explains how open houses work as part of the admissions process.
 
 
Remember: a school doesn't shape just educational outcomes; it also strongly influences attitudes and critical thinking. The culture of a school has a lot to do with this. Visiting the school allows you to evaluate all these important aspects.
 
Many schools have open houses. These offer you a wonderful opportunity to visit the school, see classrooms, listen to the school's 'story' and
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Choosing a Private School

EVALUATING SCHOOLS