The Search Process: A 5 Point Checklist

Updated  June 02, 2016 |
The Search Process: A 5 Point Checklist
Use this five-point checklist to keep your search for private schools organized.

Use this five-point checklist to keep your search for private schools organized. If you ask your friends and family who have gone through the process of finding private schools for their children about their experiences, you will probably hear that the search is not difficult. On the other hand, it is time-consuming, has several deadlines, and can be demanding, particularly if you and your spouse have full-time careers. Before long somebody will create an app to help you keep your private school search in order. In the meantime use this simple checklist.

1. Look at schools.

"Cast your net as wide as you can." "Think outside the box." Sorry to bombard you with cliches, but they are the best suggestions which I can offer. Thinking outside the box is not always easy for us parents to do. We know our children so very well. That's a given. But some of us tend to be overly-protective, and we worry a lot. "She'll never do well in that school. Helen's son had a terrible time there." Force yourself to explore schools which you might not have put on your list, for one reason or another. As the following video illustrates, schools will put their best foot forward as they really want you to consider them, and, better yet, visit them.

This part of the school search process can be great fun. Why? Because most private schools have excellent websites. Private schools understand how important it is to provide prospective parents like you with answers to your questions quickly and efficiently. They know you have choices. If they can get you in the front door, and, better yet, get you to visit, their websites have accomplished their jobs.

2. Evaluate schools.

This step involves more time and effort. Why? Because you must take the time to examine each school on your short list in great detail. Let me back up a bit. After casting your net widely in step one, you will now have to pare down that much larger list into a more manageable 3 to 5 schools which you will visit and begin to determine whether they are a good fit for your needs and requirements. 

I have always recommended that you hire an educational consultant to assist you with getting the best fit. I know, from my personal experience, that it is easy to develop a list of five schools which seem ideal. These schools have the courses, activities, locations, and reputations which would make them appear to be optimal. So, you visit them, have the admissions interviews, and submit the applications only to find out that your child is rejected by four out of five schools. That's what happened to us. Thank goodness the school which accepted her was an excellent choice. Our mistake? We did not invest in an educational consultant. As a result, we applied to schools which were very competitive. An educational consultant won't allow you to make that kind of beginner's mistake. They are experts. They have active networks. They know their schools.

3. Visit schools.

The third item on our checklist is time-consuming. You have to schedule a half-day for visits to day schools. Visits to boarding schools can consume anywhere for an entire day to two or three days, depending on where the location of the school. This time factor for school visits is one more reason why you need the professional advice of an educational consultant. She will look at the school located halfway across the country and tell you that you are wasting your time, based on her knowledge of your child and the school. She won't be subjective. She will look at the facts and render her opinion accordingly. Of course, you can ignore her and plow ahead. But why hire an expert to help you if you aren't going to follow her advice?

Touring each school campus, seeing the facilities, and meeting the admissions staff all take time. But it will be time well-spent. Experiencing schools unfiltered, with your own eyes, is an essential part of any good private school search process. Why essential? Because finding the best fit for your child means that your child will be happy in her new school surroundings.

4. Apply for financial aid.

By this step in the process, you will have decided how much you can afford to pay. Truthfully, you will have known this for a long time. But this is the time where you document your financial situation so that a third party financial service can review your request for financial aid and recommend to the schools what it feels you can afford to pay. Most private schools have a pool of funds which they allocate for financial aid. Once those funds are spoken for, there usually is no more financial aid available for that specific academic year. Therefore, submit your financial aid application as soon as you can.

5. Submit formal applications.

You will find this step to be similar to applying for financial. Most private school applications have several parts to them. Typically you will find a Parents' Statement and a Candidate's Statement lurking in the applications menu. I suggest downloading and printing these two components. For schools which expect you to submit your applications online, all you have to do is to key in the two statements. Warning: do not write your child's statement. In fact, I recommend that you not even look at it. The admissions staff can tell whether her statement is her work or somebody else's. For online applications, all you have to do is to open to that Candidate Statement page and have her key in her statement.

Some schools will require you to download and print all the forms so that you can complete them and mail them off to the schools. Other schools will use a common application which permits you to enter basic information once for several schools. The individual schools will have specific instructions on how to submit the Parent's and Candidate's Statements as well as any other forms which they require.

Implicit in submitting your applications is meeting all deadlines. Preferably in advance. Obviously there will be times when this is not possible. For example, if you have a transfer in the middle of the academic year or some similar major event requiring you to relocate. In normal circumstances try to submit your applications at least two weeks in advance of the deadlines. For schools which have rolling admissions, submit your applications as soon as possible. Those schools will make their admissions decisions within a few weeks.

You have handled projects before now. The secret to success with any project is to stay on schedule and meet the deadlines. I hope that this checklist will help you do that.

Questions? Contact me via Twitter. @privateschl


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