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The Path to the Right Private School

How to find the school that's right for your child


Boy doing well at private school in New JerseyThere are many reasons parents choose to send their children to non-public schools, including small classes, individual attention, quality instruction, and high academic standards. But where and how do you begin to find the school that is the best match for your child?

Whether you’re looking at boarding schools or private day schools, make a wish list of the things that are most important to you and your child, such as educational, social, and extracurricular goals. For private day schools, do some homework to find the schools that are within your limits (and your child’s limits) for daily travel. Then look online and/or send away for brochures and catalogs to find out more about your top options.

Fine-Tune Your List

Here are some tips from the National Association of Independent Schools about what to do next as you take the path to finding the right private school for your child:

After reviewing a number of catalogs, you are ready to start narrowing your choices. If you haven’t done so already, contact each potential school for materials dealing with philosophy, curriculum, extracurricular offerings, admission process, and financing options.

Compare each school’s literature with the items on your list; this should give you a preliminary sense of which schools are a good match. Take into account what type of environment would be best for your child and consider his or her individual strengths as you examine each school’s program. Eliminate any school that doesn’t meet a fundamental requirement; for instance, if your child wishes to study Japanese, but the school doesn’t offer this course, you may need to look further.

Here are some questions to start with as you look through each school’s materials:

  • Is the school accredited and by whom?
  • What is the school’s mission and does its philosophy appeal to you?
  • Does the school have a special or particular educational focus?
  • Are academics rigorous?
  • Is the environment competitive? Nurturing? Are there high expectations?
  • Does the school meet your child’s needs?
  • How large is the school and its student body?
  • Where is the school located and what are your transportation options?
  • What variety of learning experiences are available at the school— in class, on the playing field, in extracurricular activities, and in community service? Are extracurricular activities obligatory?
  • Does the school seem to have a diverse student body and faculty?
  • Do the school materials discuss parental involvement?
  • For high schools, what are the graduation requirements? What percentage of students enter colleges—and what kind of colleges do they attend?
  • Is college counseling effective? (Look at rates at which school grades achieve their first and second college choices.)
  • What is the tuition and how flexible are the school’s financing options?
  • What is the school’s application process? Are deadlines drawing near?

Other Thoughts

On your own, write down additional questions and notes. Consider starting one sheet of paper per school. That way, you will be able to easily look up questions that are pertinent to the school you are visiting.

When looking at a school’s accountability, look at where its graduates go to college and what their graduation rates are at those colleges.

In short, choosing the right school for your child is likely the most important single decision you might make in terms of setting the proper path and direction for life: A little preparation and research on the part of parents at the access point will go miles toward making the ultimate destination clear at the exit ramp.

More pointers from the National Association of Independent Schools
Reprinted with permission of the National Association of Independent Schools.
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