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July 24, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

Private School Primer

Choosing, touring, planning, affording ... just a few steps to getting your child into private school.



Many parents cite the following reasons for choosing private school for their kids:

β€’ CLASS SIZE: The kids get more one-on-one help and develop strong relationships with their teachers.

β€’ RELIGIOUS: We are Catholic and so our kids attend Catholic school.

β€’ FOCUS ON LEARNING: Not necessarily on testing; broader academic offerings.

β€’ STRONG CONNECTION BETWEEN PARENTS AND SCHOOL: Our whole family is known at our school. Our kids realize they are part of a community of learning that matters to all of us.


You put a great deal of effort into checking out the basics of a private school education such as costs, location, academics and specializations, but that’s only a part of the picture, says Dona Matthews, an educational specialist and co-author of Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi; 2014).

“There is no one size fits all,” says Matthews. “No matter if it’s one of the best schools, it’s a question of looking at the best fit for your child,” she adds.

Matthews suggests parents look at the whole child when matching to the right school. Is your child highly engaged or does he need opportunities? Is your child innately shy or will he do better in an encouraging, supportive environment? Does he have a special talent or specialized interest you want to make sure is nurtured?

In addition, look at the culture of the school from the leadership on down. “How well do they communicate?” Matthews asks. “Is the leadership stable, and what is their reputation?”

Matthews says you should visit the schools on your short list repeatedly.

“Beyond open houses, go for a tour, talk to teachers and other people who aren’t trying to promote the school,” Matthews says. “Go with your child on a shadow day to see how he feels about it.”

Also, most schools are on social media. Get a real feel for day-to-day happenings on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Matching your child to the right school takes time. Get started early and do your homework for the best outcome.


You’ve made the decision to send your child to private school. What’s next? Planning … and lots of it. According to the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools, there are specific steps to take. To help the process go smoothly, here’s what you should prepare for:


Make a list of schools you’re considering. Keep in mind where you live and the distance you’re willing to travel to get your child to school on time each day. Set up a time to tour the schools or visit their websites to learn about any open houses. After visiting several schools, make an even shorter list of ones you want to apply to.

Parent Interviews

When you set up an interview with a private school, you’re setting up valuable time to learn more about the school while the school learns more about your child. However, you will have limited time, so set your priorities. Select questions that focus on both educational aspects as well as about the teachers. When you have about eight questions, consider asking the same ones at each school. This will help you better compare them.

Items Needed

Most schools require an application file before making a decision. Here are the items that are typically required, but keep in mind each school could have a slightly different list. And keep track of those application deadlines! You don’t want to have any missing items and miss the deadline, too.

β€’ Completed application form
β€’ Most recent academic transcript with grades
β€’ Past standardized testing results
β€’ Teacher recommendations or observations
β€’ Results of standardized admission test and/or a school-administered entrance exam
β€’ Notes from a formal interview with your child

Keep a running list of the schools you’re applying to and the application fees, too. That way you send the right amount to the right school. Private school application fees can run anywhere from $75 – $250 or more.


Most schools want to test a student’s ability to perform inside and outside the classroom to determine if they have the appropriate program for that student. It also helps place the student in the right program/class within the school if selected.

Your child could be tested in either the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) or the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE). Each of these tests focus on quantitative and verbal skills. Both have online registration several times throughout the year on their websites to take the test and you can get more info about them from there, too.

If you feel you still need help with anything, contact the admission office of the school you’re applying to. They are there to help you.


While you may think that affording private school is impossible for your family, there are ways to make it happen. Here are great tips from The National Association of Independent Schools:

β€’ Every independent school has its own policies about who receives financial aid, what type and how much. You cannot know if your family qualifies for aid until your submit an application that allows evaluation of your situation.

β€’ To determine your eligibility for financial aid, you must submit an application form and financial statements to the schools of your choice.

β€’ There is no income limit that automatically make your family ineligible for financial aid.

β€’ Financial aid officers take into account your income, assets and expenses, including educational costs for other children.

β€’ Your financial “need” is the gap between how much financial officers determine what your family can afford and the cost of tuition and fees.

β€’ Types of financial aid include grants, merit scholarships, tuition loans by a private lender, tuition payment plans and sibling discounts.

β€’ Many families combine financial aid options for their children.


Check out the digitial edition of
Nashville Parent’s 2019 Private School Directory


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