You’re struggle to choose between public and private is over. Now a new issue arises: which private school is right for your child? Groups like the National Association of Independent Schools and others offer useful materials, but we’ve done some homework for you. Here’s what to look into before you go any further:
Admissions offices typically work about a year in advance of actual enrollment. If you’re looking into a school that is particularly competitive, it might be wise to make contact even sooner. If admission tests are required, build in extra search time to accommodate testing schedules. Schools usually have deadlines posted on their websites, or you can pick up a school calendar during your site visit. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), most schools accept applications in December, January and February, and make admissions decisions in April and May for the following August or September.
Traditional or progressive? Small or large? Christian or not? Boarding or day? Draw up a list of desirable qualities in order to rate your prospective schools.
“Over and over, we hear the most important reasons parents give for sending their children to FRA are: quality academics, faculty excellence, safety and security, faith-based education and spiritual environment, and opportunities for leadership and involvement for their children,” says Rick West, dean of Franklin Road Academy’s Lower School. “Selecting the right school for a child is one of the most important decisions a family will make. Not only does this choice shape their child’s future in many ways, it has a profound impact on the daily life of that family,” he adds.
“Parents are often looking for a combination of an academically rigorous program within a warm and nurturing environment — a safe place for their children to learn,” says Ian Craig, headmaster at Harding Academy in Nashville. “Parents are often drawn to Harding for the wide variety of opportunities that may not be available elsewhere,” he says.
Your interviews with school administrators are going to be crucial in determining whether a school is right for your child, but mine other sources for information, too. Seek out parents who have children enrolled or previously enrolled at the schools you like to get real-world answers to your questions about various academic styles and rigor. A number of points of view will help you make a decision. Keep a log of your contact with various schools, know names, be courteous and mindful of timing.
PREPARE YOUR CHILD.
Just as you evaluate whether a school is suitable for your child, the school will be assessing whether your child will be a good addition to its student body. Interviews, evaluation tests, transcripts and observations are the main methods schools use to determine if a child is well-suited for its environment and curriculum. Do a pretend interview at home prior to any interviews you schedule at prospects. Keep your child calm and positive when it comes to the tours and testing required by different schools — it will go a long way to helping you all stay confident and focused throughout the admissions processes.
KEEP IT REAL.
A school’s name, recognition and reputation within your community might play a role in your final choice, but it should only be a small part. It’s really going to be your child’s performance at the school that will determine what college he gets into, so don’t assume that a name is going to guarantee a favorable outcome. Plus, no matter how lauded and well regarded an institution is, it simply might not be the place where your child feels comfortable.
Even if you are prepared for the financial burden of tuition, it is still just that: a burden. Annual tuition ranges from about $3,000 for early childhood programs to $20,000 for secondary grades. Most schools offer some form of financial aid and/or tuition scholarships, and you can explore the financing options when you go in for your interview or online. You’ll want to be mindful of ancillary expenses such as uniforms, laptops, sports equipment, books, supplies and school trip fees when determining costs per year.
“I urge parents to contact each school’s director of admission and financial aid to find out more about each school’s availability,” Craig says. “If parents have a child they think would thrive in an independent school setting, the notion that they can’t afford the tuition should not prevent them from applying,” he adds.
West adds thought to this. “Choosing a college-prep, independent school is an investment for our families, but it’s an investment that pays off in significant measures,” he says.
And according to the NAIS website, “While private schools educate only about 10 percent of the school-age population, anywhere from 20 – 40 percent of the highly selective colleges and universities come from private schools.”