According to the Council for American Private Education, private schools make up 25 percent of all schools in the United States and serve five and a half million students across the country. For many parents, private schools offer a great alternative to underfunded public schools, schools that fail to live up to their expectations, and schools that can’t quite meet the unique needs of their child. There are many benefits to choosing private schools and every parent has their own reasons for enrolling their child in private education. Whatever that reason may be, choosing the right private school for your child is a difficult decision for any parent to make. There are over 33,000 private schools spread across the United States. Selecting the best fit for your child can be a bit overwhelming.
If you’ve decided private education is the best route for your child, take a look at our step-by-step guide to choose the right private school for your family:
Step 1: Identify Your Child’s Needs
Every student is different, just as every private school is different. Your first step in choosing the right private school for your child should be to sit down and evaluate your child’s individual and specific needs. The goal is to choose the best fit for your child, not just yourself. By determining your child’s needs first and foremost, you’ll be able to narrow down private schools before you start scheduling school visits. This will save you time and energy down the line.
Start by breaking down your child’s needs into three categories: practical requirements, desired requirements, and extracurricular requirements. Practical requirements are the most basic needs of your child. These needs have to be met in order for a private school to be right for your child. Desired requirements are the aspects of a school that you will focus on when narrowing down schools that fit your practical requirements. These will be the things you are really looking for in a private school to personalize your child’s education. Lastly, extracurricular requirements are things that are on your wish list, but not deal breakers. They will probably be more important to your child than to you as the parent, so be sure to include your child when determining your extracurricular needs.
- Location: How far is the school from your home?
- Transportation: Does the school provide transportation or will you have to drive your child back and forth to school?
- Extra Care: Do you require before-school or after-school care?
- Special Needs: Does your child have any physical, emotional, linguistic, or intellectual disabilities and require specialized care?
- Cost: Does the school’s tuition meet your budget?
- Religion: Is it important that your child attend a religiously based private school?
- Same Sex: Do you prefer your child to attend a school with all girls or all boys?
- Military/Boarding: Are you looking for a strict, military-style institution or a boarding school?
- Class Size: Are you looking for a small school environment with small class sizes?
- Grade Levels: Would you like a school that your child can attend for their entire education? Are you only looking for a private elementary school, middle school, or high school?
- Instruction: Do you want your child to receive traditional instruction or are you looking for a school with an alternative approach to learning?
- Curriculum: Are you focused on science, math, writing, or college prep? What sort of curriculum suits your child best?
- Parent Involvement: Is being involved in your child’s school important to you? Are you looking for a school with a PTA or parent-organized events?
- Sports: Are you looking for a school with a strong sports program?
- Music: Is music important to your child?
- Art: Do you want a school with a well-known arts program?
- Clubs: What interests does your child have and what clubs would he or she be interested in joining?
Step 2: Research Private Schools in Your Area
Once you’ve identified all of your child’s needs and broken them down into the three categories above, the next step is to research private schools in your area that might be right the right fit. Hop online and discover all of the different private schools near you to create a short-list of the private schools that would fit your requirements. Consider your specific practical requirements to eliminate schools right off the bat. Then narrow it down by desired requirements to make a list of schools to visit. Try not to eliminate any private schools based upon your extracurricular requirements until you’ve at least visited them in person; you may find a school that lacks a football team exceeds your expectations in every other category. The right private school for your child is out there, you just need to take the right steps to find it.
You should also consider the following aspects of each private school when you’re researching private schools in your area:
- Accreditations: Is this private school accredited by any educational organizations? Has it been evaluated or certified by a trustworthy agency?
- Philosophy: What is the school’s underlying philosophy? What beliefs guide the school’s teaching approaches and programs?
- Services: Does the school have an on-site nurse or counselor?
- Structure: Is the school calendar structured around public school calendars or does teaching occur year round?
- Teachers: How are teachers chosen? What kind of backgrounds or education do they have and what are their qualifications?
- Discipline Policy: How does the school handle discipline? What are the rules and what are the consequences for breaking them?
- Grading Policy: How are students graded and evaluated?
- Partnerships: Is the school partnered with other schools, an organization, or a religious institution? What effect does that have on the school and community?
- Government: Who runs the school? Is there a board of parents, investors, teachers, or administrators? Who handles the school’s budget?
Step 3: Visit Your Top Private School Candidates
Your next step in choosing the right private school for your child is to visit your short-list of private schools in person. You may have an opinion of a school based on their website, catalogue, or correspondence, but you will never get a true feel for a school unless you schedule a visit. Be sure to take in as much as you can — even the little things — when you’re visiting private schools. Look for student art in the halls or student projects on campus to get a feel for what the students are learning. Ask your guide for a history of the school, an overview of any awards or achievements, and how often students transfer in and out of the school. Meet as many administrators or teachers as you can, and verify that each school offers what it said it offered online or in the catalogue.
Take a look at this list of things to consider when visiting private schools to choose the right private school for your child:
- Facilities: Does the school have basic facilities like a gym, library, auditorium, lunch room, and playground?
- Textbooks & Materials: How often are textbooks updated or replaced? Does the school provide certain materials to each student? What materials would your child need to attend the school?
- Applicants & Enrollment: How many students apply to this school each semester? What percentage of applicants are accepted?
- Parent Communication: How does the school contact parents and share information about their child’s education? Are there monthly parent-teacher conferences or parent nights at the school? How does the school handle discipline and emergency situations?
- Selection: How does the school choose its students? What criteria do they use to determine enrollment?
- Faculty Turnover: What is the rate of teacher turnover? Higher turnover rates may indicate deeper problems with the school’s staff or organization.
- Dress Code: Are students given uniforms or do they have to purchase school-approved clothing?
- Student Attrition: How many students leave programs of study before completion?
Step 4: Decide on the Right Private School for Your Child
The final step in choosing the right private school for your child is to take all of the information you’ve gathered from previous steps, analyze it, and choose the school that would best fit their needs. If your child didn’t attend the school visits with you, schedule another time to tour the schools you’re deciding between together, so he or she can be involved in the decision. Many schools encourage prospective students to spend part of a day visiting and participating in classroom activities. Nearly every parent just wants their child to be happy. When it comes to education, private school could change your child’s life. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right private school.
Here are some final tips to help you decide on the right private school for your child:
- Start Early: As soon as you start considering private school for your child, start researching your options.
- Plan Ahead: Plan your school visits ahead of time and know the deadlines for applications.
- Ask for References: Some of the most helpful information you could learn about a private school comes from parents of students currently enrolled in the school. Ask the other parents lots of questions and compare their answers.
- Ask About Financial Aid: Learn about the different financing options for each private school you’re considering and find out what requirements you would need to meet to qualify for financial aid.
- Go With Your Gut: Trust your instincts! You know your child better than anyone. You as the parent get to make the final decision, so go with your gut.