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How to Pick the Best Private School

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With public school funding being cut across the country, many parents are considering enrolling their children in one of the over 30,000 private schools in the US. The decision about which school to choose can be taxing, as the average private school costs about $18,000 (and the tuition at boarding schools can be closer to $40,000). Parents need to choose a private school wisely. There are some basic steps that parents can follow in looking for the best private school for their child, including making a list of schools, hiring a consultant, and going on interviews and tours.

In addition, Here are some questions parents and students should ask when applying to private schools:

  • How will the school suit me or my child down the road?

    When you visit the school, be sure to consider the years ahead. Find the school that is the best fit for the long haul. Your child will grow and develop in the school, and you want to be aware of how the school will change over time. Does the school change from a caring, nurturing lower school to a demanding, competitive middle and upper school? Gauge the temperature of all the divisions before selecting a school.
  • Is my child a good fit for the school?

    While you may be tempted to gain admission to the most competitive school possible, be sure that your child is a good fit for the school and that it won’t be too demanding—or too easy—down the road. Don’t try to shoehorn your child into a school that doesn’t nurture her interests and talents.
  • Where do the graduates attend college?

    Schools generally publish a list of where their graduates attend college. While these lists usually cover many years, they will give you an idea of what kinds of colleges the school has connections with and where you can expect your child to go if she attends the school. Be sure to consider the full range of schools—not just the most prestigious few.
  • What are the classes like?

    When touring private schools, your child may be allowed to sit in a class and get a sense of the material covered and the tenor of the class discussion. An older child can get a sense of whether the other students seem like her and whether this is the type of environment in which she will feel comfortable.
  • What is the work like?

    Try to ask your tour guide what the students of your child’s age are working on. That way, you will get a real sense of what the daily academic life is like at the school.
  • How will the school work with me and financial aid?

    Before you sign a contract with a school, it’s worth asking how your financial aid package, if you have one, will work. Don’t be afraid to ask a school to stretch out its payments or to match the financial aid offer of another school. Find out more about how to work with your school on financial aid.

Finding Answers to Your Questions

To find the answers to these questions, there are some ways for parents and students to get beneath the surface and really understand what a school is like.

  • Look around.

    When you are visiting the school, look at the work on the walls and get an idea of what the school values. Be sure to visit classes and try to speak with teachers. Does the school seem to be the kind of place in which your child will thrive? Do the teachers seem capable of bringing out her talents? Do they seem committed to helping children learn?
  • Read the school newspaper and alumni publications.

    The school newspaper and alumni publications will acquaint you with the school’s values and key issues. Reading these publications will familiarize you with the concerns and mood of the current student body and administration.
  • Listen to the headmaster.

    The headmaster can set the tone for a private school. Try to attend one of his or her speeches or read his or her publications. This research will acquaint you with the values and mission of the current school. Don’t rely on old assumptions, as schools change a great deal with each administration.
  • Shadow a student.

    Many schools will allow your child to attend classes and even stay overnight if it’s a boarding school. This is an invaluable experience that will help your child understand what life at the school is really like.
  • Talk to other parents.

    If you don’t know another parent whose child attends a school, try asking through friends or ask the school for a reference. Parents will often give you the low-down that the school admissions office won’t.
  • Consider hiring a consultant.

    A professional school consultant can also help you sort through your choices. Here is more information about hiring a consultant.
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