Private vs Public Schools
Private schools are a bit different from public schools. The main difference is size. Private schools generally have small classes. Student to teacher ratios are typically in a range of 10:1. Most private schools have less than 500 students, though most of the PK-12 schools will have more students.
You will probably have lots of questions as you think about sending your child to private school. Regardless of whether you are considering sending your child to primary school or to a prep school, you are doing so for the same reason. You want the best possible education for your child. And you have heard that private school might be the way to get the education.
Is there any way you can compare one school to another? That is a challenge because there are no published rankings of private schools similar to U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings of colleges.
What Are Private Schools Really Like?
What are private schools really like? You've probably heard in the popular media that they are elitist or just for rich kids. That used to be true for some schools years ago, but it is a different world today. Diversity is not just something schools talk about. Diversity is a real, tangible part of most private school communities. Diversity has come about because private school administration and boards of trustees have made it a major policy initiative. Several schools offer a free education for children of families below certain income thresholds. Most offer very generous financial aid in order to attract students from every socio-economic sector.
Perhaps you have heard that the homework is hard and that there is lots of it. Particularly in prep schools that is true. If you send your child to a private high school, she will probably do more work in class and have more homework than she would if she were in a public school. How is that possible? Because class sizes are smaller, resulting in a low student to teacher ratio. The other factor is that students are going to the school because they want to be there. They expect to work hard. They expect to be stretched. You cannot hide in a private school because it is too small. Everybody knows you. You know everybody.
Another big consideration in deciding to go to private school is that it is cool to be smart. Private schools are also safe places to learn.
What about sports? The sports programs are an integral part of private school life. They are not optional. The whole school takes part in sports usually on Wednesday and Saturdays when classes are held only in the mornings.
Choosing a Primary School
Finding places in a good private primary or grade school is not easy. Any school which enjoys a good reputation is going to have many more applicants than places. In cities like New York the competition is extremely tough. You and your child will undergo a battery of interviews and tests to make sure that you both pass muster. Yes, both parent and child need to be accepted by any private school at any grade level. The reason why is that private schools embrace the idea that education is a partnership. The partnership consists of parent, child and school. The school needs to be convinced that all partners are pulling their weight. The other important fact to understand is that you need to start the school choice process a year or more in advance. If you are looking for a place in fall of 2010, then ideally you would start the process in the spring of 2009.
Montessori schools of every kind dominate the PK-6 market. Waldorf or Steiner schools offer another alternative with some schools continuing on to twelfth grade. The primary divisions of most country day schools offer a variety of teaching methods.
Choosing a Prep School
Prep schools come in two flavors: residential or boarding schools and day schools. Day schools are the most popular and offer a virtually unlimited selection of locations, curricula and styles. The religious or parochial schools tend to be the least expensive. Country day schools hover near the top end of the scale.
Most schools have websites which offer most of the basic information you need to begin to develop a list of schools worthy of a second look. Just be aware that the web sites and the DVDs schools will send you present the school as it wishes to be seen. Virtual visits can only give you an idea of what the school is like. You really need to visit each school on your short list.
Once you have made up your mind about whether to send your child off to board or not, then you need to focus on finding the right fit. Indeed, the best school is going to be the one which fits your child's needs the best. Ranks are not important. Your child's happiness is.
The Admissions Process
Consult the Admissions Guide for a detailed look at the admissions process. The major admissions hurdle your child has to get over is the testing. That takes place in the late fall of the year before entry. The rest of the process is straight forward usually consisting of an interview and an essay.
Paying for Private School
A private school education can be expensive. Fortunately most schools offer a variety of payment options. Several schools are completely free to qualified applicants. Most schools offer generous financial aid. Be sure to ask.
Starting Your Own School
Depending on where you live and the private schools available to you, you may have thought about starting your own school. While it is not an easy thing to do, many other parents have opened their own schools. Learn from their experiences and use How to Start a School as a road map for the process.