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4 Tips for Choosing the Right School

A Simple Approach to Selecting a Private School

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Choosing a School David Fischer/Getty Images
1. Explore the Schools.

Choosing the right school for your child begins with exploring all the schools available. With so many choices, it is important to develop a wish list and then start narrowing the field.

The easiest way to develop your wish list of schools is to go online and visit every school you want to visit virtually. Start with U.S. Schools. View the photo galleries and take the online tours. Then bookmark your choices. Include as many schools as you like. Do this part of the selection process with your child. It will be time well-spent as you discover how her needs mesh with your requirements. She will feel involved in this important decision. That's a good thing.

2. Narrow the Field.

Once you have a list of 20-30 schools, it's time to narrow the field. Start by answering these four basic questions. Then you will be able to make that important first cut and begin to develop a short list of schools to examine in more detail.

  • Should you choose a small or a large school?
  • Should it be single-sex or coeducational school?
  • Should it be a day or boarding school?
  • Is the religious environment a consideration?
Now let's examine these four questions in greater detail.

Should you choose a small or a large school?
Private schools can range in size from less than one hundred to over 1000 students. Assess your child's social skills carefully or you will have a very unhappy young person if you put her in the wrong setting. In other words, is she somewhat shy or does she make friends easily? Will he be comfortable at a larger school or is the intimate, family-like atmosphere of a small school going to suit him best? Most private boarding schools have housing arrangements with a family atmosphere.

Should it be single-sex or coeducational school?
Some parents and educators feel that children can benefit from a single-sex school. Others feel just as strongly that a coeducational school offers young people a valuable social laboratory in which to practice the skills so necessary in today's inclusive world.

In boys' and girls' schools they ensure a well-balanced social life with weekends, dances and other social events. Most single-sex schools will have some sort of long-standing arrangement with a sister or brother school close by, so that your child will have the opportunity to socialize with members of the opposite sex regularly. Review the facts and research. If a single-sex school looks like it might work, then include one on your list.

Should it be a day or boarding school?
50 years ago it was fairly common to send children off to boarding school as early as 7th grade. In fact First Form was equivalent to our modern 7th grade. That's why you will still find some schools referring to 9th grade as Third Form. These days children usually go to boarding school in 10th grade.

Major urban areas like Boston, New York and Philadelphia have always had a wealth of fine local private schools. As the population expanded to the suburbs, additional schools were founded outside the city core. If you live within commuting distance of one of these institutions, being a day student makes a lot of sense.

On the other hand, if you have a busy professional life, the self-contained, no driving aspects of a boarding school will have great appeal. Everything your child could possibly want except for you, of course, is right there in one convenient, supervised package. Sports, academics, extracurricular activities, facilities and supervision are just some of the advantages a boarding school affords.

Two other points to consider are tuition and transportation. Tuition for day students is generally much lower than tuition for boarders. Also, transportation from some distant place can be very costly and complicated.

Is the religious environment a consideration?
Your personal religious requirements are the key to this choice. The more zealous denominational schools will be very forthright in letting you know that all students are expected to practice the faith embraced by that school. Most denominational schools merely require students to attend chapel, but will make only a minimal effort to proselytize. If you insist on bringing your child up with a solid grounding in your faith, then factor this requirement into the choice equation.

3. Review the Basic Requirements.

Discuss everything in depth with your child. Your child then will buy into the process and understand it so much better than if you make decisions unilaterally. Discuss your choices with your educational consultant. An educational consultant brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the process. You need professional advice for a decision as important as this one.

4. Visit the Schools

At the beginning of this article we advised you to consider as many schools as you wanted to. Now you can see why it was so important to spend all that time eliminating schools which didn't meet your requirements. Visiting 3-5 schools is tough enough. Can you imagine fitting 5-10 school visits into your busy schedule? Visiting the schools on your short list is critical. You need to experience the school and get a better sense of its philosophy and community in order to commit to sending your child there for a few years.

Choosing the right private school takes much time and effort. If you follow these four tips for choosing the right private school, you will make your job a little easier. Hopefully you will find the right school. Which one is the right school? It's the one which fits best with your needs and requirements. It is the school where your child will be happiest.

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