Private Schools – How Do You Choose the one that’s Right for You?
Choosing a private school is big decision. Your child will spend a number of years there and you will be spending money on tuition, books and fees. More importantly which private school your child attends can help shape the rest the student’s life. What do you need to consider when evaluating a school?
First consider the grade levels of the private school. Do you have a young child who will attend this school from kindergarten through 12th grade? Or would you rather your child attend a Montessori or Waldorf school for the primary grades, a day school for junior high and then a boarding school? Do you want the continuity of one educational philosophy or do you think your child would be better off experiencing a number of philosophies?
Next look at the make up of the student body or demographics. Is your child comfortable with students of similar or diverse backgrounds? Is diversity important to you? Besides ethnic origin diversity can include different economic or religious backgrounds. Also find out what the school’s policy is regarding diversity. Does it actively seek students from all backgrounds? Is the faculty diverse, providing role models for all students or is it more homogeneous? Again consider how important a diverse faculty is to you and your child. Beyond diversity, it this a single sex school or coed? Is that important to you or your child? Both have pluses and minuses. Finally consider the acceptance rate the private school; how exclusive is it?
One of the most important things to evaluate when considering a private school is academics. What is the school’s focus? Look at the school curriculum to see how the private school presents core subjects such as math, reading and writing. Does the school offer a language program such as an immersion program? Does it emphasize the arts? If you are looking at private high school, does it offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses? If the school emphasizes the arts, will your child have a chance to present their talent in forum that will allow growth? What is the school’s homework policy? How often are textbooks and classroom materials updated? How are students graded? If you are looking as special needs schools, does the curriculum seem to address the issues that are important to your child.
Beyond what subjects are taught, explore each school’s teaching style. Some schools such as Waldorf or Montessori schools are child-centric and do not give out grades. Others such as military and some religious schools are much more traditional emphasizing grades and a more formal classroom atmosphere. Some children thrive in a structured environment while others might fight it repressive and blossom when they have more freedom. Look at the student to teacher ratio or class size and make sure it is what you expect.
Another critical component of the private school is its faculty. What is the background of the faculty at the school your are considering. Do they have the required degrees? Do they hold certification? How long do teachers stay at the school; is there a high turnover rate? Happy faculty members tend to stay put. Are all the faculty members older or is there a mix of young and mature, newer and longstanding? New faculty members can bring in new ideas as can professional development for teachers. Are faculty involved in curriculum development and in governing the school?
Also look at the head of the school. Has there been continuity in that position or a high turnover rate? Find out why the last head left, if the change was recent.
Another indication of academic quality for a private high school is its acceptance rate. Find out what the acceptance rate is and does it include some of the top colleges in the nation? Are the colleges ones your child might like to attend? Similar questions should be asked of schools that emphasize the arts or military schools. What percentage of graduates go on to careers in those fields? How do students from the private school score on the SAT or ACT tests? Does the school have a good guidance program to help students make their way through school and then on to college or a career?
The continuing involvement of graduates can be a positive aspect of a private school. Are the alumni involved? Do they endow the school with gifts? Are they invited back on regular basis for special traditions?
Extracurricular activities can add a lot to a school program. They offer students a chance to grow beyond the classroom. Does the school offer the extracurricular activities that interest your child. Is the school flexible about adding new programs if there is enough interest?
Affiliations (Religious or other)
Private schools are often affiliated with a religion or other organization. Sometimes the affiliation results in lower tuition rates since the organization helps finance the school. Depending on the organization, some schools require that students and families become members before a child is accepted.
How much a school costs and what financial aid is available is an important part in evaluating a private school. Make sure to find out the total cost including fees, books and transportation. Financial aid is frequently available, find out as much information as possible about the types of aid and amounts your family may be able to obtain.
Another important aspect in evaluating a private school is the campus. Where is the school located? If it is a day school, will it be hard to provide transportation to the campus? If it is a boarding school is it near places that your child is comfortable with or would like to visit? Are the facilities for both day and boarding schools up-to-date? Is the campus well-kept? Does it have the facilities your child is interested in-sports venues, dance studios, science labs? Is there current technology available? Does the media center or library have a variety of research materials? Is the campus safe? Most importantly does the campus appeal or feel welcoming to your child?
Evaluating schools takes time. But as long as you keep in mind your child’s needs and goals, you will find the right school.
About Author: Spencer Fitzpatrick