Exploring The Private School Option: 5 Steps To Finding The Right Fit For Your Child
It's mid-September of your child’s academic year, and you are wondering about how he or she would benefit from a private school education, but you're not sure where to start. Well, you have come to the right place! With so many different resources to scour, it can be a bit intimidating to dive into the process of researching private schools. You have so many questions waiting to be answered, but they all funnel into the same, important question: what is the best fit for my child? Uncovering the answer to this question requires patience, diligence, and a plan of action.
1. Utilize The Best Online Resources
Sure, you can type a bunch of different keywords into Google and see what pops up, or you can streamline your efforts on niche.com, a search engine tailored to finding the best school for your needs. Once you have submitted your initial geographic region, you can segment your search by using the numerous filters on the left of the interface. From this point, you can surf along through the different schools’ profiles — making note of key statistics like:
- total enrollment
- student to faculty ratio
- tuition and financial aid
- AP/honors course offerings
- college matriculation lists
- extracurricular offerings
- boarding student to day student ratio
Using the statistics you garner from niche.com, compile a broad list of schools, then sit down with your child and visit various schools’ websites. Spend ten to fifteen minutes clicking around, watching videos, and learning about school-specific programs.
2. Visit Your Dream Campuses
Now that you have a general sense of potential schools that might be a good fit for your child, go experience what it's like to be on the different campuses. Even though some schools, have a virtual admissions tour experience, it's best to walk the campus and get a feel for the real everyday energy of the environment. Be sure to make arrangements with the schools prior to visiting so that you can go on a formal tour and interview if possible. While on the tour, let your child walk with the admissions associate or student that is conducting the tour. Encourage your child to be engaged and to ask questions in order to get the most out of the walkabout. Even if your child isn't sure about how he or she feels about the visit, suggest an interview as the next option to gain more insight. At the very least, the interview process provides your child with practice for when he or she does find the perfect school.
3. Compare, Contrast ...Apply!
After visiting a broad range of schools, sit down with your child and decide which schools you would like to apply to. Weigh the pros and cons of each school that you saw, go with your gut, and then apply. Most schools use the Standard Application Online (SAO), which means you'll only have to fill out one application and then choose which schools will receive it. However, if a school doesn't use the SAO, you'll have to fill out a separate admissions application for that school.
It's important for your child to keep in touch with the individuals he or she met during campus visits, as each school hosts hundreds of potential students every fall. Advise your child to email his or her admissions team member with little touch points of contact, or even write a real letter on stationery to keep in contact!
Finally, be sure to meet the admissions deadlines for each school so that your child’s completed file can be reviewed by the admissions committees at each school applied to.
4. Be Absolutely Sure: Re-Visit
Many schools offer "accepted student days" during which only accepted students and their families are invited to campus for an in-depth and informative experience. For example, at Avon Old Farms, the CT private high school for boys, accepted students are welcomed back to campus to explore deeper aspects of the school and can even tour through a fair of the various clubs offered to students.
Every school’s accepted student day is different, but you and your child will most likely walk away from these events with a very good feeling for whether or not the school is a fit. Remember, your child has already been accepted to the schools that you re-visit during these days, so encourage him or her to ask a lot of questions — not just to the faculty, but also to the current students!
5. Convene The Decision Committee
You've been a present force for your child at re-visit days; you've researched, asked questions, and know the answers; now, there's nothing left to do but decide! At Avon Old Farms, students are encouraged to use their voice to share their opinions and emotions inside and outside of the classroom. Whoever your "decision committee" is made up of, it's crucial to understand why your child feels strongly about one school over another. Once you choose which boarding school will be lucky enough to host your child for his or her prep school career, take a day or two for the decision to marinate. When you're all confident in your choice of the best private school for your child, inform the admissions office at the chosen school before the decision deadline.
Making the decision to apply to private schools takes courage and time, and choosing the best school for your child can seem even more daunting! However, you should simply take your time with it. Do some personal word-of-mouth research by speaking with people you know who have sent their children to private schools. Ask their children what it was like to be part of a private school community, or as we call it at Avon Old Farms, the brotherhood. These people can offer valuable insight into specific schools and their overall experience with private schools in general. Every school has similarities, but yet each school is different in their own unique ways, so be sure to utilize any and all resources — yes, even those off campus — so that you can paint a complete portrait of each institution that you are considering.
Still not sure you even want to start the process of researching private schools? Read the Forbes article: Why Your Child Should Attend Boarding School.
About the Author
Avon Old Farms Class of 2011