There are several key factors you should consider when researching and selecting the “best fit” private school for your child, highlighted by these (listed alphabetically):
- Academic program
- Extracurricular activities
- Size of student body & class size
- Special needs
In their considerations, most families give priority to a school’s academic program and special interest activities. Is your child insufficiently challenged in his current school, or does your child need a slower-paced curriculum? Your first job is to determine if the school’s academic program is a good fit for your child’s learning style. Are there enough advanced (Honors, AP, IB, AICE) courses to satisfy the student who’s bound for the Ivy League? Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, is there a 2-year Algebra I sequence for a student with dyscalculia, a disability in mathematics? Are there in-depth visual and performing arts courses for a conservatory-bound student? Is there a wealth of foreign language offerings for the student who has a phonetic flair or seeks a career in the international arena? Are conversational foreign language or cultural-immersion courses offered to students for whom a traditional foreign language course is contraindicated? How about courses in journalism, debate, or law for the student who wants to begin vocational explorations? What about solid offerings in the STEM fields for the math/science aficionado? Does the school offer exciting electives in literature and history? Depending on your child’s needs, there are a variety of ways to evaluate academic “fit”. Ensuring that your child gets the best possible education is always your first priority.
If your child is on the Spectrum, or has dyslexia, dyscalcula, processing issues, or other learning disabilities, what support services are in place at the school? The availability and quality of appropriate support services is as much a priority as a school’s academic fit. It’s vital that the schools you consider offer accommodations necessary to your child’s success ― from extended-time and distraction-free testing, to small classes led by teachers with specialized training. In the population at some special schools, you may find a proportion of students who have chronic disorders that require monitoring and regularly scheduled treatment for which the school has adapted its program. Know the limits of school assistance so that there are never surprises. Similarly, how much ESL (English as a Second Language) support is offered for students whose native language isn’t English?
You’ll need to ensure that the schools you’re considering will satisfy your child’s special interests ― whether in the arts, debate, journalism, athletics, business, community service, robotics, or any other fields. The schools must provide ample opportunities for your student to explore and develop their talents outside the classroom ― and build leadership and collaboration skills.
A school’s physical plant plays an important role in your child’s school life. It’s not just the eye appeal of a “pretty place” where the student will spend 36 weeks every year, but the school’s facilities that include science laboratories, gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria, computers, audio-visual equipment, facilities for fine and performing arts, sports fields and equipment, accessibility for handicapped students, etc.
Whether you’re considering a local day school or a far-away boarding school, think about transportation. How will your child get to school? For boarding schools, take into consideration the ease of flying or driving there, and the seasonal weather conditions in which your child is more likely to be happy. For day schools, can your child walk to school, will you car pool, or does the school provide transportation? And how far is too far from home?
Catholic? Jewish? Christian? If religion plays an important role in your family’s life, you may want to consider a school that also offers religious education. Or perhaps you’d like a school that provides a strong moral compass and emphasizes character-building and ethics. A number of boarding schools offer daily or weekly “chapel” assemblies, often non-denominational, during which speakers present thought-provoking ideas that challenge those assembled to consider ideas about personal and societal growth.
When you examine the elements that make a school what it is, campus culture should be high on your list. If it’s a boarding school, find out if there are there students from around the country? Are there many from abroad? What countries are represented. For any private school, you’ll want to know if kids tend to form socially homogeneous social networks; if the student body reflects conservative or liberal viewpoints, or both; or if there a favorable mixing of race, culture, and religion that can potentially broaden a student’s perspective about our small planet. Beyond the clubs and teams of all kinds that bring students together no matter their background, a significant portion of a student’s day is spent interacting in hallways, libraries, cafeterias, on the playing fields, and so forth. Get to know as best you can the campus culture. If you visit, don’t be afraid to ask this revealing question of students you meet: “If there were one thing you could change to make the school even better than it is today, what would that one thing be?” The responses may speak volumes.
Size of student body & class size:
Many private school populations are in the hundreds. Look at the numbers breakdown from class to class: how big is the current senior class compared to the freshman class? Is the school co-ed? Are there 8th graders included in the mix? Is a PG (post-graduate) year offered? Are freshman-level class sizes the same as junior or senior class sizes? What opportunities are there for mentoring and tutoring among students and with faculty and staff?
There are two additional, important measures that you should take into consideration when you’re researching high schools:
- College acceptances
- SAT and ACT
All schools are proud of their graduates’ success in attending college. Ask! You can find out the range of schools to which graduates have been accepted in recent years. In fact, some private schools are “feeders” for certain colleges, and it’s appropriate to inquire about any acceptance trends among graduates.
SAT and ACT:
These college entrance tests require preparation. What’s the nature of the school’s commitment to test prep? How many hours of prep class will the school provide? Who are the instructors? What materials do instructors use to ensure that a student will do his or her best on these exams? Is the school a testing center for both SAT and ACT? What are the average scores of the juniors and seniors at that school?
Selecting a private school, like so many things in life, requires care and attention to detail. Armed with these and other questions, you can create your own spreadsheet that compares several schools on your list. That kind of comparison will ease the process of choosing, and put your mind at ease when your child starts a new school.
Or, you can call us for help! With significant knowledge of all the private schools in South Florida and boarding schools across the USA and parts of Europe, my team and I can easily create an ideal list of schools for you to consider ― and guide you and your child through the application and interview process.