You’ve made the big decision: it’s time to help your child find and apply to private school. You want a school that will help them grow into their full potential, that will challenge and inspire them, and that will prepare them to be a confident leader in our global society.
It’s a tall order, so you open your computer, searching for schools nearby. You scroll and click, and scroll and click, and scroll … and click … until you’re completely overwhelmed.
How can you possibly find the best option for your child with so many amazing yet different private school opportunities?
Finding the one “best-fit” school amongst the more than 34,000 private schools in the United States alone can feel like an impossible task. However, by taking a strategic, thoughtful approach to the school search process, you can easily begin to find the schools that are true contenders for that first choice.
Here are five steps you should take when trying to find and apply to the best private school for your child:
Start with your private school must-haves.
Finding your child’s best-fit school is, in reality, more about your child and your family than the school itself. You must first truly understand your child’s personality, strengths, values, and vulnerabilities to find the school that will support and address their needs.
You also need to be honest about your “must-haves.” These are the non-negotiable school aspects that can make-or-break your decision. Best-fit school must-haves may include:
- Values: Do the school’s values align with your family’s? Do you agree with the school’s educational approach and the type of school (faith-based, military, or secular)? As you'll see, values shape an educational experience in many ways.
- Offerings: Does the school’s personality fit with your child’s? Does it offer programs and services that support your student’s interests, strengths, and needs?
- Budget: Are the tuition and expenses realistic for your family? Does the school have a robust financial aid option? Will the cost work for your family for the long-term?
- Location: Is the geographic location conducive to your family’s lifestyle? For example, if you simply cannot drive more than 30 minutes to a school each day, don’t exceed that radius during your school search.
- Day or boarding: What type of school meets your needs? Do some research in this area. If you’ve never considered boarding school in the past, now is the time to explore all options.
Create your list of potential private schools.
Next, it’s time to gather your resources and create a list of potential schools. For this exercise, include all options to compare and contrast all of your must-haves. There are a variety of resources you can use to develop your list, such as:
- School search tools and databases that make it easy to search and sort schools based on your preferences, including:
Private School Finder
TABS Connect for boarding schools
The National Center for Education Statistics - Private School Search
- Word-of-mouth suggestions from other private school parents (however, just because your neighbor’s child excels at a school does not mean your child’s experiences will be similar, so make sure you know which questions to ask)
- Current school contacts such as teachers, tutors, and coaches who know and understand your student’s needs and preferences and may be able to guide your search in the right direction.
Do your homework.
Once you have a list of potential right-fit schools, it’s time to start your research. There is a lot you can find out about a school before ever stepping foot on its campus. The best places to research a school are:
- The school’s website: Go beyond the home page and tuition page in order to understand a school’s vision, approach, and offerings. Read up on its history and mission, explore its faculty pages and curriculum descriptions, and check out any recent news articles.
- Student publications: Get to know the student population in their own words through any student blogs or online videos.
- Social media: These platforms are perfect for understanding a school’s personality and the daily life of its community.
Compare and contrast.
Next, begin to narrow down your long list by comparing the schools you’re considering. Your goal is to pick your very top choices so that you can truly find the best fit.
- Consider creating a spreadsheet. This will help you keep all the little yet important details about each school straight.
- Have additional questions? Reach out to admissions offices with any concerns or questions so that you can adequately compare each school.
Visit (in person or virtually!).
Finally, it’s time to visit your top schools. If the campus is open and accepting visits, there’s no better way to experience a school than in person. However, virtual campus tours, online open houses, or events like webinars and speaker series are a good alternative and can give you more insights into a school’s approach.
Contact a school’s admissions office to ask which options are available. You can also ask for the contact information of specific department chairs, directors, and student/parent ambassadors if you’re interested in a particular perspective.
When attending any event or conversation, bring your questions! These are perfect opportunities to get any final insights you may need to make the right decision.
Once you “meet” your top schools, you should be able to identify the one that is the best fit for your child and family. Next up, it’s time to apply!