Like shopping for clothes, shopping for a school is all about fit. Finding the right school fit for your child can be a daunting and confusing endeavor because there are many options available. All independent schools have a few things in common, such as great academics, dedicated faculty, and close-knit communities. So how do you find the right school? How do you tell the difference between them?
Here are a few tips help you in your school search:
- Know your child’s and your family’s needs. In what kind of school culture would your child thrive? Would they do well in a large school or one that is smaller? Does your child have special academic needs to support or certain strengths and passions you would like to build on? Is a school with a religious affiliation important to you? Is diversity important to you? Do you want a school with a wide variety of clubs or extra-curricular offerings? Answer these kinds of questions to build a profile of a school that might be a good fit for your child.
- Surf the web. Yes, online shopping for schools is a great way to start to narrow your search. There are many online resources to help you navigate the vast array of choices in your area. You can find school profiles on sites like privateschoolreview.com, nais.org, and greatschools.org, to name just a few. On each site, you can use the list of needs that you came up with to filter your search by several categories. Many also include reviews from parents and students.
- Visit school websites. Once you have narrowed the field a little bit, go to the websites of your contenders. Read mission statements, learn about the school’s philosophy, curriculum and history. Browse through pictures and do a “virtual tour.” Keep in mind that no site is meant to be comprehensive; but they should give a good overview of offerings.
- Pay a visit and pay attention. The best way to more deeply understand a school is to take a tour. You can attend an Open House or schedule a private tour. Often you’ll receive materials with more detailed information about programs. As you tour, take note of your surroundings. Do students seem happy and engaged? What’s the ‘feel’ on campus? What stands out to you? Are you warmly welcomed? Does the community mirror your values?
- Sample it. Most schools offer visit days for applicants so that your child can experience classes and interact with students and teachers.
- Talk to current parents and students. This is another great way to learn about what a school is really like. Most schools are eager to put you in touch with current and past parents. Don’t be suspect of referrals from Admission offices; while happy parents are certainly advocates of their schools, they’re also candid and authentic.
- Use social media. Follow schools on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get glimpses into the daily life of the school.
- Talk tuition. There is no doubt that independent schools are expensive. Yet most offer financial aid and may also offer merit scholarships and payment plans.
The most important thing to remember is that no school can be all things to all children. Knowing what your family values in education and what your child needs are key factors in selecting a school that’s that a good fit for you