Why choose private school? The answer to this question is a complex one, and parents opt for a private option for their children for a host of reasons. For some families, the local public school option may not offer the small class sizes or individualized attention that their child needs to thrive. In other cases, parents may feel that a specific private school offers unique academic programs or arts and athletic opportunities that simply aren’t available anywhere else.
If you’re new to the private school world, don’t feel daunted! Whether you’re considering private school at the beginning of your child’s school journey or thinking about a shift mid-stream, here are some factors to keep in mind.
Not all private schools are the same.
While nearly all private schools charge tuition and require students to apply, the similarities end there. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all private schools look like the stereotypes you see in movies and on television: each institution has its own unique history, mission, and campus “feel,” and odds are good that you can find a school that’s a great fit for your child and your family. Before you begin your search, it can be helpful to know how to identify and assess the differences.
It might be more affordable than you think.
Many parents don’t even let themselves think about a private school option because they assume that it won’t be affordable. It’s important to know that most schools have generous financial aid budgets to offset the cost of tuition, and that families earning a range of incomes qualify for aid. In some markets, even families making $150K may be eligible for assistance.
It’s also helpful to know that unlike college, where a significant portion of financial aid comes in the form of student loans, at the K-12 level most schools award grants that do not need to be repaid.
Families considering the cost of private school should also factor in the extras that are included in the cost of tuition. At Fay, for example, tuition includes early morning and afternoon care, all athletic fees, field trip costs (including weeklong service trips in the Upper School), and family-style hot lunches.
Pay attention to the calendar.
The private school admission season mirrors the college admission timeline, which means that the best time to begin your search is the fall before the fall you want your child to enter school. The application deadline for most private schools is mid-to-late January. That said, many schools also do rolling admissions and continue to accept applications through the spring if there are spaces available. But if you’re thinking about private school as an option at all, it’s best to start early so you don’t miss the boat.
Know the right questions to ask.
A campus visit or admission interview can feel overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. Do your homework and learn as much as you can about the school’s mission, philosophy, and distinctive programs. Most schools these days have comprehensive websites to introduce you to their program. Once you’re at the school, know what to look for to assess whether the school will be a good fit for your child and your family (here’s a handy checklist to get you started).
Know when to get buy-in from your child.
The degree to which a child participates in choosing a private school is going to be different for every family and will also differ depending on the age and maturity of the child. That said, every family needs to consider how to incorporate the child’s questions, concerns, and desires in the process in order to facilitate a smooth transition further down the line. If your child is entering kindergarten, for example, it may be prudent to wait on telling them about the shift to a new school until just a few weeks before in order to minimize anxiety. If your child is older and reluctant about a shift, you might want to employ a different strategy to help them see the benefits of a new school.
Ask lots of questions.
The private school admission process may feel intimidating, but remember that there are people who are happy to help! A good admission officer will walk you through every step of the process, answer your questions thoroughly and truthfully, and help your family get to know the school well so you can make an informed decision. Most admission offices also have a team member whose primary focus is financial aid, and he or she is available to help you understand the financial aid process and consider your options.
It can also be helpful to talk with other parents whose children are attending the private school you are considering. Don’t hesitate to ask the admission officer to put you in touch with a current parent who can provide a valuable perspective on important factors such as parent-teacher communication, homework, and even the day-to-day issues such as carpool and playdates.
Focus on the big picture: who do you want your child to become?
Most importantly, remember that it’s great to know and understand all of your options as you think about the best path forward for your child. Ask yourself: who do you want your child to become, and how can you help him or her get there? If you think that a private school option is part of your solution, now’s the time to begin your search.