Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Finding the right school for your child can be one of the most stressful and emotional tasks that you face as a parent. You want what’s best for your child, and you may feel a lot of pressure to get the decision about their education right.
If you’ve decided to look beyond traditional public schools, the process of identifying independent school options — from private schools and gifted/talented public schools to mainstream boarding schools and special education programs — can be daunting and overwhelming. However, it doesn’t have to be.
As school placement and learning resource consultants, we have shared our tips below on how to find the best fit for your child.
Understand your child’s learning profile
As a first step, we recommend taking the time to understand your child’s learning profile. Factors that should be considered include:
● How do they learn best?
● What environments do they thrive in? (for example, programs that are more teacher led v. student led)?
● Is it important to have a low teacher-to-student ratio?
● What are your child’s strengths and interests (i.e., music, STEM, arts, sports)?
If you’re not quite sure how to define your child’s learning profile, a school placement consultant can help.
Factor in key considerations for your family
Before delving further into research, consider how long you’re going to be in a certain location and whether there’s value in looking at schools for specific grades. For instance, if you know your family may be in a location beyond elementary school, you may want to consider a K-8 program. The K-8 model tends to focus on the development of children and allow them to stay young a bit longer. These programs also typically prepare kids well for the high school experience, including teaching students how to study and how to learn.
We always recommend making sure that your family values are well aligned with the values of the schools under consideration. Examples of core values include curiosity, responsibility as citizens, rigorous academics, a global perspective, preparation for what’s ahead, independence, and lifelong learning.
Build out a list of appropriate schools
We recommend creating a list with on average 8–10 schools, especially if you’re in an area that’s very competitive for school admission, such as in New York City, Westchester County (NY) and the surrounding Tri-State area. If you have a few ideas of potential schools in mind, we can help identify additional schools that fit a certain profile.
When researching school websites, look for the following information:
● Teacher-to-student ratio
● How the school describes its academics and curricula
● Features of the campus and facilities, such as athletic fields or updated science labs
● Admissions criteria, such as GPA and testing scores if applicable
● What extracurricular activities are offered and whether they match your student’s interests
● School endowment (which means more resources for the school)
● Learning support for students — while your child may not need this now, extra support may be needed at some point in the future.
● Where do students end up next? (middle school, high school or college matriculation lists)
Just as one would draft a college list, it’s important to have programs that are a good fit between the child and the school. If there’s an academic history for the child, schools will have criteria for what they’re looking for in terms of admissions tests and GPA. You want to avoid having a list of schools that are the most competitive and have low admissions rates vis-a-vis the number of applicants, unless your child is already at a school with which you’re reasonably happy.
Share the research and list with your child
As soon as your child realizes that a transition is imminent, it’s important to enlist them in the process. Based on our experience, we recommend getting your child on board as early as possible. Take the time to look together at the materials you’ve gathered. Start the conversation by pointing out what’s interesting about each school.
Make the most out of school visits
Now that you have a solid list of private school options, it’s time to experience what each school has to offer. While tours typically happen as a family, some schools will schedule separate appointments for students and parents.
Many schools have increased online offerings due to the pandemic and are either providing recorded or live video tours. For the 2021-2022 school year, we’re finding that some schools are offering in-person visits, while others are continuing to only offer virtual visits. In the New York City area, it’s a decision that’s being made school by school at this point.
We coach our clients, including our students, to make the most of the time with each school and be as engaged as possible. During the visit, we encourage parents and students to notice the highlights of the school. You may be asked during an interview what you noticed during the school visit. Take note about specifics, such as classes or programs that seem interesting and the classroom culture.
The school visit is a critical information-gathering step, and students should treat it that way. As a family, you’ll want to make a good connection with anyone you interact with on campus, including when you’re doing a tour.
Next up: interviews, tests & applications
Following your school visits, it’s time to decide where to submit an application. Check out our timeline outlining the independent school application process.
Between applications, testing/screenings, interviews and letters of recommendations, a school placement consu
ltant can provide insight into this often-overwhelming admissions process. Having a neutral party who has your youngster’s best interest in mind can help you navigate your child’s educational journey with ease and confidence.