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10 Things to Look For in a Private School


Selecting a school for a child is one of the most important decisions a family makes.

For those with the means to pay for education, private elementary schools and secondary schools regularly offer smaller class sizes, a more flexible curriculum and religious studies. A report from EducationNext, a scholarly journal published by Stanford University, also shows private school parents are considerably more satisfied with the schools their children attend and the quality of their children’s teachers.

But like children, each private school is different, said Joe McTighe, a longtime AAA member who serves as the executive director of the Council for American Private Schools. “Finding the right match can be time consuming but well worth it,” McTighe said. Here are 10 topics to discuss as a family to help you find the right private school for your children.


Do you prefer a religious school that will nourish theological beliefs or an independent school with a very strong character-development program? What about a military school or a college preparatory school?


Is a strong music or science program a priority? Does the school implement Common Core State Standards? Dive deep into the curriculum, ask about teacher qualifications and find out how the school assesses student performance.


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 64 percent of graduates from private high schools and 81 percent of graduates from Catholic high schools go on to a four-year college. Ask for evidence that students are successful. This can include graduation rates and standardized test scores. Look at what high schools and colleges graduates attend.


Children have different learning styles. Some private schools, including Waldorf and Montessori schools, use alternative teaching methods to cultivate a child’s gifts. Decide the kind of learning environment you want for your son or daughter.


Ask about class sizes. Smaller class sizes have been found to increase student achievement and have a positive impact on socio-emotional growth, safety and more.


When you visit the school, look at its infrastructure and facilities. Is the school safe? Does it employ security guards or school resource officers? Does it have a suitable lunchroom, library and gym for physical education?


Location, location, location. Are you looking for a boarding school or does the school have to be in daily driving range? Inquire about after-school programs, too.


Clubs and sports help students learn about teamwork and responsibilities. Plus, they look great on a college application. A College Board study found that “participation in extracurricular activities provides all students – including students from disadvantaged backgrounds, minorities and those with less than distinguished academic achievements in high school – a measurable and meaningful gain in their college admission scores.” See what kind of extracurricular activities are available.


While visiting the school, talk to administrators and teachers, but ask if you can talk to some other parents as well. They can give you an idea of parent involvement in decisions at the school and whether there is a sense of camaraderie in the campus community.


Costs vary at private schools. Many religious schools have more reasonable tuitions because a church, parish or larger religious community supports them. Even so, most provide scholarships or access to scholarship organizations to deflect some of the costs. Who knows, it might even make your first choice more attainable.

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