Finding the best school for your child can seem like a chore. Let's be honest, with educational budgets being slashed regularly in the US, you worry about whether or not your child is getting the best education possible. Maybe you're thinking about alternative high school options, which can vary from homeschooling and online schools to charter schools and private schools. The options can be overwhelming, and parents often need some help.
So, exactly how do you go about deciding if your current school is meeting your child's needs? And if it's not, how do you go about choosing the right alternative high school option for your child? Check out these tips.
Does Your Child's School Meet His or Her Needs?
When you evaluate your current school, and when you look at potential alternative high school options, be sure to not just think about this current year, but also consider the years ahead.
- If your child is struggling now, can the school provide the necessary support to augment mainstream classes?
- Is the school challenging your child enough? Are there advanced classes offered?
- Does the school offer the academic and extracurricular programs that your child wants?
It's important to make sure that the school your child attends is the best fit for the long haul. Your child will grow and develop in that school, and you want to be aware of how the school will change over time. Does the school change from a caring, nurturing lower school to a demanding, competitive middle and upper school? Gauge the temperature of all the divisions before selecting a school.
Does Your Child Fit in at His or Her Current School?
Switching schools can be a big choice, but if your child doesn't fit in, he won't be successful.
- Does your child enjoy going to school?
- Does your child have an active, healthy, and engaged social life?
- Is your child involved in multiple sports and activities?
The same questions should be asked if you're looking at potential new schools. While you may be tempted to gain admission to the most competitive school possible, be sure that your child is a good fit for the school and that it won't be too demanding-or too easy-down the road. Don't try to shoehorn your child into a school that doesn't nurture her interests and talents just to say he's enrolled at a name-brand institution. It's also important to make sure that the classes meet your child's needs.
Can You Afford to Switch Schools?
If switching schools is becoming an obvious choice, it's important to consider the time and financial investment. While homeschooling is usually very low cost, it's a major time investment. Private school might require less time than homeschooling, but more money. What to do? Consider these questions as you do some research and make your decisions.
- How much time do you as the parent have to invest in your child's schooling?
- Is your home an appropriate place for learning?
- What costs are associated with your alternative school option?
- Does a potential new school have a tuition fee?
- Are there vouchers you need to obtain?
- Will switching schools require additional commuting or special arrangements for childcare and transportation?
- How will switching schools affect your family's daily life?
- Will you need to apply for financial aid at a private school?
These are important questions to consider as you explore the option of finding an alternative school.
Decide What's Best for Your Entire Family
While everything might point to private school or homeschooling as the right fit for your child, you need to consider the various implications on the entire family and you. Even if you've found the perfect private school, if you can't afford it, then you're going to do your child and your family a disservice if you head down a path that's not realistic. You may want to provide a homeschooling or online school experience, but if you don't have the proper time to invest in ensuring this form of study is properly carried out, you're putting your child at a disadvantage. The right solution will be a win for everyone involved, so weigh your options carefully.
If you decide that private school, in particular, is the best route for the entire family and the child, then consider these tips for finding the best private school. With hundreds of them available in the United States, there's a school out there that will fit your needs. It can be overwhelming to get started, but these tips will help you make the most of the private school search.
Consider Hiring an Educational Consultant
Now, if you've decided that switching schools is crucial, and a private school, in particular, is your top choice, you might hire a consultant. Of course, you can research schools yourself, but for many parents, they are lost and overwhelmed by the process. There's help, however, and it can come in the form of a professional educational consultant. You will appreciate the sage counsel and experience that this professional brings to the table. Be sure to use a qualified consultant, and the best way to make sure of that is to only use those endorsed by the Independent Educational Consultants Association, or IECA. However, this tactic comes with a fee, and for middle-class families, that fee might not be affordable. Not to worry… you can do this yourself.
Make a List of Schools
This is the fun part of the process. Most private schools have websites with great photo galleries and video tours, with ample information available about their programs. So you and your child can surf the internet together and find plenty of schools to consider. It is a very efficient way of making that first cut. We recommend saving the schools to your "favorites" as you find them. It will make a serious discussion of each school easier later on. Private School Finder has thousands of schools with their own websites.
It is really important that you and your child understand each other's needs when it comes to choosing a school. By all means, guide the process. But don't impose your ideas on your child. Otherwise, she's not going to buy into the idea of going to a private school or may be resistant to the school you think is right for her. Then, using the spreadsheet mentioned above, make a short list of 3 to 5 schools. It's important to be realistic about your choices, and while you want to aim high for your dream schools, it's also important to apply to at least one safe school where you know your chances of acceptance are high. Also, consider if a competitive school is right for your child; schools that are known for being really competitive aren't right for everyone.
This is critical. You simply cannot rely on the opinions of others or a website to tell what a school is really like. So schedule a visit for your child whenever possible. It will give her a good feel for her prospective new home away from home. It can also give parents peace of mind, knowing where their child will be spending their time.
Make sure you personally visit and inspect each school on your list. The schools want to meet you and interview your child. But you need to meet the admissions staff and ask them questions too. It is very much a two-way street. Do not be intimidated by the interview.
When you are visiting the school, look at the work on the walls and get an idea of what the school values. Be sure to visit classes and try to speak with teachers and students.
- Does the school seem to be the kind of place in which your child will thrive?
- Do the teachers seem capable of bringing out her talents?
- Do they seem committed to helping children learn?
Attend an admission event, like an open house, to hear from top administrators, like the head of school, as well as other parents. The headmaster can set the tone for a private school. Try to attend one of his or her speeches or read his or her publications. This research will acquaint you with the values and mission of the current school. Don't rely on old assumptions, as schools change a great deal with each administration.
Many schools will allow your child to attend classes and even stay overnight if it's a boarding school. This is an invaluable experience that will help your child understand what life at the school is really like, and if they can envision living that life 24/7.
Believe it or not, admission tests can help you find the best school for your child. Comparing test scores may help you better judge which schools may be the best ones to apply to, as average test scores are typically shared by the schools. If your child's scores are considerably lower or even higher than the average scores, you might want to have a conversation with the school to make sure the academic workload is adequate for your child.
It's important to prepare for these tests, too. Your child may be extremely smart, even gifted. But if she has not taken a couple of practice admissions tests, she will not shine on the real test. Test preparation is important. It will give her that edge she needs. Don't skip this step.
While it's tempting for many families to fill their lists with names of the top private schools in the country, that's not the point. You want to find the best school for your child. The most elite schools may not offer the type of learning environment that is best for your child, and the local private school might not challenge your child enough. Spend some time getting to know what the schools offer and what your child needs in order to succeed. Choosing the best private school for your child is crucial.
Apply for Admission and Financial Aid
Don't forget that choosing the right school is just the first step. You still need to get in. Submit all applications materials on time and pay attention to application deadlines. In fact, wherever possible, submit your materials early. Many schools offer online portals where you can track the progress of your application and stay on top of missing pieces so you can easily meet your deadlines.
Don't forget to apply for financial aid. Almost every private school offers some kind of financial aid package. Be sure to ask if you feel that you will need assistance.
Once you have submitted your applications, that's pretty much it. Now all you have to do is to wait. Acceptance letters are typically sent out in March for schools with January or February admissions deadlines. You need to respond by an April deadline.
If your child is wait-listed, don't panic. You shouldn't have to wait too long to hear one way or the other, and there are tips for what to do if you are waitlisted.