Choosing the right private school to attend can be a challenge. You want a great school with a great reputation, but you also want to make sure you choose a school where you can grow and thrive, one that meets all your needs. There are so many choices of schools and sometimes, it can feel like it’s impossible to pick the best private school for you. What do you do? Check out these 6 questions to ask yourself as you try to find the perfect school to attend.
1. What kind of private school are you looking for?
This may seem like an obvious question, but believe it or not, there are tons of options out there. Boarding and day schools, large schools with more than 1,000 students enrolled, small schools with 100 students or fewer, single-sex schools, religious schools, specialized schools … the choices are practically endless. Start by prioritizing what is most important to you. Perhaps a school within 25 miles of your home that offers small class sizes (less than 15 students) and advanced science studies is important to you. Your whole family should agree on what is most important to you, so you can use that information to help you throughout the process.
2. Does the school offer the level and type of academics you need?
It’s important to consider what you need academically from a school. A student who has been struggling in his classes may need a school that offers an academic support program, which could range from a simple tutor to a school that specialized in learning challenges and students with accommodations. A student who finds his current school too easy may need a school with ample honors and AP offerings that allow him to grow and excel in his areas of interest. You’ll also want to ensure that you’re at a similar level of academic performance as the current students attending the school, so comparing your ISEE or SSAT scores to those of other applicants (the admission office can give you those numbers) will give you an idea of how you compare. If your scores are drastically higher or lower than the average, you may wish to talk to the admission office to see how they think you might fit in academically.
The type of classes offered may be important to you also. If you know that you want to pursue a career in advanced sciences or the dramatic arts, the school you apply to should offer those subjects and offer enough courses to help you grow. Some schools are known for catering to one particular area, like the arts or athletics, giving students a chance to hone in on an established interest. Other schools offer specialized programs that you won’t find at most other high schools, like architecture or STEM programs, or a wide range of courses that give you room to find your passion and develop it.
3. Will you fit in at the school?
Learning about the culture of the school will give you an idea if you’ll fit in there. The values the school promotes, the type of students who attend, and how the teachers interact with students are all important things to consider as you look for the right learning environment. Find out what the school’s expectations of students are, and decide if that aligns with your own expectations. Can you see yourself making friends with the students you meet when you visit? Can you see yourself being happy with the requirements/offerings of the school for afternoon activities? If you’re not a student who enjoys playing sports, a school that requires three seasons of athletic involvement every year might not be the best fit. But a school that doesn’t require sports but offers a program you’d like to try, as well as other extracurricular activities you’re passionate about, like robotics or community service, might be the best school for you.
4. Will the school help you achieve your goals?
Whatever your goals may be, make sure that the school can help you achieve them. If you’ve always wanted to land the lead role in the school musical, attending a school without a strong drama and music program won’t help you achieve that goal. Similarly, if attending an Ivy League school has been a dream of yours, pick a school that has sent a student to high caliber schools in the past few years; that shows that they can prepare students to thrive at top colleges. You might want to ask about the college counseling program that’s available and what support you’d get if you enrolled and how they would help you shape your transcript to increase your chances of being a competitive candidate. Goals can even be athletic ones; if you want to play competitive basketball, a school with a strong season record and history of sending students on to compete at the collegiate level will be important to find. Once you’ve made sure that your passion is something the school can help foster, you can feel more confident that you’re well on your way to finding the best private school for you.
5. How do students and teachers interact?
A benefit of private school is that typically, your teachers (and coaches) are more available to students for extra help, additional coaching, and mentoring, than at a traditional public school. So, ask about the student-teacher ratio (at Milken, it’s 7:1), any advising programs that exist, and if there are opportunities for extra help outside of traditional classroom hours. You can also ask what classes are like, and some schools will even let prospective students sit in on classes to get the genuine experience. Are teachers lecturing at students or engaging them in activities? There's a difference between learning about building a robot and actually building a robot yourself! Finding a classroom environment that inspires and engages you is important to ensuring you’ll be successful. You might even ask how often teachers attend students’ games, concerts, and activities after hours. That tells you a lot about how involved teachers are in students’ lives.
6. How is the school working to help students develop skills, not just acquire knowledge?
This is an important and often overlooked question. Often, we think about getting good grades in classes, but not about what those grades mean. Does an A truly mean you’re prepared for college and for life after college? A great school will help you develop not just as a student, but also as a problem-solver, creative thinker, and as a citizen of the world. Schools that are focusing on skill development are often some of the most innovative schools out there. Ask about how the school integrates technology into learning, what kinds of outside-the-classroom learning opportunities exist, and how often students are involved in real-world learning initiatives. The best private schools will offer state-of-the-art facilities and push students to go beyond the textbook and classroom conversation. Not many schools can boast students are truly working to develop new technologies and solve real-world problems, but schools like that do exist and should be high up on your list.
Attending a top private school can be a life-changing experience, if you apply to the right one. Make sure you carefully consider your options and think about what you need the most to succeed. Good luck!