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Sep 23

5 steps for a successful private school search – Part 1

With fewer kids and a better understanding of the educational system, parents today know the kind of education they want for their child, and private schools are becoming an accessible, affordable, and popular option. Offering much more than tradition, prestige or religious instruction, qualities which were highly valued in the past, they’re catering to modern parents who are more concerned about finding a particular educational approach that suits their child. With a range of schools as unique as each individual child, finding the right one seems like a formidable task. But with the right techniques, the school search can be painless for parents and children, resulting in a valuable education that will fit the entire family.

A 5 step approach will help any parent in the search and selection of the right school. Today we will cover Step 1 and 2, and a bit of step three.

Step 1 – The Wish List

Before even beginning the search, parents need to decide exactly what they’re looking for. Involving the entire family, including a long standing nanny that knows the children well, in creating the list of wants and needs in a school is also a way to build excitement, help parents get to know their children better, and support family bonding. It will also ensure that the money parents spend on education will achieve their desired goals. Having a list of “needs”, and a smaller list of “wants” like certain extracurriculars, technology, or sports teams, will help you stay focused on finding the perfect school.

Some questions to keep in mind:

About your child:

  • How is your child doing in their current school? What attention or challenges do they need?
  • What is your child’s personality, learning style, academic ability, social skills, talents, challenges and desires?
  • Will your child thrive in an environment rich with technology or one that is based in social interaction?

About your family:

  • What are your family’s values, goals and priorities?
  • Do you want a school that is close to work or home?
  • Do you want a school that offers before-school and after-school programs?

About the school:

  • Are you expecting an academic-based curriculum or one that attempts to educate the personality as well?
  • Are you searching for a large or small school?
  • Are you looking for a coed or same-sex, boarding and/or day environment?
  • Do you want a school that accommodates all grades or a certain age group?

Step 2 – The Preliminary Search

It has probably been a while since parents have had to do homework for themselves, but finding a private school takes the same concentration, dedication, and time management as a final exam or research project. And just like school projects, the amount of time and effort that goes into the early stages has a direct effect on the quality of the end product – in this case, a child’s happiness and success at school. This phase of the search can be exciting as you discover the different learning options available for your child, but the most important thing is to select the best fit for your child, not to make your child fit into a school at all costs. And the perfect fit for your neighbour or friend’s child may not be right for your daughter or son.

Here are some tips on the preliminary search for a private school:

  • Get started early: At least a year in advance is recommended. Good decisions are best made without time restrictions.
  • Consider your budget: Private schools will vary in cost depending on a number of factors – day or boarding, class size, the level of additional services and extracurricular activities. Determine your financial situation, how much you are willing to spend, and what financial aid is available at each school.
  • Read school profiles and websites: The Internet can be a parent’s best friend. Look at what’s written about the school curriculum, mission, values and philosophy. Read reflections and testimonials from students and parents. Most schools have their own websites with photos and virtual tours, and websites like have useful search engines to narrow your choices.
  • Ask other parents: Find other parents who are interested in private school. Ask them what they’re looking for, what they’ve found, how they’re going about their search, and if they have any feedback about schools you’re interested in. Online forums are great if you don’t know anyone personally.

Step 3 – The Private School Expo

Attending a fair (or expo) that brings together students and representatives from all types of schools across a city for parents to use as a one-stop source of information. This step, together with the remining 2, we will cover in our next posting. Fall is the “season” for Expos and 3 are coming in the next few months:

TORONTO: Saturday October 15, 2011

HALTON-PEEL REGION: Sunday October 23, 2011

VANCOUVER: Sunday November 27, 2011

See Private School Expo for details.