Private Matters

Assessing and choosing a private school.

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Once the decision to send a child to a private school is made, what factors go into selecting the right one? Comparing private schools can be like comparing apples to oranges. With so many facilities from which to choose, the matter of selecting a school is not simple by any standards.

“Choosing a school is an extremely important decision, and parents should solicit as much information as they can in order to decide which school best addresses their children’s needs and aspirations,” says Olivia Martin, the director of Admissions and Financial Aid at Holland Hall, an Independent College Preparatory Episcopal School located in Tulsa.

When visiting a campus or speaking with the admission office, parents should bring questions that relate directly to their child’s interests and strengths,”

The first step in determining which school to attend is to address your child’s learning style and what type of environment she or he will most likely succeed in, agrees Kerry Hornibrook, the director of School Advancement at Cascia Hall, a Catholic College Preparatory School in Tulsa.

“Make a list defining what the ideal school looks like and what values are at the top of your list,” says Hornibrook. “Consider all the possibilities and make sure both the parent and the potential student visit a number of schools before deciding.”

Composing questions before visiting a potential private school is also a good idea.

“When visiting a campus or speaking with the admission office, parents should bring questions that relate directly to their child’s interests and strengths,” says Martin. “If a student is a gifted cellist, parents should ask about the orchestra program and its record in competitions.

“Likewise, if a student hopes to earn a Division I soccer scholarship, parents should ask about the team, meet the coach and ask a college counselor about recent soccer-playing graduates,” says Martin.

“Most importantly, if a student is academically gifted or faces learning challenges, parents must ascertain if the school will address their child’s strengths and weaknesses in a comprehensive way,” says Martin.

Some other things to consider are school values, educational tools, college matriculation rate, extra-curricular opportunities, teacher-student ratio and where your child feels he or she will make the best fit.

“The feeling of fit and comfort should supersede the reputation of the school,” says Lisa Oliver, head of College Counseling at Cascia Hall.

“A student must have the feeling, once on campus, of being happy there and fitting in, not just academically, but socially as well,” Oliver says.

You will find many private schools have honor codes and behavioral standards that can be enforced that help students develop into mature adults.”

The most important advice you’ll ever hear is to start early. Start your search early, plan your visits early and put in your applications early. In the case for private schools, one has to plan ahead because most private schools make admission decisions for the following school year by January of the current year.

Each school has its own requirements, and some documentation (independent testing, for example) may take a while to gather. Pay attention to admission requirements and deadlines.

Lastly, is college attendance a high priority for both student and parents?

“Private schools can instill their students with the expectation of attending college,” says Hornibrook.  “With college as a focus, students can be more goal oriented, and often the school’s curriculum will be aimed at preparing your child for college. Many private schools, such as Cascia Hall, are even referred to as ‘college preparatory.’

“Another difference between private and public schools is private schools often put a major emphasis on personal values,” says Hornibrook. “You will find many private schools have honor codes and behavioral standards that can be enforced that help students develop into mature adults.”

Cascia Hall, says Oliver, provides students with strong relationships with teachers, innovative curriculum, small class sizes that encourages individual development, superior college counseling and a variety of arts and athletics.

“Our graduates report every year that they have the best writing skills, laboratory experience, ability to work collaboratively, time management, confidence and public speaking skills of anyone in their freshman dorms,” says Oliver. “They are not only prepared for success in college but also in life beyond their formal education.”

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