Is Private School Right for Your Child? Part One

Note: Once you decide that private school is right for your child, you’ll need to determine where to apply and how to get in. We’ll cover these issues in Parts Two and Three of this series. In Part Four, we’ll discuss which are the top private schools in Massachusetts—and why.

Finding the Right School

Going to the right private school can be a deep, rich, and rewarding experience. The key to a successful matriculation is finding a school that is a good fit or match academically, socially, athletically, and artistically for your child. Each school’s culture is different, and finding the right fit is of paramount importance. A school that reflects your family’s and child’s values is the priority, knowing that not one school is a perfect match for every student. With a wide variety of independent schools to consider, chances are there’s an independent school that will meet the needs and interests of your child and family.

Academic-Year Structure

Most private schools have an academic year structure that is different from that of public schools: longer days, more social and extracurricular activities, and schedules that feature fewer but longer vacations. Many private schools end their academic year in May or very early June, while most public schools continue until the end of June. Typically private schools have two to three week vacations in December and March, as well as one week off in November. Longer vacations and summer recess make it more convenient for non-local students to travel home to their families.

Day Structure

Many private schools offer a deep academic experience that features more high-level courses such as AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate). This will vary greatly, so be sure to investigate closely the academic opportunities available at all the schools you’re considering. Often, the days of a private school student are filled with activities that go far beyond the classroom. Many private schools have rich traditions that require or encourage all students to participate. These traditions may be musically, academically, socially, or athletically oriented. If being involved in extracurricular activities isn’t something your child is likely to enjoy, these types of private schools may not be a wise choice.

Tuition

Keep in mind that private school is expensive—often as expensive as college. The most costly are around $60,000, while most other highly competitive private schools are in the $40,000-$50,000 range. However, many private schools, such as those affiliated with religious organizations, may be far less expensive. Some are less than $10,000 per year and many are less than $20,000 per year.

Day or Boarding?

One important early decision you’ll have to make is whether you want to apply to boarding schools or day schools. Of course, the difference between the two is, quite literally, night and day. The choice of whether your child will go home at the end of each day or settle into her dorm room could not be any more profound. Boarding is right for some but not for others. Also, of course, boarding schools are more expensive than day schools, since you’re paying for room and board as well as tuition. We urge you to make this a primary consideration as you begin your research into private schools. The discussion should involve, and consider the implications for, the entire family. Many of the top private schools are boarding schools, because their excellent academics attract families from all over the world. Some students are ready to live away from home and flourish, while others may not yet be ready for the independence and experiences this provides.

A Big Change

Private schools certainly offer some advantages over public schools, but the decision has multiple facets and considerations. Going to a private school from a public school often means changing friends—or at least meeting new ones. In many cases, it also means moving to a new part of the country or even the world. In these new places, cultures vary, as do regional factors such as climate, politics, accents, languages, and food. Of course, some change would naturally occur anyway as your child moves up to middle school and high school in your town, but the change that occurs from public to private school is far more pronounced. For some, this is a pleasant and welcome change, while for others the thought of making new friends (and potentially losing old ones) and living away from home can be intimidating. For those who are ready to make the big move, the experiences learned and the friends made at private school often stay with students for a lifetime. The truth is that at private school the bonding tends to be stronger and the experiences and lessons learned can be deeper. To help you make your decision, we strongly encourage you to visit several schools in order to get a feel for each: the differences, philosophies, and unique characteristics. We also encourage you to speak with a consultant who can assist with the process

A More Personalized Experience

In most cases, private schools offer smaller classes and a much lower student-to-teacher ratio—as low as 5:1—which allows for more teacher involvement and more personalized attention. This can be especially helpful for students who are struggling to understand either basic or advanced subject matter. Private schools may also have a greater variety of classes, particularly upper-level courses. Further, guidance counselors at most private schools have fewer students and so are more available to assist and guide your child in making important decisions about his or her future

College Matriculation

One of the main reasons some families choose to send their children to private school is the promise of matriculation to an elite—even Ivy League—college. Does going to a private school help? Yes and No. We’ll cover this in detail in part two of this series.

Next Up—Part Two: Which Private School Should You Apply To and Why.

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