Finding the Best Private School for Your Child

Choosing a School
Choosing a School. Digital Vision/Getty Images

What's the best private school in the U.S.? The best boarding school in New England? Parents looking for private schools ask these questions all the time. Everybody thinks that there has to be a report somewhere definitively ranking private schools. But every school is unique and data isn't enough to give you the full picture. Plus, every ranking system uses different criteria for there determinations.

Instead, are a few things to consider when it comes to selecting the right private school for your child.

Each School Is Unique.

The process of ranking schools is about comparing characteristics and data. With private schools, we can compare things like the grades offered, the number of students, tuition costs, the number of AP courses taught, educational philosophy, and so on. Statistical information and data about 29,000 private schools is available on the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES database is not particularly user-friendly and the results can be misleading too depending on how individual schools have entered their data. Unfortunately, the availability of all this data sidesteps the important fact that each private school is unique. 

Is a Selective School Better for My Child?

A selective school is a school which by definition has more applicants than it has places to offer, or what we call an acceptance rate.

A school which enjoys a good reputation will often be high on every parent's list, but this statistic can be very misleading. Many schools, especially schools that place a high value on providing a nurturing environment, pride themselves on counseling out families that won't be a good fit, rather than allowing them to complete the application process.

Many schools believe that a young student, often an eighth grader, doesn't need to be handed a formal letter that basically says, "You're not good enough for our school." Which means that those schools who counsel out families are going to have a higher acceptance rate because they have already culled the pool of applicants to ensure they have the best fits for them. The environment should be the best deciding factor on if a school is right for a child.

Fit Is the Most Important Choice Criterion.

The majority of educational consultants will tell you that the most important criterion in choosing a private school is school fit. What do we mean by fit? To understand the term, you have to circle back to the beginning of the process—when you decided what characteristics and features your ideal school should have. The schools which provide the closest match to all the things you were looking for are the schools that might be the best fit. You must visit and inspect each school to determine more accurately which school is the best fit.

Data Doesn't Tell You About the School Culture.

Think about, will SAT scores, college lists, and test scores tell you if your child will fit in at a school? Will they make friends and find clubs to get involved with?


Compare Schools. Don't rank schools.

If you have followed our reasoning so far, then the idea that comparing schools is more important than ranking schools should begin to make sense. Comparing the class size from one school to another, for example, is useful especially if plenty of individual attention is something you want in a school. Comparing tuition is important for most of us as it impacts how much financial aid we need to ask for. Indeed, comparing financial aid packages from one school to another could determine your final choice if everything else fits.

The uniqueness of each school, the way each school fits with your needs and requirements, and how each one compares with the others are three reasons why ranking schools doesn't matter when it comes to choosing the best private school for your child.

Use Tools to Find the Right School

Directories of schools have complete listings of the K-12/PG schools most of us are looking for and offer a variety of search options to filter schools that meet your ideal criteria. A few sites to consider are the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), Petersons,  Private School Review and Boarding School Review