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Five Steps for Choosing a Boarding or Private Day School

Choosing a boarding school or private day school is not an easy process. it requires a lot of time, effort, and advance planning. However, if you follow the right approach and stay focused, you can make good progress in your quest. Our five steps for choosing a boarding school is a great way to get started.

Step 1: Identify Schools

Look at every school that interests you. Take time to really explore each school’s website. Many of them have excellent video tours. Read what the students have to say about their school. Many school websites have comments as well, although you probably will find that those comments are pretty positive.

Bookmark school web addresses or swipe and paste the URLs into a spreadsheet. That makes the next step in the process really easy. You should end up with a list of 15 to 20 schools, but don’t worry if you have more than that.

Don’t worry at this stage about which school is the best one for your child. More about how to deal with that question later.

Step 2: Narrow Your List

This is one of the more time consuming parts of the process of choosing a private school. Why? Because you need to sit down with your child and discuss each school on the list. As you work through the list, you can code the schools which will end up on your short list. The short list should be between 8 to 10 schools.

So, how do you cut down your original list of 15 to 20 schools? By asking lots of questions.

  • Do you want single sex or a coeducational school?
  • Do you want to go to a small or a large school?
  • Do you want to go to a religious school?
  • Do you have special interests such as the arts or hockey?
  • Do you have special needs? For example, an international student may require ESL support (English as a Second Language)

Answer these questions and you will see at once how schools which were on your original list are no longer in the running.

The next question you have to consider is much tougher:

Are you a good match for what the school is looking for? Please understand that there’s a lot more to that question than appears at first glance. After all, how do you know what the school is looking for anyway? You can read the website and explore the catalog in detail. But what are they really looking for? This is a key area of expertise for education consultants who can be a valuable ally for students and parents during this most important part of the process.

Your professional education consultant can match what you offer against what she knows individual schools are looking for. What if you decide not to hire an educational consultant? Well, of course, you can do that. But then you will never know with any certainty what your child’s chances are until the acceptance letters come out in March.

Your professional education consultant can match what you offer against what she knows individual schools are looking for. He or she will help you develop a list which will include safe schools and those which are more of a “reach” (challenging). The others in the middle are those which you stand a very good chance of being accepted—also known as “target” schools.

Step 3: Visit Schools

You simply cannot skip this important step. Visiting schools on your short list takes time. But tied in with the campus visit is the interview. The interview is your chance to really assess whether the school is a good fit for your child and your requirements. The only way to do it is to visit the school and ask lots of questions. Find out what is being taught and how it is being taught. Find out more about the teachers and how qualified they are.

Step 4: Admissions Testing

Most schools use the SSAT and/or the ISEE, which are standardized admissions tests. For international students, many also require the TOEFL. There will also be an essay and a few other bits of writing which you and your child will have to do. A word of advice about standardized tests: make sure your child has plenty of practice. Don’t leave that practice until late.

Step 5: Application Forms

Most schools have online applications which simplify the process. Some schools use a common application form. Download these materials in September so that you can hand out the teacher recommendation forms and get those taken care of early in the fall.

Our best advice: Start early and stay organized!