Choosing a private school can be a difficult decision. Parents need to know what questions to ask when choosing a private school to make sure the private school will be a good fit and meet their child's educational needs.

There is generally some impetus for beginning to think about a private school. The thought could arise because going to a particular private school is a family tradition; because the child doesn't seem to be a good match for the public school environment; because the child has a special gift, talent, or need that you feel would be better addressed in a private school environment; or because someone has recommended a private school, based on their own experience or knowledge of your child.

Whatever the starting point is, there will be some things you may already know and some things you will want to investigate in order to have a full picture.

Consider Your Child or Children.

One important part of your knowledge is an understanding of your child's academic, social, emotional, and physical development. Knowing your child well will help you make good initial choices about compatible private schools, and since these are areas that a private school will consider as it goes through its admissions and placement process, you will be able to communicate with school representatives about ideas or concerns they might have.

If you have had an opportunity to observe your child in a private school environment, this may be helpful. If your child is already in school (or a school-like environment, such as any lessons) you may also gain valuable information from your student's teacher(s) and other school staff who have interacted with your student.

Consider Your Financial Situation.

One of the differences between public and private school is how they are funded. This is not the same for every private school - for example - a private school for students with disabilities to which a child is referred to by the public school generally do not create a financial change for a parent.

On the other hand, a parent choosing a private school needs to think about tuition and possibly financial aid. This may be available through the school or through a state scholarship program. See: Funding a Private School Education

Consider the private school.

  • Accreditation - It is important to know the school's qualifications before you entrust your child to its care. For K-12 schools, check with your state department of education. For secondary schools, you may also find the national regional accreditation commissions useful. These are the major commissions:

    • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
    • North Central Association of Schools and Colleges
    • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
    • Northwest Association of Accredited Schools
    • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
    • Western Association of Schools and Colleges 
  • Offerings - The offerings that are important to you will depend on your child, the school, and on the level of education. If it is a kindergarten, your considerations will be different than if it is a ski school, a farm school, or a performing arts school.
  • Facility - You will want to consider the environment, both in terms of the structures, and the external surroundings, which may include athletic areas, a playground, other types of recreation areas, dorms, etc. Ask for a tour, if one is not offered. Consider not only what is available, but also whether it is well-maintained, and attractive, and whether the people seem pleased with the environment.
  • Student Body and Faculty - Meeting some of the people your child will be spending time with will give you more of an idea of what your child's time at the school would be like. Seek an opportunity to sit in on one or more classes as different types of activities are going on. 
  • Financial Situation - Like any other business, a school may be well or poorly managed as a business. If possible, view the school's yearly report. 
  • Day School or Residential School - For a child, switching schools can be significant, and switching from home life to a boarding or residential school can be a major event. 
  • Governance - It is worth knowing whom the school faculty answer to, what is the guiding mission/philosophy behind the education being offered, and who is making the significant decisions. Many private schools have a head of school or headmaster, and an interview with the head is an important step. 
  • Graduates - It is good to find out what graduates think and what their next education or career steps are after the school. Some schools have a very close connection with a subsequent school or schools, and this can be an asset, whether at the K-12 level or moving into higher education. 
  • Parents - Are parents who have made the choice you are considering happy with their decision? This is another good area to explore as you consider your decision.

Written by Mary Elizabeth