The decision to go private: a parent weighs in on the process
Laura Ketcham and her husband both graduated from public school, so they thought their own child would, too. But like with any big decision, they started comparing their options. When Andrew transitioned from pre-K to kindergarten, the family ultimately decided that private school was the best option for him — and their decision has only been reinforced.
» My husband and I were both public school students through high school, and my mom and step-dad are both public school educators, so we thought we were headed the public school route.
» We started the magnet school application process. We didn't get selected in the lottery. We took it as a sign that we needed to look at private school options.
» [Andrew] did visits at the private schools we were looking at. We got his input on how he felt during visits and what he thought of the school as a whole.
» When he ultimately said he wanted to make the decision based on whether or not the school had a uniform, we looked at other factors. We certainly talked to lots of friends about their experiences with different school options.
» I think a lot of it is so driven by the individual child and what you think is right for your child that you truly have to do your own research.
» When it came time to decide, do we go private or go to the public school we're zoned for, we thought St. Peter's [Episcopal School] was the best spot for our child.
» The small class sizes were important to us. The sort of balance that it finds between academics and extracurricular opportunities felt right for us. It just seemed like a welcoming, family-like environment.
» The class size and student/teacher ratio was much higher at the zoned school for us, and, I think, at most public schools. Just the school as a whole that we were zoned for was so much larger than any of the private options we were looking at.
» Obviously the faith-based element would not be there in the public school option.
» I appreciate the benefits of private school more than I anticipated I would.
» He gets a lot [of attention] every day in the classroom, and there's not as much of a need to supplement on things like math and reading and writing at home because of that. I knew that was an advantage of private school because of the smaller student/teacher ratios and more one-on-one attention kids could get; I knew there would be less of a need to supplement, but I don't think I anticipated how drastic it would be for us.
» As a parent, I know he's going to be well positioned to go wherever he wants to go from here. It's a great feeling to have: that he's going to be well prepared and have the skills academically, but also a well-rounded experience.
» It's just been easier to be a parent of a child in private school than I anticipated it would be.
35 Questions to Ask Before Committing
1. What is the school's overall mission?
2. What is the leadership's philosophy?
3. Are there any parental involvement requirements?
4. Is bus service offered?
5. How many students are accepted annually? How many apply?
6. What are class sizes like?
7. Are there upper grades and, if so, is preference given to existing students?
8. How are classes taught?
9. How much learning is individual vs. collaborative?
10. Is there any integrated learning or co-teaching?
11. How is technology incorporated into learning?
12. What about the arts?
13. Can I have a list of your elective classes?
14. Can I sit in on a few classes?
15. Do you offer any out-of-the-box options for children who struggle in a normal classroom setting?
16. How are students evaluated on mastery?
17. How are teachers evaluated?
18. What's the rate of teacher turnover?
19. How does the school address bullying?
20. Is there downtime or play time built into the school day?
21. What extracurricular opportunities are available?
22. How much homework do students typically have?
23. What school resources are you most proud of?
24. Which offerings seem to resonate the most with students?
25. How are student achievements celebrated?
26. In what ways do teachers interact with students and their families outside of the school day?
27. How is school pride instilled?
28. What are some of the school's or students' greatest accomplishments?
29. What is the view on religion? Is it incorporated into the school day or curriculum in any way?
30. What kind of college and career resources are available?
31. What are your graduation and college acceptance rates?
32. How many alums finish postsecondary school?
33. Does the school have any established relationships with local employers?
34. Are there any parents of current students with whom I can speak?
35. What financial aid is available?
10 Financial Aid Resources to Consider
1. Tuition payment plans. Can't afford lump payments? Make monthly payments. Check with the school for any affiliations. There are several independent firms that offer such assistance.
2. School grants. The most common type of financial aid offered, grants are awarded annually, and don't have to be paid back. However, students must demonstrate financial need — so be as open and honest as possible.
3. Merit scholarships from the school. Relatively rare, these are usually reserved for students who have a special talent the school is seeking, such as art, music or academics.
4. Scholarships from outside organizations. Check with local chapters of national groups like the Rotary Club, and ask the school for a list of organizations that have provided scholarships in the past.
5. Tuition loans. Just like any other loan provided by a private lender, these will have varying interest rates and acceptance requirements.
6. State vouchers. Parents of children with approved documented disabilities in Georgia and Tennessee can use state funds — approximately $6,000 per year — for specialized education. Other guidelines apply, so do some research.
7. Church affiliations. Some faith-based schools give acceptance priority to children of members of specific churches or denominations — and, sometimes, discounted tuition rates. Additionally, some churches and local chapters of denominations will subsidize tuition to a connected private school for active members.
8. Tax credit programs. Locally, this is more of a benefit for corporations that contribute to scholarships than a direct resource for families. However, the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization is a centralized source of such funds for Georgia students. Contact the Georgia private school of your choice for a scholarship application form.
9. Coverdell education savings account. Not a quick fix, these accounts allow benefactors, including corporations and trusts, to contribute toward a child's education — a combined total of $2,000 per year. Contributors must fall under the prescribed income ceiling, and make contributions in cash. Contributions are not deductible, but the distributions are tax-free.
10. Employer benefits. Some employers offer education assistance. It never hurts to ask!
Although not every independent private school follows the same admission schedule, this timeline provides a rough outline of what to expect.
August of the year before you'd like to enroll your child
» Determine what you're looking for in a school.
» Begin researching schools that meet your child's needs.
» Develop a list of schools that you'd like to find out more about.
» Request admissions and financial aid material.
» Check with schools to see if they're participating in a local school fair where you can gather material and impressions from several schools at once.
» Note pertinent deadlines for admission and financial aid.
» Register for any standardized tests required for admission (each school lists specific admission criteria on its application). If testing is required, review the test website to learn about procedures and test dates; consider purchasing a test-preparation book.
» Call schools to schedule individual tours, interviews, class visits and "shadow days."
» Visit open houses, attend information sessions and take tours.
» Finalize a list of schools to which you will apply.
» Take standardized admission tests, if applicable.
» Watch for open houses you may want to attend.
» Start lining up teacher recommendations from your child's current school.
» Start working on applications, financial aid forms and student questionnaires.
» Continue to watch for any open houses or school events of interest.
» Request transcripts at the end of your child's first semester.
» Complete any remaining applications.
» Pay attention to deadlines: Most schools' applications — along with tests scores, references, transcripts and financial aid forms — are due in January or February.
» Don't miss the deadlines!
» Visit schools or have your child participate in a student shadow day if you haven't already.
» Watch for school decisions starting in mid-March.
» Watch for financial aid decisions about this same time.
» If you've applied to and have been accepted by multiple schools, decide which school is the right fit for your child.
» Sign and return enrollment contracts and deposits.
» Attend events and activities for new parents and students during spring and summer.