How to Evaluate a School for Your Child

The following piece was written by Liz Perelstein. Liz has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is the Founder of School Choice International.

As we anticipate the spring, you may be evaluating your child's progress during the past year and deciding what kind of school would serve your child best in the coming years. The options can be overwhelming:

Public Schools

  • Local public schools
  • Specialized public schools

Private Schools

  • Independent schools
  • Parochial schools
  • Boarding schools
  • Distance learning schools
  • Specialized private schools (which may include: international schools, special education schools, and schools for profoundly gifted children)

As you peruse this list, I imagine you are surprised by the number of alternatives you have when considering your child's education. Hopefully, this will alleviate some of the tension parents often feel as you begin this journey. 

In order to direct your search, begin with a thoughtful evaluation of your child. Has s/he had a good year or one in which s/he struggled, either academically, socially or emotionally? Did his or her school experience bring out the best in her, and contribute to his spirit to explore and consume knowledge? Has he developed social skills that will allow him to make friends and navigate social groupings in a new school? Would she benefit from an opportunity to reinvent herself in a new school? Pay attention to factors that make your child's schooling experience what it is. Are classes large or small? Is the classroom structured or do the children learn by doing? Is the school coeducational or single sexed? Is it close to home or does it require transit? Does it emphasize athletics or the arts? Based on her personality, interests, and emerging skills, which characteristics are important for your child's education?

I would imagine, by now, this list has automatically been narrowed down; some options simply don't fit. If your child exhibits separation anxiety, for example, boarding school simply isn't an option. But for an independent child whose homework is a nightly contest, boarding school can change the entire home dynamic. Your school list probably should include options in various categories – public and private, day and boarding – for you and your child to compare and contrast. Don't automatically assume cost is prohibitive. Private schools offer need based, and sometimes merit based, financial aid. 

The most important way to assess a school is to visit. Make appointments for school tours and go to open houses. Talk to other parents and students you meet in the cafeteria, but keep in mind that every child is different, and what works for their child may not be the best choice for yours. In public schools, parent advocates are incredibly helpful sources of information. If you don't know any parents whose children attend a particular school, request a list of parents you may call. Ask questions beyond test scores and admissions difficulties. Questions should be based on your child’s profile. Ask questions that will help you decide whether your child will thrive or struggle based on his or her unique characteristics. 

Finally, encourage your child to reach for schools that may be selective – both in the public and private sectors. You won't know until you try. If your child isn't accepted, this can be a great learning moment – be sure to be a positive role model and handle wait lists or rejection with compassion and a problem solving attitude. On the other hand, never put all your eggs in one basket. If you limit your search to a few schools, be sure that you and your child would be content to remain at his or her current school or the local public school.

Visit School Choice International for more information.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.