Six Questions You Need to Answer When Choosing a School
The most important questions aren't always the ones we think of first.
When people begin looking at their private school options, they often begin by asking “What is the best school?” Which, as experts agree, is entirely the wrong question. These are the right ones:
What’s most important to us?
It’s a big, hairy question with many layers to it. It includes thoughts of who we are, of our cultural background, and of the kinds of people that we want our children to be. There are more prosaic aspects to it as well—location, academic approach, cost—and each family will rank these, and other things, differently. When the dust settles, values will be near or at the top of any list of priorities, just as they should be. The right school will reflect those that are most important to you.
Does it provide the right opportunities?
Ultimately, and choice of school is based in a sense of possibility. Hockey, travel, debate, theatre, technology, rowing with seals—if there is something that the child wants to do, there’s a school for that.
Is this a community you can imagine being part of?
When you enroll at a school, the child becomes part of that community, and so do you. You’ll be attending the campus from time to time, if not on a daily basis. You’ll likely be attending events within the school’s annual calendar. What are they? It’s good to know and to consider if they seem like the kinds of events you would look forward to. It’s a relationship you’re entering into, and it needs to be positive one for all involved.
Are students happy?
Are they congregating, interacting with staff and faculty? When they approach the buffet in the dining hall, do they share a smile or a joke with the dining staff? How do they hold themselves as they walk between classes? You can’t learn if you don’t feel comfortable.
Can you envision your child being successful in this environment?
Success doesn’t mean setting the foundation for a Nobel prize. It’s about students meeting their potential, and being pushed in supportive ways. It’s about learning who they are, and where they fit in the world. To do that, different students need different things. It’s important to know the ones that your child needs, and then find the environment that will best supply them.
Does it feel right?
It’s not about the class size, or the breadth of programming, or anything else we might look to—it’s about the child. Just as some children require an environment that will cater to their strengths, others will be best served by one that will build confidence and facility. While some students thrive in an active, collaborative environment, others work best in one that offers more structure. Often, simply joining a community that reflects their interests and their values can be transformative.
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