How Do You Choose a Private School During the Coronavirus?

Posted by Liz Yee on 3/14/20 5:33 PM

Your child has been accepted at more than one of the private schools that you applied to. Fantastic news! However, with schools closing due to COVID-19, there are fewer opportunities to get that “final look, “ get your questions answered, or even have your child revisit the school to make that all important school choice.  Not only is it difficult to narrow down your options to The One. How will you choose a school when it’s literally closed? 

To help you along, here are some criteria to consider, plus some advice about what to do if your child has been wait-listed.

How to Approach Your Decision-Making Process 

Trust the fact that you’ve already invested a lot of time learning about the schools. Luckily, you’ve toured a few schools, had many discussions, and spent a few late nights “Googling.” With all of the time you’ve spent learning about the school, however, the details can start to blur together. To make the right school choice, it’s helpful to think back about the schools with a fresh eye. 

Try making a list of criteria; then, decide which matters most to you and rank each school based on how well they meet your expectations. The list will bring you clarity. And, if you jotted down notes from your tours, add that info to this list. Sometimes, these are the intangibles that really matter! And of course, the school’s websites and admissions offices are key to getting your questions answered. 

Schools are in the courting mode. Even though campuses are closed, admissions directors are happy to answer your questions or connect you with current parents or teachers who can tell you more. All of the following considerations can be answered by scouring a website or talking with the admissions team.

Practical Considerations 

Location—How important is it to you that the school is close to home or work for convenient pick-up and drop-off? Who will be doing most of the driving? Consider unusual circumstances like doctor visits or early closings due to weather: is the location a good fit for your family? Many schools have a bus service, so knowing the routes and fees associated will go a long way in helping you envision all of the options. Some schools help coordinate carpooling and provide online forums for searching for families who live near you and may want to help share the drop/off pick-up responsibilities. If your child is older, you might consider public transportation if it is convenient to the school.

Tuition and Other Costs—You’ve likely already considered the reality of private school tuition. Consider other possible expenses. Some schools have separate program or activity fees while other schools take an all-inclusive approach to tuition. Will you need after school care for your child? If so, how much does it cost at the schools you are considering? What about bus service? Is adequate tuition assistance available? What about tuition insurance? Is it available in case you need to move unexpectedly or make a change mid-year?

Private School Differentiators

School Size and Age Range—Consider the pros and cons of different school configurations. Getting into a K-12 school can be a big relief—you’ve navigated the admissions process once, and you don’t have to do it again. On the other hand, it is hard to know the best middle or high school for a child in Kindergarten—children change so much! That K-12 school that initially seemed perfect, may not be the best school for your child eight years later, so you might end up needing to make a switch anyway. PK-8 schools and 6-12 schools have their own advantages. Consider all your options.

Curriculum—One of the ways to discern the difference between independent schools—which can seem similar at first blush—is to look at their curricula. You’ve already listened to school staff explain their curriculum so use that information to gain insight. Also, schools can embrace a single approach or a combination of approaches, depending on the grade level and student needs. Make sure it is clear to you how the program evolves as your child advances through the grades.

Academic Reputation—Talk to other parents who send their children to independent schools. They likely have an understanding of the reputations of various independent schools in your area. You can also check out online reviews.

Quality of Attention to Children—Smaller class size usually means a higher level of attention given to individual students. Also important to consider is how adults in the school speak to the children. Do they have a school-wide approach that fosters open and constructive communication? Or, is the approach more dependent on individual teachers? Is the school able to tell you about their strategy for communicating with students and families?

After Care and Extracurricular Activities—This is another place where you can see differences in the offerings between independent schools. It’s convenient if your child’s after school activities happen at the school, but no school will offer it all. Don’t forget to consider that your sporty spice girl may become more interested in music than soccer in a couple of years or that your child may need some tutoring or enrichment that you can’t anticipate now.

Community Criteria

School Community—A big factor in deciding which school to choose is the school community. Did you feel comfortable talking to teachers and administrators on your school tour? Did you meet any students who you thought would be good role models for your child?  What does it feel like when you drive or walk up to the school? Does it feel like a place where you want to spend a lot of time? And, since your child will be spending far more time there than you, is this the place that you want to be their home away from home? Will your child thrive here?

Diversity—How do you define diversity and how well do your values align with the school’s? How diverse is the school's student population and staff? Consider the curriculum, too, and how diversity is reflected there.

Waiting Lists

Allow yourself to fall in love with the school that has accepted your child. In many cases, waitlists don’t move. Ask the admissions office to put you in touch with current parents who are enthusiastic about the school will help you appreciate the best the school has to offer.

Pay attention to the enrollment deadlines of the schools where your child has been accepted. You will need to put down a deposit before the deadline to secure your space. Be prepared to lose the deposit if your child does get off another’s school’s waitlist.

If your child has been waitlisted at your top choice, it doesn’t hurt to let the school know. Be clear about your interest, but don’t call every day or otherwise overdo it. Schools do have limits on numbers and cannot offer spaces they don’t have.

If you have more than one waitlist option, know which is your top choice. Be mentally prepared to accept an offer from that school, should they call, and to put down a deposit, usually within 24 hours. You won’t have time to think it all through on the spot.

Final Thoughts

Deciding which school to choose is not easy. Adding in coronavirus and the related uncertainty adds another layer of stress. The school that you were hoping for a yes from is tempting, but if you are lucky enough to have choices, you want to be sure to make the right one because this is a decision that will impact your family for many years to come. Your list will help you see it all more clearly!

For more thoughts, check out our next post: "From the Parent Perspective: How to Choose a Private School."


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Looking for a school for your child?

Lowell School is an independent school in the Colonial Village neighborhood of Washington, DC, that offers Pre-Primary, Primary, and Middle School programs. It offers a rigorous and hands-on curriculum that nurtures each child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and supports the development of individual voice and self-reliance. For more information, please call 202-577-2000, email admissions@lowellschool.org, or follow Lowell on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Topics: Private School Admissions

Liz Yee

Written by Liz Yee

Liz Yee has combined her passion for people and an award-winning marketing background to create her perfect job: director of admissions at Lowell School. You may find Liz observing in a classroom, giving a tour, crunching numbers, or strategizing around Lowell’s brand. Liz earned her BA in English and Communication Arts at North Park University in Chicago, IL, and her Masters of Public Administration with a specialty in marketing research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.