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How to Find the Private School That’s Right for Your Child

So you’re thinking about sending your child to a private school. Now that your family is starting to look at schools, you have an important question to answer: How do you find a school that’s the best fit? You may find that it’s hard to know which one to choose. 

There are many factors to consider, and understanding what you and your child truly want is the first step. 

As you do your research, it’s a good idea to think about schools in the context of eight distinct categories. Ask your child: Which of these factors or qualities is most important? Which are less essential? Knowing what matters to you — and, more importantly, your child — will be helpful in narrowing down the choices. 


1. The Campus — Location, Size, and Facilities

  • First, consider where the school is located. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this location?
  • How big is the campus? How compact or spacious is it, and what are the benefits and restrictions of this environment? Is it in a rural, suburban, or urban location? 

  • Think about the campus buildings and facilities. Do the dorms look inviting? Do the sports and arts facilities support your student’s interests? Are facilities being rebuilt or added?


2. The Student Body

  • The size and makeup of the student body can be an important factor in your decision. How many students attend this school? How diverse is the student population? 

  • What’s the ratio of boarding students to day students, and how much does that split matter to you? 

  • Think about the type of school, whether religious or secular, the gender makeup, and its community culture. 

  • Are there international students? Are their cultures honored and celebrated or is it all about assimilation? 


3. Student Life

  • Look at aspects of student life and residential life and think about what appeals to you and your child. 

  • Is the school’s advising program focused only on academics or is it more holistic? 

  • Is there a dress code or school uniform? 

  • How are dorms arranged? Are they split by grade? 

  • Don’t forget to think about the small things that will be part of day-to-day life at school, like the size of dorm rooms and what the bathrooms are like.

4. School Culture

  • Think about your impressions of the school culture and values. What is the school’s mission and does the school community seem to live its mission? 

  • What affinity or identity groups are available for students? 

  • What traditions bring the school together? 

  • Do students seem happy and engaged? 

  • Is there any connection among students in different grades?

5. Academics and the Faculty

  • Familiarize yourself with the courses the school offers, and find out what the daily schedule looks like. 

  • Does the school offer higher level courses in the subjects that interest your student? 

  • Learn about the faculty. What is the average number of years that teachers have been teaching? Are there faculty members who you and your child are especially excited to work with?


6. Extracurricular Activities

  • What happens outside of the classroom is important, too. Take a look at campus clubs and extracurricular activities and see if there’s something that would spark a passion.

  • Does the school offer the types of extracurricular activities that your child has been involved in and is interested in continuing? 

  • Is there an activity offered that your child hasn’t yet tried but would be excited to explore? Are there clubs or groups that would provide support? 

  • If your student has an idea for a new club or group, would they be able to create that at this school?

7. Admissions

  • If you attended a class, open house, or a tour, what did your child get out of your visit? Was the experience enjoyable? Did your family make a particular connection with your tour guide? What were your impressions? 

  • Did your child have a fun and informative interview?

  • What did you learn about the school’s acceptance rate? How many students typically apply and how many are usually accepted? And does that rate vary by grade? Find out how many students were accepted from your geographic area.

  • Are there testing requirements and are they attainable? Is there a priority deadline you should be aware of?


8. Cost and Financial Aid

  • What’s the tuition? 

  • Is there significant financial support for students who need it? 

  • Does the school offer financial aid for areas other than tuition? 

  • What’s the percent of students who receive financial aid?


Other things to consider:

Once you’ve talked with your child and considered your own views on these topics, make sure to write down which qualities you believe are most important. 

Ask lots of questions while you’re touring schools and talking to people. Seek help from admission teams at the schools you’re considering, including Northfield Mount Hermon.

With more than 100 combined years of experience helping families apply to boarding school, the NMH Admission Office has assembled this invaluable checklist for comparing one school to another. It covers much of what’s been suggested above, and can help you both develop a list of schools to consider and guide you through the process of choosing the one that’s right for your student. 

The NMH Admission Office is ready to assist students and families interested in starting the process of applying to an independent school. NMH admission counselors work with families every day and can answer questions about every step of the process. They offer many opportunities to connect and can also set up tours and interviews at NMH for your student to get a better look at what NMH has to offer.

In future posts, NMH administrators and faculty will share their expertise and advice for making the most of the private school application process. You’ll hear about how to make an application shine, how to get the best teacher recommendations, how students can stand out during the interview, and how to write an essay that stands out. Meanwhile, here’s an overview of the application process, along with a few tips.