Written By Marcy Sanford
It may seem early to already be preparing for next school year, but Tampa parents like to get an early start when selecting a private school for their child. Making this decision can seem like a daunting task. Everyone from neighbors to friends and family has advice and recommendations. Every school’s website looks similar, filled with pictures of smiling children happily learning and studying. It can be overwhelming and confusing, but by arming yourself with information and asking the right questions long before the next school year starts, the process can be smoother for the whole family, and your child will have a better chance of attending their school of choice. Keep these five questions in mind as you consider your child’s academic future.
How will practical concerns, like transportation, your budget and your religious affiliation, play into your decision?
Any of these can be a deciding factor when you’re choosing a school for your child. If you need to adhere to a strict budget, or if driving your child to and from a school that is far from your home would create issues for your family, remove those schools from your list. Similarly, if you envision your child attending the same school from kindergarten through high school or would like one that is affiliated with your family’s religion, that desire will narrow your choices.
Does the school fit your child’s personality?
Once you have a list of the schools you are most interested in, schedule a tour of each. During your tour, pay attention to the ambiance of the school and imagine your child here. You should be able to visit a classroom during your tour. If your child has a specific interest in a certain subject, be sure to ask if you can see those classrooms. As you walk around, pay attention to the student work – like writing samples, art and other projects – hanging on the walls. This will suggest what and how students learn at the school and whether it would jibe with your child’s learning style.
What is the school’s academic record?
For elementary-age children, it is a good idea to ask how classroom placement for students is determined. For middle school students, ask how the school guides and prepares students for high school and beyond. You may also want to find out if they offer foreign language classes. For both middle schools and high schools that have lower grades within the school, ask what percent of students started at the school in sixth grade or ninth grade versus how many have attended the school since elementary age.
For private high schools, request the yearly average score for the SAT and ACT – see if you can get averages from the past three to four years. In addition to looking at the overall curriculum, look into how many Advanced Placement classes are offered. How many students take them? What percent of students from the school earn a 4 or 5, the passing scores most likely to be accepted by universities across the country, on the exams?
If your child has his or her heart set on a specific university, you may want to ask the school if they have had any students attend that university. In general, you want to find out what universities students apply to and get accepted to. Again, ask for several years of data.
What is the school’s culture like?
During a tour, take note of how adults interact with students throughout the school. After the tour, be sure to speak with the head of the school or the admissions director to ask about the admissions process. Steve Matesich, director of admissions at Jesuit High School, said that the number of students who apply to private schools grows every year. His team looks for well rounded students to fill the school’s 200 spots.
“At Jesuit, we are looking for young men who want to be in an academically rigorous environment and to get involved in leadership opportunities and who are dedicated to service and growing in their faith,” Matesich said. Take this time to ask school officials any other questions you may have that are particular to your child’s needs.
What resources does the school offer your child?
Ask to see the school’s facilities to find out how much access students have to technology, library materials and sports equipment for P.E. or recess. For your high schooler, find out the guidance counselor to student ratio. Counselors can be extremely helpful to students applying for college.
As you prepare to send your child to private school, Matesich said instilling a love of learning and a good work ethic in your child, as well as encouraging them to find their passion, are the best things a parent can do to help their child get into the school of their choice and be successful there.