Starting the process early will make the experience easier.
Applying to private school can be a daunting process and one that requires significant time and energy from a family. While this may not be the most encouraging opening thought, if embraced, it will actually make the process much less daunting.
Let’s start with time. You wouldn’t wait until senior year to begin family discussions about where your child should go to college. Likewise, you shouldn’t wait until September to begin discussions of where you child should go to school next September. Unless a family is unexpectedly relocating and must scramble to find schooling for their children, giving yourself at least 18 months to go through this process will make the entire experience more sane and less daunting. A good marker is to start after the new year and the holidays are behind you; that is, January 18 months ahead, not nine!
The next preparation is to embrace and acknowledge the energy this will take. Finding and applying to private school is a lot of work and it takes energy to manage the process, sift through all the noise, do the research, attend the events and meetings, and focus on the important discussions your family will need to have along the way. And all that increase exponentially once your family and friends know you have entered this process: their endless contributions, opinions, expectations and experiences can be a drain on the energy you are putting into the process.
Once you’ve made the family commitment to the time and energy needed, the next hurdle that makes this all seem daunting again is all the choices you will have (including still choosing the free, public school nearby). How does one begin to know and understand all the choices and make sense of them? Well, the first step is not to know and understand all the choices. The first step is to know and understand your family and your child.
Think of finding a school for your child like matchmaking. If you don’t know yourself first, if you don’t know your own values, priorities and preferences, how are you ever going to find a life partner? Similarly, you need to invest the time in not just knowing and understanding your child and your family, but really articulating it. No school is going to be perfect so before you even begin considering schools, ask yourself the hard questions and struggle with determining your priorities.
- What are our family values? What school will mirror and further those values and not be counter to them? Is a faith-based education important to us?
- What do we as parents want for our child’s education? Should it be rigorous, competitive, joyful, traditional, progressive, etc.? In what environment do we see our child thriving?
- How much are we willing to spend? How much can we afford to spend? Are we willing to make sacrifices and compromises in our current budget and lifestyle to afford tuition?
- Our child will spend much of their waking time at school. What kind of adults and educators do we want as partners in raising our child and in our child’s education? Who do we trust with our child?
Once you’ve wrestled with the big questions and made difficult choices about what things you are willing to give up in order to secure the things you aren’t willing to give up, then you can begin the process of investigating your options. But once you begin that investigation, it can get daunting again as you’re bombarded with information, opinions and ideas from other parents and relatives, websites and blogs, charming admissions directors, rumors, and the media.
The best advice for navigating this process? Invest significantly in the process of answering the big questions and setting the priorities for your child and your family and then stick to your guns! You’re not looking for the best school. You’re looking for the best school for your child and family. Don’t let anyone else define ‘best’ for you.