We’re going to just start off by saying this blog will NOT tell you whether to choose a public or a private high school. How could we? Each and every school has to be judged on its own merit, and more importantly, each child is so unique so all educational options should be considered fully.
We do know there’s often a decision to be made – a choice about what high school to attend. And that can cause parents of 7th and 8th grade students to wonder what is best and perhaps struggle with that decision. We work with families in both spheres, public and private, and we know excellence can be found in both options. We can share some “food for thought” as you embark on your decision-making process.
Some broad questions to ask
First and foremost, parents think right away about curriculum and quality of the staff. Yes, those are vitally important to evaluate. Also, equally as important are questions about support for gifted or struggling students, mental health support, extracurriculars, etc.–thinking about the whole package as it pertains to your student.
The most important factors at any school can also be something you might not even know to consider. One mom shared that her child was filled with anxiety by the size of her school. The sheer number of students was overwhelming. When they visited a private school, her daughter said, “Mom, it’s carpeted!” The carpeting muffled the noise in the hallways and impacted her perception of how crowded it was. That carpet had a huge impact on how her child experienced that school.
Stress about the unknowns goes beyond what school your child attends.
When we began to offer our services in the Cincinnati area, we knew there were more families with kids in private school than had been our experience in Columbus. We also found that many of these parents needed the same support as their public school counterparts.
For practically every family we talk to, whether they are private or public, they all have the same stress around not knowing how things work.
Those families seek information from trusted resources. The counseling staff at their schools will help, but to varying degrees at each school and perhaps not on your timeline.
Who to ask?
Every school has their own messaging. We’re all savvy shoppers and know that every school, whether public or private, will put their best foot forward. Private school is a big investment, and you’re going to listen hard to the expectations they set. Some schools keep those promises, and some still do an excellent job, but perhaps not to the satisfaction of parents. We’re picky, aren’t we?! As we should be!
We always suggest you go to the source—parents at those schools you are considering. Reach out to a wide variety. Not all will have had the same experience. Post a question on social media. You might want to frame it specifically to your needs or make it broader. Absorb it all and be sure to evaluate it stringently. If you’re on Facebook, you know all about the tendency some people have for complaining, so look for trends and use the information to hone your list of questions to ask.
What about college and career planning?
Because we live in this career and college planning world, families we serve may naturally ask us, “Are the private prep schools truly prepping their students and parents?” (Heck, we get that question about public schools, too!) There are a lot of variables that affect the answer. Some of the factors include the individuals who hold counseling roles, school policies and procedures, parent expectations, etc.
There is no independently-produced measurement of the effectiveness of each school’s counseling process that we have found. We do hear anecdotal family stories of how valuable (or not) they found the college counseling to be at their school, and we would urge you to collect more of these experiences yourself. Consider what you really need and want during the career and college planning process, as best you can imagine it. Most parents go in thinking a school’s counseling efforts will be stellar because they believe in the school! And it may be, but it may not be.
Also consider that there are many moving parts to “college prep” including self assessment, major selection, ACT/SAT, career exploration, essay prep, application assistance, financial help, etc. It’s almost inconceivable to think that any one counseling department in ANY US high school would have the capacity and depth to do ALL of these very well.
Having said all of that, we can tell you that we see a fair number of families from private high schools that attend our programs and engage with us for services. In the same way, we also see families from public high schools who do the same. The thing that all families who attend (especially) the Tips for the College-Bound program are seeking is insight into a process they don’t fully understand. They need a boost of information from a trusted resource and getting it early is huge.
When to start learning about college and career planning
Parents considering private high school must take tangible steps to prepare to make a choice during 8th grade. You may naturally think it is too early to also be thinking about college planning, but it’s not! We don’t mean that you should be creating a college list or visiting schools! We mean you are in the “sensitive period” (as Beth’s Montessori mom would say) for learning about the subject. You are in sponge-mode (is that a word?) and absorbing some college and career thinking right now allows you to process it slowly. You’ll hear it again in the future and continue to process it.
Making the choice to switch to a private high school can be difficult. You are spending so much money, and you expect a lot for the investment. As with choosing a college, think through how any particular school fits your child. Your family’s criteria drive the process. And, don’t be afraid to be that sponge and absorb information from lots of sources. More knowledge is never a bad thing and will likely help you make a solid and confident decision. Good luck! Please reach out if we can help.
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