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Introduction

Enrolling your child in a private school presents plenty of questions and concerns. Though schools do their best to provide ample information online, you should still feel comfortable talking to administrators to help decide whether a school is a good fit for your child.

Interviews are convenient times to request details on topics you may not find in generic FAQs. Most interviewers will give you a chance to ask questions. Therefore, make sure you are prepared ahead of time with what you and your child would most like to learn.

Below are some suggestions for questions you should (and shouldn’t) ask private schools when applying.

You should ask about the work-life balance.

No matter the grade level, students at private schools have to balance a range of commitments. Many private schools require extracurriculars and athletics each semester, as well as a typically larger workload.

It can be useful to discuss with your interviewer how students customarily balance these obligations, both in the classroom and on the field. How does the school support student well-being, encourage enthusiasm, and prevent burn-out? Be sure to ask about access to extracurriculars outside of athletics, depending on where your child’s interests lie. Particularly if your child plans to stay involved in activities not associated with the school, it is key that you confirm the feasibility of their schedule.

You might also ask how students prioritize their workload. Does the school offer study halls or free time within the school day? Above all, your goal is to understand how your student will theoretically function and thrive in a fast-paced, demanding environment.

You should ask about the curriculum.

Private schools are technically exempt from following Common Core learning standards. For that reason, parents should clarify and confirm the type of education their child will receive. Does the school offer honors or AP courses? If the school does not follow typical state standards, how do courses prepare students appropriately for college? Grading scales and systems at private schools can also differ, so it is helpful to understand how teachers will evaluate student work.

Additionally, it is important to get a sense from administrators of the school’s approach to learning. Do they prioritize critical thinking or rote memorization? Are students allowed or encouraged to make mistakes?

For students requiring a more individualized curriculum or extra support, be sure to ask how the school incorporates differentiated learning styles and technologies.

You should ask about parental involvement.

Particularly for younger grade levels, parental involvement is a key part of the school experience. If you are someone who plans to volunteer, ask about opportunities where you can get involved.

Private schools host a range of events throughout the year, including community service activities, many of which often call for student and family assistance.

You should ask about the impact of class size and student-teacher ratios.

Private schools often pride themselves on their class size. Smaller class sizes provide increased help from instructors while fostering more substantial and meaningful relationships within the school.

Though school websites usually provide data regarding exact student populations, it can be beneficial to ask how the decreased class size will actually aid your child.

Similarly, questions regarding student-teacher relationships can provide you with a clear sense of the school’s culture, community, and philosophy. Do teachers interact with students outside of the classroom? Does the school use an advisor system? Learning about the exact involvement of teachers and administrators in your child’s life will paint a clearer picture of their day-to-day.

You should ask about college counseling.

One of the notable differences between many public and private schools is access to individual college counselors. If your student is applying to a private high school, you might want to figure out when they will first start talking with a college counselor.

You can also ask how the school assigns college counselors to students and the number of students each works with. What will be the role of college counselors in your child’s life? How will that role change as your child nears graduation?

It can also be helpful to ask about the school’s approach to standardized test preparation or college applications. Does the school provide specialized help for upperclassmen when preparing for SATs or ACTs? Does the school work with students on their personal essays?

You shouldn’t ask too much about college acceptances.

Despite the importance of understanding college counseling, asking too many questions about college acceptances can be irritating or distracting for your interviewer. It can also provide you with misleading information.

It is relatively impossible to determine, in an interview setting, the backstory and context for a school’s college acceptances. Many factors that contribute to getting students into college are out of a school’s control, for instance, athletic scholarships and legacies.

Rather than spending interview time asking where former students have matriculated, base your college-related questions around school support and preparation. Too many questions about acceptances can give you the appearance of being less concerned with your child’s primary or secondary education and more concerned with using a school as simply a stepping stone to future opportunities.

You shouldn’t ask why tuition is so high.

Private schools are perhaps most widely known for their pricey tuition. Be sure to familiarize yourself with tuition, fees, and, if applicable, financial aid. You might avoid, however, asking too many questions about the tuition itself.

Even if you want to determine what exactly you will receive for this higher cost, phrasing your question in terms of money isn’t always the best route to take. Instead, framing questions around access to resources and experiences—arts and athletics facilities, science labs, field trips, room & board—will give you an idea of what you would pay for without mentioning the price tag.

It can be useful, though, to get a sense of the student population’s economic diversity and how the school supports and encourages students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

You shouldn’t try to impress administrators with irrelevant questions.

Undoubtedly, you want to put your child’s best foot forward when meeting with a prospective school. Nevertheless, keep questions relevant to your child and their interests or needs. Schools host interviews in order to get to know students and their families. Therefore, do not avoid asking questions because you fear they might harm your child’s chances of acceptance.

Conversely, asking questions with the goal of making your child appear more impressive will most often backfire. Admissions officers are very familiar with all sorts of conversational strategies, and they can tell when you are simply trying to look good. Instead, allow the school to get to know your child. Additionally, allow your child to learn more about what their life might be like at this new place.

Conclusion

Transitioning to a private school can be a major change for students of any age. As a parent, it is key to make sure you get the clearest sense of how your child might fit into a particular environment. Make sure to carefully discuss with your child their experience of each school after visiting to see if it is best for them.

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