9 Tips for Choosing the Best School for Your Child

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Parents used to worry about saving for their child’s college tuition, often wondering whether they were starting to put away funds soon enough. But for most people, public school took care of grades K-12.

Today, many parents are concerned about their children’s education at a far younger age, often researching—and in some instances even competing — to enroll their progeny in superior preschools.

Selecting the best school for your child involves research and insight. You need to consider not only academic programs but also extracurricular activities, the school environment, and your own priorities for your child to ensure an enriching educational experience tailored to your child’s unique needs.

Here are five key tips for making the ideal school choice for your child:

1. Research school-rating websites. One of the simplest ways to begin to educate yourself about schools is to review and compare information on a school rating website such as Niche.com. This site ranks the best schools in America according to a number of parameters, starting with school type: traditional, charter, magnet, private, religion-focused (e.g., Catholic, Jewish), boarding status, whether the school is coed or all-boys or all-girls, and specialty, such as Montessori or therapeutic. You can also adjust your search for student/teacher ratio and tuition. This will immediately narrow your options and give you a better sense of where to look. So, for example, if you were searching for coed boarding schools in the West, Oregon-based Delphian School would be one that pops up.

2. Talk with other parents. The next obvious step is to confer with your peers. If your child is very young, are you involved with a playgroup or parent support network? Maybe your relatives or friends have children of similar age. Beyond your immediate contacts, reach out to parents outside your circle to develop a broader picture of your options. Harvard’s Making Caring Common project offers research, reports, and initiatives for parents to help them make more informed choices.

3. Schedule a visit. Almost everyone does this when researching potential colleges. And it’s just as important, if not more so, for the primary grades. Take a tour of a few schools, visit the classrooms, notice whether the children seem happy and engaged, and whether the teachers appear to have a good relationship with the students. Sometimes, a school that looks great on screen doesn’t pass muster in person, and the reverse can also be true: a school you might not seriously consider because it lacks a pedigree may nevertheless have a fine curriculum, dedicated staff, and foster an atmosphere conducive to learning and enjoyment. So, aim to keep an open mind as you do your research.

4. Check out the school’s report card. Long before your child brings home a report card from the school you select, you need to determine whether the school itself receives top marks. The U.S. Department of Education ranks public schools on an extensive number of “subjects,” including students’ scores on state tests, broken out by student subgroups; how many students performed at the “basic,” “proficient,” and “advanced” levels on the tests; graduation rates; numbers and names of schools that need to improve in the district; qualifications of teachers; and percentage of students who were not tested.

5. Trust your instincts. After all the research and discussions and tours are complete and you’ve sifted through all the quantitative and qualitative data, a lot comes down to your intuitive sense. Status doesn’t mean much if your child won’t be happy or do well at the school. If your child is old enough to participate in the decision-making process, include them on the tours. One child made a boarding school decision based less on academics or extracurriculars than on the reception she and her mother received at the dorm. The girls were so friendly and welcoming that she said she felt right at home and went on to have a wonderful experience at the school.

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The Educational landscape is changing dynamically. The new generation of students thus faces the daunting task to choose an institution that would guide them towards a lucrative career.

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