The reasons cited over and over again by families who send their children to private schools include individual attention, small classes, teacher excellence, and high academic standards.

Your decision to consider an independent/private school is just the beginning. While private schools set high standards and emphasize values, they are wonderfully distinct from each other. There are day and boarding schools; coeducational, girls’, and boys’ schools. Enrollment varies from a few dozen to a few thousand students. Some independent schools are progressive, others more traditional in structure. Private schools also serve a varying range of students in terms of abilities and interests. Some schools offer special programs such as intensified instruction in the fine and performing arts, experiential learning projects, or travel abroad seminars. Many schools excel at rigorous intellectual preparation; others are dedicated to average learners; and some specialize in teaching bright students with learning disabilities. Since each of these schools has something unique to offer, ideally you are trying to match a student’s needs with the appropriate school. Write or call the admissions office for published information about a school’s philosophy and programs, and then make an appointment to visit.

If you haven’t done so already, contact each potential school for information dealing with philosophy, curriculum, extracurricular offerings, admission process, and financing options. Compare each school’s literature with the items on your list; this should give you a preliminary sense of which schools are a good match. Take into account what type of environment would be best for your child and consider his or her individual strengths as you examine each school’s program.

Here are some questions to start with as you look through each school’s materials:

• Is the school accredited and by whom?
• What is the school’s mission and does its philosophy appeal to you?
• Does the school have a special or particular educational focus?
• Are academics rigorous?
• Is the environment competitive? Nurturing? Are there high expectations?
• How large is the school and its student body?
• Where is the school located and what are your transportation options?
• What is the tuition and how flexible are the school’s financing options?
• What is the school’s application process? Are deadlines drawing near?

The best time to apply is in the fall preceding the academic year of the student’s admission; however, applications are considered throughout the school year. Most schools will require a personal interview, admissions testing, and information from your child’s current school. Ask the individual school for the details of its application procedures and testing dates.

In short, choosing the right school for your child is likely the most important single decision you might make in terms of setting the proper path and direction for life: A little preparation and research on the part of parents will go miles toward making the ultimate destination clear at the exit ramp.