Parents say that academics is the number-one factor in choosing a high school for their child. If you’re interested in looking at private schools, how do you compare the different academic offerings to find the right fit for your student?

Here are the top 7 questions parents should ask to get a feel for academics at a private high school:

  1. What is the average class size?
  2. What types of accelerated courses are available? Does the school offer Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and/or dual-credit courses?
  3. What types of support are in place for students who are struggling?
  4. Does the school offer any programs for students with learning differences?
  5. What unique academic programs does the school offer?
  6. Who helps students determine which courses to take based upon their individual interests?
  7. What types of colleges offer admission to your graduates? How much scholarship money do your graduates earn?

Beyond the Mission Statement

Academics, of course, aren’t the only reason to choose a particular private high school. A school must be a good fit for the student (and family) in terms of its missions, vision, and values. How can a parent best get a feel for the philosophy or mission at a private school, beyond the mission statement?

A personal visit to the school is the best way to get a feel for the culture and atmosphere. Interacting with current parents, staff, faculty, and adminstration will tell you a lot. Ask questions of teachers, students, graduates, and parents. Ask them why they chose the school and why they would recommend the school. Listen to those responses for common threads, and you will have a feel for the philosophy or mission. Hopefully it aligns with the stated mission. If it doesn’t, ask more questions!

What to look for in a personal visit

Upkeep and renovation of a school’s campus each say a lot about the school’s willingness and ability to invest in itself. Seeing construction and/or plans for construction actually is a good thing, as it lets you know that the school is moving forward with a vision in mind and is successful. While hard to ascertain with certainty, try to figure out whether or not the physical environment–classroom furniture, informal learning areas, athletic spaces, fine arts facilities, and more–appear to support the academic vision the school has shared with you. And, as a parent, pay attention to safety and cleanliness. A school that clearly takes care of its physical plant probably cares for its students in a very similar fashion. This being said, however, don’t let the physical plant dominate your decision.

After all, it really still comes down to the quality of those teaching and transforming your child.