A Guide to Finding the Perfect Private School Match

A Guide to Finding the Perfect Private School Match

The process of looking for a private school for your child can be overwhelming. There is so much to think about as you strive to make the best decision for your family, especially when there are numerous private schools that can be found right here in the metro Atlanta area.

“We are blessed in Atlanta with so many options,” says Rebekka Whitehead, founder and CEO of Whitehead Learning Group, an Atlanta-based educational consulting firm. “Of course, having so many options can lead to analysis paralysis. But there really is a right fit school for each child.”

With the wide array of choices out there, how do you make the right decision? It’s important to start at the beginning and ask a lot of questions. Here, Whitehead suggests a few of the most significant questions you should ask both yourself and potential schools as you navigate the process. With the answers you receive, you will be able to narrow down and ultimately select the private school that is ideal for both your child (or children) and your entire family.

Which private schools are an option for our family?

Whitehead recommends that you begin the process by visiting the Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools (AAAIS) website, which allows you to search for schools by grade level, special focuses (such as faith-based options and schools that specialize in special needs or learning differences) and geographic location. The results will include a group of schools that fit your most basic needs; from there, you can narrow down your list to between four and six schools and then begin delving more deeply into learning about them. You can visit AAAIS at aaais.org.

Expert Tip: When it comes to finding the right school in terms of location, Whitehead suggests driving by each potential campus in the morning and the afternoon, when drop-off and pickup are in full swing. This way you can get a good picture what it will really be like to drive your child to and from school each day.

How do we know if a school will fit with our family’s value system?

Whitehead reveals that it is imperative for you to define your core values for an educational experience before you reach out to potential schools. Ask yourself what your non-negotiables are. Are you looking for a school that offers diversity, character education, fine arts, athletics, rigorous academics or something else? Once you have your list, visit the websites of the schools on your list and look at their mission statements. Also review the schools’ strategic plans, which outline goals and objectives up to five or 10 years down the road. See how those statements and plans align with your own value system and be on the lookout for any discrepancies. Once you see how the schools approach the educational process, then you can cull down your initial list.

Expert Tip: Don’t forget to look beyond the mission statement and strategic plan of a school. Whitehead believes that reading a school website’s introduction letter from the head of school can be very enlightening, as this will show what the leadership highlights and focuses on throughout the school year.

What kind of testing is required during the application process?

Private schools typically require some form of testing prior to a student’s acceptance. For lower school students (grades K through 5), the Joint Admissions Testing Program (JATP) is often the test of choice; it is a standardized cognitive test that assesses a range of abilities related to school readiness. Middle and upper school students (grades 6 through 12) may be asked to take the SSAT, a standardized test that measures the basic verbal, math and reading skills needed to perform successfully in a private school setting. It is designed to predict the “first year of success in an independent school setting,” Whitehead notes.

Expert Tip: Testing for the JATP begins in October of each year, and results of the test are submitted to schools via the Ravenna online application system. However, a school will not usually review a JATP evaluation unless an application for that school has been completed. So be sure to stay on top of all paperwork as you move through the process. For the SSAT, scores are also submitted electronically; however, you must request that the written section of the test be sent directly to the schools to which you are applying (if applicable). Also, be sure to confirm with the schools on your list when the final SSAT scores will be accepted (traditionally, it is the February test, but some schools adjust their deadlines based on admission trends).

What can my child expect from the classroom experience?

This question encompasses a number things, from class size and room setup to uniform and homework policies. Whitehead notes that it’s important for you, as a parent, to understand the basic logistics of how the classroom will work. If necessary, you also should ask about access to a school’s support staff, including learning specialists, tutors and counselors. And because extracurricular activities often are a key part of a school’s offerings, be sure to ask about any options that will be available to your child. Many of these answers can be gleaned from a formal school tour.

Expert Tip: According to Whitehead, a great way to get a glimpse into a school’s culture is to attend activities outside of a formal admissions tour. Going to a sporting event, a play, a concert or a community program can provide an idea of the parent and student culture in a less structured setting and let you know how people interact with each other as members of the school community.

How do we approach the tuition payment process?

According to Whitehead, today’s private schools strive to meet families where they are financially. Many schools will have several payment plan options (such as annual or monthly), as well as the opportunity to create a tailored tuition plan or apply for financial aid. Once the logistics are arranged, many schools will allow you to pay through an online portal or bill pay option. Some smaller schools may not offer this type of online system and will require a more traditional method of payment. It’s important to know how this process will play out so you can stay on top of the financial aspect of a private school education.

Expert Tip: When it comes to the need for financial aid, many schools use the FACTS Grant & Aid Assessment tool, which allows them to securely collect a family’s financial data and make data-driven award decisions based on financial need. Be sure you know which tools are being used if you are working with a school to arrange for a tailored tuition plan.

Rebekka Whitehead, Whitehead Learning GroupTo find out how Whitehead Learning Group can help your family navigate the private school selection and application process, visit whiteheadlearninggroup.com or contact info@whiteheadlearninggroup.com, (678) 500-9300.