How can I find the best school for my child?

Independent schools offer a wide range of choices for a family, including schools that are co-ed and single gender, boarding and day, military, secular or religious, as well as schools for students with special learning needs. By virtue of its independence, each school determines its unique mission, objectives, curriculum, culture, and so forth. After your initial research through our website, we encourage you to visit several schools, talk with administrators, staff, students and parents, and determine the right fit between school(s), your child’s strengths and needs, and your family situation and values.

Do you rank schools?

No - we are opposed to the ranking of schools in any form. ALL ADVIS schools are wonderful schools. It is impossible to rank our diverse member schools, just as it would be impossible to rank children in a family. You should evaluate each school on how it meets its own objectives, the type of program and culture the school provides and the qualities that will help your child succeed there. There is a school for every child - the “best” school is the one that will best serve the strengths, interests and need of your child. (Link here to ADVIS and NAIS Statement on Rankings.doc)

What is an independent school? How is it different from a private school?

Though most people and the media use the term “private school” when talking about independent schools, there are some differences ~ all independent schools are private, but not all private schools are independent. Because independent schools are governed by a board of trustees solely responsible for the school, and are supported by tuition, charitable contributions and endowment income (rather than government or church funding), they are free to determine their own educational mission and how to best achieve it. ADVIS member schools are nonprofit,(501 (c) 3), organizations, and do not discriminate in their admission or employment practices on the basis of race, color, or national and ethnic origin. Private schools can be for-profit or not-for-profit organizations, and many are faith-based, governed and partially funded by a church board or larger denominational entity that determines mission and curriculum. Ten percent (10%) of the schools in the United States are private schools, while just 1% of all schools are truly independent.

Aren’t all independent schools similar?

No. By their very nature each independent school determines its mission and educational program, and, in fact, ADVIS’ over 130 member independent schools vary greatly. There are larger, PreK-12 and very small elementary schools, boarding and day schools, military schools, special needs schools, single-gender and coed schools, traditional and progressive, formal and informal – for instance, some schools require uniforms, others don’t. Some schools students call their teachers by their first names, others don’t.

Are independent schools elitist? I hear they aren’t very diverse.

Neither statement is true; together they represent a misperception that has been around a long time. In truth, independent schools are usually more diverse than your local public school. Independent schools enroll students from varied economic, cultural, ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds. On average, 36% of students at ADVIS member schools receive financial aid and over 31% are students of color. Schools with a boarding component offer even greater diversity, enrolling American students from varied states as well as international students from foreign countries.

How do I apply to an independent school?

Begin by using the ADVIS website as your portal to view different school websites (which you can find on our ADVIS search page). Make a list of schools that seem to be a good match for your child, and try to attend an Open House, held throughout the fall, and sometimes in the spring. You should also call or e-mail several schools and ask for their literature. Most schools will request that you and your child visit the campus to meet with the admission director. At that time, you will review the application procedure and you can ask questions about applying and financial arrangements. The best time to do this is during the fall preceding the September of your child’s desired admission. However, many schools consider applications throughout the year depending on available space.

How can I afford an independent school? Is financial aid available?

The decision to enroll your child in an independent school is based on many factors, including affordability. Need-based financial aid is available at many AVIS member schools; some schools also award merit scholarships. Each school determines its own criteria and budget for awarding aid. In recent years ADVIS schools have awarded over $325 million in financial aid. On average, close to 36% of students at an independent school receive some level of aid. Budget plans, loan programs, and other finance options exist to make independent schools affordable. Families sometimes also look to grandparents or other relatives to help support their child’s education. Please make sure you speak with the Admissions Director at each school - they can provide information and answers to your financial questions.

Why do small school and class size matter?

When schools and classes are smaller than your typical public schools, teachers have fewer students, and classes, to teach, and can give each student more time, more challenging work, and more individual attention. Teachers have more time to prepare their course material and also have more freedom in the way they teach their courses. They can take time to answer questions and encourage discussion. Smaller schools have friendly, welcoming campuses, where everyone is known – by the teachers, the administrators, even the support staff – and students can’t fall through the cracks.

How qualified are independent school teachers?

Most independent school faculty members hold undergraduate degrees in the subject area they teach, and a high percentage hold advanced degrees. Many have also worked professionally in their subject area. Additionally, independent schools place a high value on supporting teachers with ongoing professional development and other opportunities for growth. Independent school teachers are dedicated professionals who serve as advisors, coaches, mentors and role models to their students; many go on to become lifelong friends.

Do independent schools have good sports programs? Will my child be able to play?

Yes, you might be surprised at the number of schools that have outstanding athletic programs and send their graduates onto Division III and Division I collegiate sports. But perhaps even more importantly, because independent schools tend to be smaller than public schools, students who want to play team sports but aren’t destined to play in college will have that opportunity, either on a varsity or junior varsity sport. The number and types of sport teams vary with each school, so if this is important to you, make sure you ask when you visit the schools.

What about music, theater and art? Are those available?

Unlike public schools that are cutting back these programs because of budgetary restrictions, independent schools see music, theater and art as valuable and integral parts of a well-balanced education for their students. Most independent schools have substantial programs in the arts, again offering access and opportunity for all with an interest. Make sure you research what each school offers through the website or when you call or visit.

Do schools welcome parental involvement? Can I become involved in school activities?

Yes! Parents are welcome and encouraged to become involved in building and maintaining a sense of community in their school. Schools offer many different ways to be engaged in the community, from joining a parents association or perhaps being asked to serve as a school trustee, to volunteering at events on campus. Ask how you can become involved!

What are the advantages of sending my child to an independent Elementary school? Why not save my money until Middle or High school?

Nothing is more important than giving your child a good start in school. And there is nothing worse than your child having a poor experience early - you want your child to love school, not hate it. Studies show a child’s early experience with school determines how he or she does in later grades. Another advantage is that students from independent elementary schools often have a better chance of being accepted and successful at an independent middle or high school. Why not give your child the best option early? It may make all the difference in the future.

Won’t my child be insulated from the “real world”?

Not at all. Independent schools enroll students from all walks of life and thus are usually more diverse than your local public school. Students interact, get to know, and become friends with people who are different from themselves, a great preparation for when they enter the “real world” after college.

Why should I send my child to an independent school when I can get a free education at my local public school?

Your decision to invest in your child’s education at an independent school depends upon the educational and emotional needs of your child and whether or not they are being met at your local public school. One size does not necessarily fit all in the public school model. Some children do better in a smaller environment where they can be more than a number and encouraged to flourish. Independent schools determine their own mission and educational program. Public schools must follow mandated standards and prepare for state-standardized tests, while independent schools have more flexibility in developing curriculum. Because independent schools vary in size, type, philosophy and mission, there is an independent school for every child. As a parent, you must determine if your child would be best served by a different school environment in order to, not just succeed, but thrive. With so many available options, why not take a look and see?