How to choose the best private school for your child - the one most likely to challenge, transform, enlighten, and inspire? We are often asked this question at Forest Hill Tutoring and, while there is no easy answer, we can offer a few tips to support parents as they navigate this process.

First, it is always wise to step back and reflect on your family’s values - on what you deem most critical to your child’s intellectual, social, psychological, spiritual, and ethical development. Ask yourself some of the following questions: What role or purpose do you envision school playing in the life of your child? What kind of school do you think is best able to foster the skills, experiences, and values you deem most important? What kind of school do you feel would be the best “fit” for your child’s needs and personality? Don’t be afraid to wrestle with these questions, and to reflect on and return to them as you engage in ongoing conversations with those whose opinions you trust and value. Just as critically, involve your child in these discussions.

Eventually, you should arrive at an answer that empowers you to move forward in the process. At that point, start your research by going online to explore the available options in your area. Most private schools have extensive websites that offer detailed information on their educational philosophies, academic and extracurricular programs, and campus facilities. Use this information to develop a working shortlist of potential schools you are interested in based on the values and criteria you identified in your reflections and conversations.

Moreover, consider this shortlist a work in progress: it will evolve as you learn more about the private schools in your area. Some of the schools on your initial shortlist may drop off as you and your child delve more deeply into the specifics of their academic programs, extracurricular offerings, and facilities; alternatively, you and your child may discover new opportunities you hadn’t previously considered.

While online and word-of-mouth research is very important, nothing beats an actual visit to the school. Most private schools host open house-style events in the fall in which potential applicants can tour the campus and meet faculty and staff. Take advantage of these events and, if possible, also schedule a more personal, independent tour of the school. Often, these tours are led by student ambassadors who can share their personal experiences of the school. Use these in-person visits to develop a more nuanced feel for the school’s culture and to ask any remaining questions you might have about the school’s facilities and programs.

Finally, tap into your social network to identify parents whose children already attend private school. Ask about their experiences and any advice they may have in supporting your own decision.

By this point, you should have a rich store of information accumulated through online research, campus visits, and conversations with others. Now, return to where you started: based on what you have learned, which school best aligns with your family’s values and the unique needs, interests, and goals of your child? As always, actively involve your child in this decision-making process and encourage a frank discussion on the merits of each school.

The experience of researching the best private school for your child can certainly seem overwhelming, especially given the wide range of choices out there - from single-sex to co-ed schools, to faith-based institutions and those known for their specialized arts, athletics, or academics. Hopefully, the advice outlined here will empower you to embrace this challenge and make the best choice possible for you and your child.