Given the wealth of possibilities, and given the high stakes – academic, social, emotional, and financial – it’s no surprise that many parents are overwhelmed with the daunting challenge of finding the private school that will best help their child to be happy, to flourish and to excel.

“There are many wonderful private schools out there, each with a different ethos and style,” says Emi Ithen, director of enrollment management at Far Brook School in Short Hills. “Before you begin your search, determine the approach you are looking for and the type of community you envision. Are rigorous academics your goal? Does your child thrive in a hands-on environment? Do you prefer a holistic approach? »


Here are some things to consider as you begin your search:


  • Identify your priorities. Considering these areas will help you determine what is most important to you:
  • Day against boarding
  • Mixed versus non-mixed
  • based on faith
  • Grade levels and school size
  • Academic rigor and support
  • Focus STEM
  • Campus culture and community
  • Language immersion
  • Special needs
  • Sports and extracurricular activities
  • Security
  • Cost and Financial Aid

“As no two students – and no two families – are identical, parents must take into account a number of criteria, starting with the school’s pedagogical philosophy to see if it corresponds to theirs” , says Diana Stravoiu, director of admissions at Franklin School in Jersey. Town. “The philosophy translates into the culture, values ​​and environment of the school. Parents will want to be sure that their child will feel welcome, comfortable and thrive in the school community. Additionally, parents should consider the breadth and depth of the curriculum; faculty expertise; student-teacher ratio; the level of academic, emotional and social support; skills development and academic orientation. Beyond the classroom, what extracurricular, community, and leadership opportunities are available to allow their child to pursue their interests, explore new ones, and have a full experience? »

There are also many other things to consider, including whether a school can meet your child’s academic, extracurricular, and social needs. “Consider how your child learns best — learning style and/or challenges — as well as practical issues such as scheduling, extracurricular activities, and before and after care,” says Ana Younghusband, co-director of school program and education at Montclair Cooperative School in Montclair.



Once you’ve researched and narrowed down the options, it’s all about “feeling” the right fit. Virtual tours and brochures are good initial resource tools, but nothing beats visiting and spending time at school. Visit each school on your shortlist to view classrooms and meet faculty and staff. Other things to watch out for include class size/configuration, diversity, longevity of a school, faculty composition and qualifications, and membership organizations.


Before the visit, prepare your questions and prepare a checklist of what is most important. “Ask lots of questions at open houses, student interviews, at events, and via email,” Stravoiu says. The more informed parents and students are, the more comfortable they will be in making their decision, she adds.

“Talk to a wide variety of community members, including administrators, teachers, parents, and current students, and be sure to ask the questions that matter to you,” suggests Younghusband. “Attend school activities whenever possible, arrange play dates before attending, and most importantly, check with your child on the [their] feelings about school.

Connect with the families of the school that interests you. “It’s important to talk to current parents to better understand the daily culture and warmth level of students,” says Saydi Callahan Keefe, Director of Admissions at Lacordaire Academy in Upper Montclair. . “Talk openly to the admissions team about what you are looking for in your child.”

Ask about post-graduation statistics. Where do graduates attend college? What outstanding accomplishments and/or areas of activity have alumni achieved? Since health and safety are top of mind these days, ask what safeguards the school has in place to protect your child.

Parents of children with special needs will need to assess more factors. According to Julie Mower, executive director of the Phoenix Center at Nutley, these include: How does the school help students discover their gifts? Is the school based on attention and experience? Is there clear communication and different approaches based on individual student needs? Does the school teach life skills?



Connect to the program and the community to see where your child feels most comfortable. “Knowing your child’s optimal learning environment will help you choose a school that meets your child’s needs,” says Sara Zavorek, director of marketing and communications at Ranney School in Tinton Falls.

Your child is the most important of all, so make sure they’re involved from the start. That means “going around schools together, attending as many school events with your child as are offered, and meeting teachers, staff, and other families,” Stravoiu says.

Consider having your child spend a day at school. “Once parents have been around and met with the administration, it’s very helpful for students to have their own experience by immersing themselves in the classroom to see what it’s really like to go to school. ‘school,’ Keefe says. “For very young students, this may mean spending 30 minutes in class. Older children can participate in a half-day or full-day shade experience.


In the end, happiness matters most. “When you do a school visit, note the children’s happiness indicator as they learn in a variety of classroom settings,” says Keefe. “While academics are very important, you also want to know that your child will be in a caring, safe and warm environment. As you walk through the halls during your visit to the school, look for smiles and waves from the children who will confirm this.