families / Family Resource Center / Selecting A School

The Distinctive Value of Independent Schools

Why consider an independent school for your child?

Deciding if an Independent School is Right for your Family

Things to consider when picking a school.

Navigating the Independent School Admissions Process

Simplifying a complex process, step-by-step.

Admissions Considerations

Know how admissions officers think to prepare the strongest possible application.

selecting a private school

Helping you find the right academic and social fit for your learner.

The Distinctive Value of Independent Schools

Independent schools offer students and families around the world unique educational, social, and developmental opportunities, as well as the ability to tailor students’ educations to families’ values and interests. Here are several reasons to consider an independent school education for today’s learners.

Class Size

As of 2015, the average independent school had a ratio of 12 students per teacher, compared to 16 students per teacher in public schools.
There is mixed evidence that smaller class sizes make a difference for student success, largely due to more individual attention from educators. 

Varied Academic and Extracurricular Offerings

Independent schools also offer the ability for families to tailor their students’ educations to their interests, and are mission-driven. For students interested in art, theater, trades, or other parochial or non-academic pursuits, there are independent schools to meet their needs and help them excel. 
Independent schools also tend to be well resourced and focused on the whole child, offering students access to varied extracurricular, civic, athletic, and – of course – academic opportunities. With the flexibility to adapt curricula and invest resources strategically, independent schools tend to be agile in being responsive to student needs and interests.

Community and Personal Development

Independent schools are also increasingly diverse learning environments, which is important to many families. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, 33.3% of independent school students in the U.S. currently identify as people of color, and 3.3% of enrollees are international students
Moreover, independent schools typically have firm behavioral codes, including dress requirements, character standards, and other policies that breed maturity, personal responsibility, and community. It is for these reasons that independent schools generally report low rates of bullying and severe disciplinary actions, like suspensions and expulsions.

Experienced Educators

Many independent school educators have specialized education and, often, professional experience in the subjects they teach. This real-world grounding brings an applied framework to independent school classrooms.

Academic Rigor

For families that want their students to be challenged academically and exposed to multiple didactic styles, independent schools are a terrific option.
According to a 2019 paper published in Educational Measurement, private schools offer the most academically rigorous environments of all educational institutions, including public, charter, and other schools (e.g. parochials).

Deciding if an Independent School is Right for Your Family

Factors to consider in choosing an independent school experience.

Teacher Experience

Because many independent school teachers come from professional practice in their academic fields, they tend to have less formal classroom experience than public school teachers.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 16% of private school teachers have less than four years of teaching experience, compared to 11% of public school teachers. Public school teachers are also more likely to have master’s degrees in education and engage in annual professional development than private school teachers.

Transportation and Logistics

Independent school students typically have to provide their own transportation to and from school, as well as to extracurricular activities. This means that students either need access to cars or rides from fellow students or parents. In urban settings, public transportation alleviates much of this burden, but for students at schools in suburban and rural locations, a car may be required.
 Additionally, independent school students sometimes have lengthy commutes, as schools may not be located in the town where they live. For parents and students, this might create complications in terms of attending events, like sports games and theatrical performances, or engaging on campus in other ways.
Some independent schools do offer shuttles or other modes of transportation, however. To learn about whether schools that you are considering offer transportation, please consult the schools’ website or reach out to their admissions office.

Leaving Friends and Communities Behind

For many independent school students, particularly those starting in middle or high school, attending a new school means leaving the friends and neighbors with whom they have grown up. Although most students make new friends without issue, these transitions can be difficult and uncomfortable. While at their new school, some students may feel like they are missing out on things or experience feelings of disconnection.

What you need to know to find and apply to your dream schools.

The application process for independent schools can seem complicated and feel stressful, as students feel a lot of pressure to get into their school of choice. This short guide aims to simplify the process, help you get organized, and give applicants the best chance of success.
The application process typically starts about one year in advance of enrollment, so most students should start thinking about the schools they want to attend no later than August or September of the year before they’ll enroll.
As you gather information, the best place to start is on schools’ websites, where they publish a great deal of information on their student body, academics, and admissions process. Many schools also host open houses, giving families opportunities to visit campuses and meet with faculty and staff. Finally, if you know any school alumni, reach out to them—they’ll be able to share information that’s likely not in schools’ official materials, and might still have connections to the school that will help with the admissions process.
 Application deadlines vary, but most applications are due in December or January, with admission decisions mailed in March for students entering school in September for the Fall semester.
Applications typically include some or all of the following components:
  • A cover form with basic applicant information
  • Essay(s)
  • Entrance exam scores, like the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE)
  • Academic transcripts
  • Interviews or student observations
  • Other school-specific materials, like an audition for a performing arts school
2020_0310 Glenn Milewski_6456
Glenn Milewski, Ph.D. | Chief Program Officer, ERB

Expert Tip

Schools consider the fit between students’ interests and needs, and the strengths of the school. Particularly for specialized schools, admissions professionals will often consider the passions of the students alongside their academic success. They’ll also consider the unique learning and developmental needs of each student, and consider whether the school is able to offer the right kind of support in order to help the potential applicant be successful.

The independent school admissions process often begins with an admissions exam. Download our ISEE Quick Facts brochure for additional information on our widely accepted assessment.

Admissions officers also consider...

School and Culture Fit

In addition to being academic institutions, schools are important social communities. As such, admissions teams try to select students that will not only succeed in the classroom, but also contribute meaningfully to the vibrancy of campus life. They look for students who play sports and might join teams; who are interested in the arts and perhaps will volunteer as yearbook photographers; who are civic-minded and might contribute to student government; or who represent diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

Admissions panels also consider students’ families, and look for families that will be engaged on campus in positive ways. They want parents who will participate in bake sales or other fundraising drives, attend parent-teacher meetings and school events, and be part of the fabric of the school as much as the students themselves.

Cost and Financial Assistance

Independent schools often have tuition considerations. Although roughly 25% of all independent school students receive some form of financial aid, the price of independent schools can still be high for many families.
The typical tuition range for private schools in the U.S. is $5,330-$25,180 according to the National Center for Education Statistics, depending on the type of school and its level of exclusivity. However, more than 35% of independent day schools and more than 50% of boarding schools award merit scholarships.
Most schools admit the students who best fit their culture regardless of finances.  Schools are often able to grant financial aid while considering families’ financial circumstances in their admissions process.

Meet Your New School

Baltimore Magazine describes the Open House process during a pandemic and outlines the role of standardized testing in the admissions process.
By Rebecca Kirkman, October 2020

Independent School Admissions and Enrollment Statistics...

private school students
As of 2016, almost 6 million students were enrolled in Grades PreK-12 at nearly 35,000 U.S. private schools. That's almost 10% of all students and 25% of all schools.
attend faith-based schools
78% of all private school students attend a religious or faith-based schools, most being Catholic schools.
average acceptance rate
As of 2019, the average admission rate at National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) members was 65%, with rates as low as 4% for ultra-select schools in highly competitive areas like Los Angeles and New York City.
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Mental Health and Test Anxiety

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