There are many myths surrounding private schools (sometimes called independent schools), partly because so much has changed over the past 20 years. Previously, these schools were seen as elitist, expensive, and unapproachable, but times have changed. In working with many families looking for options outside of the public school system, I’ve found that there are common myths.
Myth #1: Independent schools are too expensive.
Although a private education can be costly (the average cost for a private school is $17,000 per year), financial aid is common for many independent school families. Even in the top flight of schools in the DC metro area, normally 20-30% of the student body receives aid of some kind. Many schools have a percentage of their total budget dedicated to financial aid (usually 10%), and in recent years financial aid has become a source of pride for top tier preparatory schools. In fact, the 85 independent schools that make up the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington gave out $107 million in financial aid this past school year. While independent schooling may not be within every family’s budget, there are numerous resources available to provide students equal opportunity.
Myth #2: Independent schools are only looking for straight A students.
If your familiarity with independent schools is limited to a list of highly competitive institutions such as St. Albans or Georgetown Day, then this myth may bear some truth; however, most independent schools, such as Bullis, The Landon School, and Connelly School of the Holy Child to name a few, don’t consider perfect report cards a prerequisite to admission. Obviously good grades are important, but, for the most part, schools want their students to be well rounded and bring something positive to the school environment. They want to see interest in and commitment to an extracurricular activity, community involvement, a passion for the arts, an eagerness to attend their school, etc. Since they’re looking more for a personality match than high test scores and flawless grades, you’ll find many independent schools with acceptance rates well over 70%.
Myth # 3: Independent schools are all work and no fun.
Additionally, many parents worry that their students will be too bogged down with their coursework to have any free time. Most independent schools take a balanced approach to education; they don’t want to see students chained to their homework desk for four hours a night any more than parents do.
With so many extra-curricular offerings, many schools go out of their way to make sure that their students have enough time after school to pursue their unique interests. Even schools with high academic reputations want to provide their students with a well rounded experience that includes social and athletic activities. Independent schools are attentive to each student’s individual situation.
While public schools may be the best choice for some students, independent schools should not be ruled out based on common misconceptions. If you haven’t considered independent schools for your child, take the time to look at some local school websites. If you find a school that interests you, go for a visit.
If your child will be applying to independent schools for the coming school year, the application process starts right now! All too often, I see parents wait too long to begin their school search. Right now you should be narrowing down your school list, beginning to schedule interviews for your student, and making sure that your student is scheduled and prepared for any required admissions tests, such as the SSAT.
The process of selecting and applying to schools can be overwhelming, but, as I’ve heard from many parents, an acceptance letter to the school of their student’s dreams makes it all worthwhile.