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Admissions FAQ: What Parents Should Know About Applying to New England’s Private Schools

Choosing an independent school is a significant decision for your family. You will be selecting a partner to trust with your child for years to come. The admissions team will often be your first point of contact with a school, and it is their job to make enrollment an inviting and transparent process. However, sometimes it’s hard to know what information to ask for. Don’t worry! You’re not alone. Below are some of the most common questions Admissions Officers from around New England receive.  

What makes a school “Independent?”

Independent schools are private institutions, often nonprofits governed by a Board of Directors who sets the school’s mission statement and approves the school’s educational philosophy. For-profit independent schools do exist. And some private schools are not fully independent—for example, some Catholic schools may not have independent governing bodies, and are instead run by their affiliated church. Many education associations, including AISNE, require that schools be non-profit and fully independent to be a member.  

How are independent schools different from public schools?

By being independent from government budgets and some local, state, and federal mandates, independent schools have the freedom to design learning programs that may work better for some students than the available public schools. Your child may thrive in a smaller classroom, a program that focuses on hands-on learning, a mixed-age classroom, and much more. Independent schools give your family choices that may not be present in your local public system. These can include boarding schools, subject-specific schools, alternative pedagogies, project-based learning, faith-based schools, single-gender schools, and other alternatives. 

How do I find the right school for my child?  

Explore. There are many ways to get a feel for a school. It is important to recognize what you and your child are looking for in a school and look for a school that will match. After you have a list of potential schools, do some research by examining websites. You can tell a lot about a school by what they put out for the world to see. Once you are ready to schedule tours, contact the school directly. Upon arriving on campus, be observant and take inventory of how you and your child feel. It is important that the school community is a place that will both welcome and make your child feel safe while challenging them to do more than they thought capable. The sense of a good “fit” will be a significant determining factor in defining your child’s experience. 

All private schools require tuition and are expensive, right?

No. Each school is unique in its cost structure. There are tuition-free schools and schools whose tuition is based on family income. Nearly every independent school offers financial aid options and/or scholarships. You should contact schools directly to discuss how to make the financial component of your decision work for your family.

Do private schools offer fewer extracurricular activities than public schools?

No. A virtue of an independent school is that the curriculum, learning method, and programs are likely to be significantly different than the local public school options. Arts, drama, music, science, nature, and debate are celebrated at many private schools, and may actually have larger budgets to operate these programs than public schools.  

What about sports?

If sports are an important part of your child’s education, you will be happy to see the expansive offerings in the New England region. Many schools in this part  of the U.S. have large, beautiful campuses that can take advantage of each season. You may be surprised to know how many Division I athletes come from independent schools. Additionally, New England boasts many ski academies and semesters-at-sea, unique learning models that focus on team building and physical engagement that you are unlikely to find in the public sector. 

How do I know if a school is high quality if it is not subject to government oversight?

Start by asking about a school’s accreditation with an independent organization. Many national, regional, and statewide education associations offer accreditation, including the Association of Independent Schools in New England (AISNE). Accreditation means a school has met a series of peer-reviewed quality standards and has a long-term plan to continuously maintain or exceed those standards. Also, do not be shy about asking how schools are actively supporting and investing in their teachers’ ongoing professional growth and excellence.  

What are schools looking for in an applicant?

Admission requirements vary from school to school, but you can count on a combination of several items. Schools will likely require an interview of both you and your child, in addition to a student essay and any previous school transcripts. While many parents focus on standardized test requirements, schools may be more likely to be swayed by teacher recommendation letters.

“While we look at all parts of the student’s application, I’m always most interested in viewing the recommendations from a child’s teacher. I want to hear from those who have worked with the student and can speak to the qualities they bring to the classroom. We’re looking for young people who can add value to our community and who can benefit from all that Heronfield has to offer,” says John Turner, Head of School at Heronfield Academy in Hampton Falls, NH.       

When and how should I apply?

Each school runs on a slightly different timeline. In general, September and October are good months to contact candidate schools and schedule a visit or attend an Open House event to learn more and meet with an admissions counselor. Throughout November and December, you will likely be preparing your application for a January or February deadline.