by Trevor Waddington, Founder, NYmetroSchools
There are hundreds of quality tuition-based preschools and private/independent schools in the New York City metropolitan area. If you are reading this, you are likely considering the tuition-based route. But finding the right school that matches your family’s wants, needs, and values, as well as your child’s learning style, can be a daunting task. Even if you do find what you feel is the perfect match, there is no guarantee your child will be accepted. Even more, there’s the tuition. Some schools annual tuition is the equivalent of buying a high-end car, every year, per child. So if you are going to shell out all that dough, you better start researching soon?
Here are the top FIVE tips to consider when starting your search for potential schools.
If you’re like me, you don’t want to be in transit with your kiddo for two hours a day. The great thing about NYC is that it’s hard to walk a few blocks and not stroll by a preschool or private school. When starting your search, sit down with those involved – spouse, nanny, relatives – and decide how far you are willing to travel. Make it a hard zone, so don’t be afraid to cut off your search at 78th street. If you push to far outside your zone, you will end up resenting someone or something if half your day is spent transporting your child to and from school. NYmetroSchools has a great feature that allows you to compare and search for schools by neighborhood, not just by borough.
Believe it or not, there are some special needs schools in NYC where tuition is in the six-figure range. But even more, many mainstream schools can have a sticker price in excess of 50K. But the spending doesn’t stop there. When looking at schools, it is essential to figure out the bottom-line cost. To do this, you need to determine what tuition gets you. Are meals included? What about sports equipment? Is there a requisite donation you need to give annually? What about the grade or class-based fundraisers? Don’t forget transportation, orchestral instruments, and field trips. It all adds up. My suggestion is to speak to a parent at the school who may be able to shed some light on expected costs beyond tuition. Then it is up to you to make sure you can handle it long-term. Yes, financial aid and scholarships may be available, but that’s never guaranteed.
3. School Focus
This one makes me shake my head pretty regularly. Often, parents and even students get caught up in the name, prestige and awe-inspiring facilities of a school and pay less attention to if the school is a good fit for their child. If your kiddo needs to move around and works best in small groups, then a traditional prep school might not be the right fit no matter how much you like the crest on the blazer. My advice is to think of your child first. S/he is going to be the one attending the school and you want them to be happy, engaged, and challenged. To learn about a school’s focus, take a look at their website. Usually, on an ‘About’ dropdown they will have a page that discusses their philosophy and programmatic ideology. On those pages, you may find terms like Montessori, International Baccalaureate (IB), progressive, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf just to name a few. Find out what they mean, and if it melds with your child’s learning and living style. When in doubt, you may want to consult an education professional to help you determine what’s best.
4. Family Values
Once you’ve determined it’s a good fit for your child, you then need to make sure it’s a good fit for your family. This is typically where questions about religious-based, single-sex, and boarding schools come in. How comfortable would you be sending your child to a Catholic school if you are Lutheran? Would you trade co-ed for all-girls if the program was an optimal match to your daughter’s academic prowess? Could you bare to send sweet Johnny away to a boarding school? Many boarding schools are moving to a 5-day boarding model so you can have your child home on weekends…if you want. We advise that you have this conversation before starting the process. You might be surprised to find that your co-parent or spouse prefers to leave God for Sundays.
5. School Model
Do you want your kiddo in one place until college or experience different schools through the years? That’s typically the question that abuts the K-8 vs. K-12 debate. If you get in at age four to a school that ends in grade twelve, you never have to go through the harrowing admission process again until college rolls around. The counter to that is what your child needs now may not be what s/he needs academically, socially, or emotionally down the line. This is a tricky debate because there are very valid arguments for both sides. In this situation, my advice: go with your gut, and you’ll likely end up in the right place.