For expert advice on a wide range of questions related to choosing a school, read our comprehensive choosing guide. You can also read our parent interviews on choosing a school, as well as our in-depth advice guide on getting into a private school.
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On what to look for
“A school should be able to answer three key questions: Who are you? What do you do? What do you do well and differently? Vague, motherhood answers aren’t helpful here—‘we want to bring out the best in every child,’ ‘we’ll help your child reach her potential,’ and the like. A school should provide a clear and specific description of what they offer (and what they don’t). For example, ‘our school is geared to children with general but not specific learning disabilities.’"
—Janyce Lastman, Education Consultant, The Tutor Group
“There’s evidence to support that teaching is a huge factor. So it’s important to look at the retention of staff in a particular school, and whether they hold on to their best teachers. Couple that with class size and that’s a winning combination. A varied curriculum that’s multi-disciplinary and able to meet the needs of different students is also critical. So if a child is very gifted in math, will the school be able to meet his needs? The best schools know their students and differentiate the curriculum accordingly.”
—Ann and Karen Wolff, Education Consultant, Wolff Educational Services
“It’s important to consider schools in terms of whether they’re a good fit for your child. First, what’s the right social and emotional fit? You might look at things like athletics, the arts, and what’s outside the classroom. Second, where is your child at academically? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What is their reading, writing, and math like? Then I would look at what makes sense in terms of the child’s growth? Is the child going to grow into the school and evolve with it or is this a school that may only work for a shorter period of time?”
—Elaine Danson, Education Consultant, Danson and Associates
“Knowing your child is priority number one. This doesn’t just refer to diagnosed needs: you’ll want to find out what makes your child happy, and what they need to be motivated and productive. Also, what interests your child? If you have a really sporty kid who needs to be active, an IB academic program may not be right for them. Are they really socially activist minded? If so, you’ll want to look for a school with a strong community or political aspect.”
—Ruth Rumack, Director, Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space
“There's a whole list of things I would look at. First of all, I'd look at the social emotional profile of the child, what's gonna be a good fit for them. I would include in that things like athletics, the arts, the whole dynamic of anything outside the classroom. Within the school, but outside the classroom. Secondly, I would look at academics. What does a child need? Where are they reading, writing, doing arithmetic? Right? What would the child need in terms of their academics? That's a huge variety of needs. Then I would look at what makes sense for the child's growth. Is the child going to grow into the school and evolve with the school or is this going to be a school that the child needs right now for a few years? Is it a middle school placement? We need it for something specific? It's really understanding social, emotional, academic and then I'd look at the parents needs in terms of location and in terms of cost.”
—Elaine Danson, Education Consultant, Danson and Associates
“It’s important to help find the environment where your child will be comfortable, where your child will thrive, where they will feel successful, and truthfully, where the parents feel most comfortable as well. You also should ask: ‘Is this a good option for me? Is this a good fit for me, my child, and my family—logistically, financially, and otherwise?’”
—Una Malcolm, Director, Bright Light learners
“I think that extracurriculars are paramount. There are some schools that are going to have fewer opportunities to get involved, and there's some schools that require it. It depends on what you choose.”
—Jane Kristoffy, Education Consultant, Right Track Educational Services
“Ultimately, parents have to actually do some on the ground walking in the schools and getting a feel for the school, and seeing what's in the foyer, is it sports trophies or is it arts trophies or is it academic trophies? What's the climate of the school? What's the feel? Are kids smiling? Are they alone? What's the dynamic within the school? I think parents have to do that. I can't do that for them. They know their child.”
—Joanne Foster, Education Consultant
“I would say a school that encourages adaptability, flexibility, for the unpredictable world that they're going to grow into, because we don't know what that world's going to be like. I think that would be something I would recommend. I can't help thinking about the special need of ADHD, because it can be both a gift and a challenge. How flexible is this school in dealing with kids who are different in these kinds of ways, because this can profoundly affect the future development of these kids?”
—Irina Valentin, Psychologist, Valentin and Blackstock Psychology
Child-specific advice on school choice
For child-specific insights on choosing a school, read our guide. We explore how school choices crucially depend on kids' unique traits, such as their mental and academic focus, social tendencies, activity level, academic interests (such as art and STEM), and other attributes (such as giftedness, special needs, learning disabilities, and social issues).
To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account and read our seven ways to choose a school based on your child's needs (i.e., overall fit, more academic challenge, social struggles, academic struggles, intensive learning interests, university preparation, and special needs.).