How to Choose the Right Preparatory School for Your Son

Kimberly Graham, Parent of a Prep School Alumnus
If you have started the process of looking for a preparatory school for your son, then you know that choosing the right prep school can be a challenge. As you begin your research, you will find that every school has its strengths and weaknesses which can make the process feel overwhelming at times. As a parent of a recent preparatory boarding school grad, I suggest focusing on these five characteristics to help guide you through your decision.

Be sure to choose the preparatory school that does all of the following:

Provides living arrangements to suit your family.

You may live too far to commute to a prospective prep school, so a full boarding option is necessary for you. Or, if you live within a commuting distance, a day school option may be best for your family. Be sure to review the school’s commuter policy as some require boarding for all students who live beyond a set distance from the school. 

Aligns with your family values.

It will be very difficult for your child to attend a school whose values do not align with your family values, as there would be constant tension between you, as parents, your child, and the school. The “About” section of a school website should clearly list its values, but if not, an admissions counselor should be able to share the school’s mission, vision, and values. It is important to know what the school stands for and how they create its school culture. If a particular school doesn’t align with your family values, it may not be a good fit for your child.

Aligns with the character of your student.

As parents, we want our children to have the greatest number of opportunities available so they can learn and grow. For example, a child who is very hands-on in a mechanical or technical manner may not benefit as much from a school focusing strictly on the arts. Take the time to think about what your son needs and how to set him up for success. Will he thrive in a school that is academic or sports-focused, has a large or small student body, and is single-sex or coeducational?

Has high academic standards.

A rigorous, structured academic program that also allows for classes based on student interests and passions is what you should be looking for in a good preparatory school. Small class sizes, a high college acceptance rate, and large college scholarship awards are signs that the school prepares its students well for college.

Encourages open discussions.

A school should be transparent about its challenges as well as its successes and should not be hesitant about connecting you with other parents, former or current, who can answer your questions. When I was researching prep schools, I spoke at great length with two parents who answered my questions and spoke honestly about their son’s involvement at that school. Often these former or current parents can offer insight into which types of students flourish at the school and which do not.
There’s no better way to experience the school than to take an on-campus tour or attend an open house event. Spending time on campus will allow you to best observe where your child may be living and studying for the next several years You will get a feel for the culture and meet with administration, teachers, and current students to get answers to any questions you may have. Some schools may even require a campus tour before your application is accepted. 
 
Choosing the best preparatory school for your child begins with an in-depth look at what is important for your child and your family. It’s not easy to compare prep schools against each other as no two schools are identical and no two families are identical in their wants and needs. With such a personal decision, it is important to take all the time you need to make sure that your son will be challenged, motivated, and encouraged to be the best student he can be at the preparatory school of your choice. 
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