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Why Should I Choose an Independent School Education for My Child and How Do I Afford It?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

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Why Should I Choose an Independent School Education?

Independent schools have unique characteristics that give many opportunities and services for students and families.  With a combination of a mission-driven approach and a resource-rich environment, independent schools can meet a student’s intellectual, social, and emotional needs.

A small independent school environment requires that most students and their families participate in its athletic, art, community service and other extracurricular programs in order to sustain them.  In an independent school, most students can find areas in which they are able to excel. 
Independent schools have the freedom to create programs and environments that are designed specifically for the students they serve. They can be creative and innovative while still maintaining adherence to high academic standards. As a result, independent schools place students in excellent universities and colleges.

Independent schools are not-for-profit schools governed by an independent board of trustees and have non-discrimination policies in both admissions and employment.  They teach different kinds of students and use differing educational strategies, which gives families a large selection from which to choose. Independent schools provide educational excellence in a safe, supportive environment.   To become an independent school, a school must meet rigorous standards set out by a select independent school association’s accreditation process.  Independent schools in the Hampton Roads area are accredited through the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS.)

Independent School Fast Facts

  • Are independently governed by an elected Board of Trustees, as opposed to a public school board.
  • They may offer International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, Reggio Emilia, Montessori or more traditional curriculum programs.
  • They provide an exceptional range of co-curricular opportunities that include leadership, community service, athletics, arts and international travel.
  • They provide safe, nurturing environments for students.
  • They may be coeducational or single sex.
  • They may be day schools, boarding schools, or a combination.
  • They may offer a religious curriculum or a secular one.
  • They offer a growing range of financial aid opportunities.
  • They are financed by tuition, charitable donations, and endowment revenue.

What Questions Should I Ask When Considering an Independent School?

There is no more important consideration when investigating an independent school option than finding the right fit for your child. No two children are the same. Finding the right fit for your child means aligning the school’s mission and values with your own, as well as taking into account the temperament, interests, intellectual ambition and personality of your child as they relate to the school you’re considering. Listed below are some questions you might answer. 

  • Is the school accredited?
  • What is the curriculum approach?
  • Will the learning environment support the needs of my child?
  • What is the tuition?
  • What will I be expected to pay, beyond tuition, for the options we're seeking?
  • What is the size of the school and the student-teacher ratio?
  • What co-curricular and leadership options are available for my child?
  • What is the philosophy and mission of the school, and what are its values?
  • Is there anything different or unique about the faculty? What are their qualifications?
  • What is the campus like and what kinds of facilities are available?
  • Does the school have a distinct educational focus or approach to learning?
  • What is the school’s climate like? is it rigorous, nurturing, formal, or active? 
  • What kind of guidance and educational support is offered to students?
  • What types of learning experiences are available, both inside and outside of the classroom?
  • What co-curricular opportunities are offered?
  • Are students required or encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities?
  • Are the school groups diverse?
  • Are parents involved in the life of the school? Is there a sense of community evident?
  • What kind of facilities does the school have? Do the facilities accommodate the types of activities in which your child is interested?
  • For high schools, what percentage of students enter college? 
  • What kind of colleges do the students attend?

How Can I Afford an Independent School?

An independent school education offers the personal attention and the ability to notice and nourish a child’s talents and abilities, accommodate differing learning styles, and much more.  All of this comes at a cost – definitely a worthy investment, an independent school education is not inexpensive. Don’t let tuition fees deter you from applying to independent schools. There are ways to afford independent education, as long as you are clear about your priorities and options, apply on time, and meet all deadlines for submitting the required supporting materials. 

To guarantee that the greatest numbers of students are able to take advantage of these educational opportunities, independent schools are committed to helping students with financial needs.  Almost all independent schools offer need-based financial aid to offset the cost of tuition.  Unlike loans, financial aid awards do not need to be repaid. These funds come directly from a school’s annual operating budget and demonstrate the school’s commitment to a socioeconomically diverse population. The amount of aid offered to a student/family may vary considerably from school to school, based on the size of each school’s endowment and other voluntary fundraising programs.  Private education loans are available from a number of different sources, and many schools will work with families to develop a payment plan that won't break the bank.

The independent school financial aid system is noteworthy.  It assures that its schools are socio-economically diverse and that access to them is affordable for many hundreds of academically qualified students who would not otherwise be able to attend.