Although I've written about how to learn more about a private school using the school's website, what about learning more about private school in general? There are so many school options for parents and students to choose from, so it's important to know what is private school when researching your options.
Private schools can be K-12 or college level; however, most people when thinking about private schools think about high schools. Private high schools are those that do not receive funding from taxpayers. Public schools are funded by towns collected through things like property taxes. Public schools also have a lot of regulations they have to follow as a result of receiving public funds.
Meanwhile, independent high schools receive funding from donations from alumni and tuition dollars (though many offer financial aid). They are non-profits, so donating to a private high school is tax deductible.
This difference is important because it means private schools are accountable to parents, students, alumni, and board members, not to taxpayers or the state, giving them more flexibility to meet the needs of their students. It also means things like standardized testing are often off the table, so classrooms can focus more on critical thinking and problem solving. (If you're interested in learning more about this, read the article, "Are boarding schools better than public schools?)
A second big difference is student body. Public high schools serve all students in a certain district. Most private schools require students to apply and interview. Not all applicants are selected for admittance. Private schools can then build an ideal student body, mixing geographic regions, learning styles, and student interests to create communities best for their students' learning. Some schools are single-gender, others are science and math focused schools, and there are even skiing-specific private schools!
At Cheshire Academy, we pride ourselves on international diversity and global learning, so we look for students who are interested in making connections across disciplines and working with students from various communities. As an example, we have students from over 35 countries at Cheshire Academy; you can download our free infographic to see all our countries.
Another thing that sets private schools student bodies apart is that many private schools are known as "prep schools." What are they prepping for? College! That means the vast majority of a private school's student body will be focused on finding and attending their best-fit college. It can be a motivating experience to be surrounded by students with similar goals.
If you're looking to learn more about private school in general, I can tell you that private schools often have unique and diverse programming. Some have eco-spaces where students work to grow crops. Others (like Cheshire Academy) have competitive fencing programs. There are also high school art programs like drawing or ceramics, and things like the IB Program and dedicated college counseling services.
What else do you need to know?
Not every school is right for every student. Private high schools give parents and students a choice when it comes to picking a school for them. That means that if your current school isn't working or you think you could better reach your potential at a school with a different learning philosophy, different teachers, or different programs, classroom sizes, or more, you're not limited to the school that's closest to your house. While it's true that private schools often have tuition, many, like Cheshire Academy, offer financial aid to students and families. In fact, Cheshire Academy awarded nearly $4,400,000 in need-based financial aid to 44% of the student body in the 2016-2017 school year.
Think you've learned more about private school, and think it might be right for you? Then get this free spreadsheet to help you organize your private school search!