Choosing the Right Independent School

Choosing the right independent school is an adventure. Adventures are fun and hopefully not too overwhelming. Begin with an open mind and a passion for discovery, and the journey will lead you to the correct independent school for your child.

Families in Louisville are fortunate to have lots of strong choices that are not only excellent schools overall but also hosts to unique strengths and offerings – big, small, arts-related, strong in athletics, academically rigorous or known for a special expertise in a particular discipline, like language. There is a school for every child who has begun to excel in a particular field and wants to specialize, as well as plenty of choices for those who simply want a classic or comprehensive experience.

Margie Savoye. Photo courtesy of Louisville Collegiate School.

Margie Savoye. Photo courtesy of Louisville Collegiate School.

My first post in admissions was at a college in Boston for aspiring jazz musicians. As a priority admissions counselor, I was tasked with finding prospective students who played “anything but the guitar.” Parents, who almost always came along on visits, were universally concerned about one thing: could their child earn a living as a musician? As I met with these families, the parent or parents would sometimes quickly, but always inevitably, implore me to convince their child to double major. The second major was invariably music education. Meanwhile, the student’s countenance would transform. The grin they’d worn walking through the door, dreaming about an education focused on their instrument, had turned into a troubled frown. Things had just gotten complicated. Mom and Dad were thinking career while the prospective student was dreaming about becoming the next Wynton Marsalis.

The next moment was key. Could I find a way to help bridge the gap and get the family to communicate honestly about the decision-making process? Who was making the final decision? What was the desired outcome? Had key factors in choosing a school been identified? Had they been prioritized? Were they realistic, or were they the stuff of dreams or fantasies?

For the most part, these questions reflect universal considerations. I will list them, but it’s up to every parent to prioritize the list.

Cost – What are you willing to spend? Then, what are you really willing to spend?   What other things may need to be sacrificed if you choose an independent school for your children? Is a school you are interested in need-blind when it comes to financial aid? Are you willing to go through the aid application process? And watch the “extras.” If a school bundles costs (before-school care, after-school care, lunch), specifically determine what is and isn’t included.

Academics – How does your child learn? And more importantly, what do you want them to learn? Have they begun to specialize and excel? If the latter, are you – or they – truly ready to pursue specialization, or would it be better to maintain a comprehensive focus? Or attempt to strike a balance?

Location – How far are you willing to travel to and from each day, including additional round trips for evening and weekend events?

Community – An independent school choice is often about more than just classroom academics and extracurricular activities. Most schools attempt to foster a sense of community. Is that important to you and your child? What values or level or comfort or common interests are you seeking? This can be an important part of your exploration.

Comfort zone – The “right fit” is incredibly important. Take a tour, meet with administrators, sit in on classes, sit in on lunch, talk to kids in the hall. If you think your child is going to be the next Stephen Curry, meet one-on-one with the basketball coach. Or if Chinese is your child’s passion, talk with students in the advanced Chinese class about their studies. Ask for names of alums and parents of current students you can speak with. Don’t be afraid to ask students during a visit what they love and don’t like about their school.

Yes, parents, you must do your homework before finalizing your decision.

Finally, I would encourage you to keep your cool and humor…and good notes. If you follow the checklist above, you will make an informed decision – and the correct one for your child and family.

By Margie Savoye
Director of Enrollment Management and Recruitment at Louisville Collegiate School