Parent Resource

11 Suggestions to Navigate the Private School Application Process

by Liz Yee, Director of Admission, Lowell School

Is your child outgrowing your current school or daycare? Maybe public school isn’t quite working or maybe you’re curious about other schools and finding that “just right” fit. While this school year has just begun, it isn’t too early to think about the next step in your child’s education.

In fact, if you are interested in looking at private schools, you need to work a year in advance. The process might seem daunting at first, especially if you want to apply to multiple schools, but it can be a rewarding process as well, so don’t panic before you begin!

Below are 11 suggestions for navigating the independent school search process and, hopefully, making it all a little easier to find the perfect school for your child.


1. Think about what kind of school is the best match for your child and family.
There are many, many schools to explore and get to know. Before you dive in, spend some time thinking about what qualities you hope to instill in your child.

  • What are your family’s values?
  • What qualities, experiences, and knowledge do you want your child to have at the end of their school experience?
  • What kind of community is important to you?
  • What size school and classes do you think will be best for your child?
  • What qualities do you think are important in a teacher?
  • Do you have opinions on curriculum or teaching methods?
  • What kind of school are you looking for? Preschool only? K-8 or K-12?

Make a list of what traits are important to you and use that as a guide as you search out schools.

2. Make a list of private schools to research.
Talk to friends and neighbors to create your list of school options. Don’t forget that Google is your friend. The National Association of Independent Schools(NAIS) allows you to search their list of schools geographically, and Independent Education has a listing of schools in the DC area. Websites like Great Schools(national) and DC School Hub (local) are also great resources for learning more about a wide range of schools in your area.

Fairs are yet another way to familiarize yourself with the schools in your area. Schools set up booths where you can pick up materials and ask questions—some also offer helpful workshops. Here are few in the DC area:

3. Do the research.
You don’t need to attend a fair to research schools. Spend a few minutes on each school’s website to get a sense of its philosophy, mission, and curriculum. How does the school “feel” to you? Does their approach resonate with the values you’ve identified? Are you curious and excited to learn more? If so, make a note of it.

If you need a tool to keep your thoughts organized, download this handy excel spreadsheet to get you started.


4. Consider working with an educational consultant.
Some parents find that having an educational consultant to shepherd them through the process is worth it. Consultants can make the calls, inquire about spaces, and identify schools that might be a good fit for your child. Consultants are wonderful advocates for your child/family. Washington Independent Services for Educational Resources has a list of consultants of all types in the Washington, DC, area.

5. Register for a tour or open house.
Visiting a school is the best way to see if it’s a good match for your child. You’ll want to spend the months of October and November visiting schools so that you can narrow down your list and decide where you want to apply.

Private schools offer group or individual tours, or larger open houses. You’ll find that most schools have an online registration option, so get your calendar out and book yourself for some visits!