With so many different types of private schools out there, how do parents and students compare one school to another? A good place to start is with private school ratings, which rank schools based on factors ranging from academic excellence to sports programs, and everything in between. Start with your local newspaper, which may do a review of local private schools once a year or so. If you can't find what you need locally, go national. Resources such as U.S. News and World Report and Great Schools rank schools by a number of different criteria, allowing parents to sort results based on what's important for their children.
If exclusivity is what you're looking for, try Forbes magazine's list of the most expensive private schools in the United States. You can also compare acceptance rates at different schools using data from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) survey. The most exclusive schools are those with the lowest rate of acceptance among applicants, which can be as low as 4 percent in some areas.
What makes a "good" private school, anyway? While the answer is different for everyone, quality schools generally share some basic characteristics. They tend to have solid test scores, or some other satisfactory measure of student education performance. They offer programs suitable to your child's needs, whether your child needs extra help with class work or more of a challenge. The best private schools encourage teachers to pursue specialized training or further their education, and many seek teachers with advanced degrees in their fields. The school should have a high success rate for getting students accepted into college; it should also be capable of preparing students to take college entrance exams like the SAT.
For some, factors like diversity are a major influence on school quality, while others may consider this less important than the school's academic offerings. Another good way to compare private school ratings is through student, parent and teacher satisfaction levels. Check with current students, or ask the school for testimonials. It can also help to ask friends and neighbors about their experiences with specific schools.
Above all, don't consider that the "best" school in your area is automatically the right school for your child. Look for a school that will allow your child to perform at his or her highest level, while building self-esteem and qualities like leadership and a self-motivated attitude toward learning.