Translating A levels and GCSE into their equivalents is just one of many challenges facing families who are applying to American private schools from outside the U.S. Tours, applications, tests, interviews, and language differences make the admissions process difficult to navigate from abroad. Below is advice you’ll be able to use to ensure a smooth transition to an American private school.
One of the best ways to get started (and save time) looking for a school from outside the country is to decide on the type of American school you want for your child before you schedule school tours or visits. Learning about a school’s educational philosophy is a great strategy to begin your school search.
American private schools range from very traditional to progressive and from single-gender to religious. Then there are those schools that are a hybrid of various educational philosophies. For example, the John Thomas Dye School and the Marlborough School in Los Angeles are traditional schools. The Dalton School in New York is a self-described progressive school.
If you want a traditional education for your child, research schools that describe themselves as traditional on their websites. Look for the hallmarks of a traditional school like uniforms, rigorous academics, whether students address teachers by their surnames and how the school describes itself in its mission statement. Are you seeking for a school with an excellent theater arts program? Read about the curriculum, the teachers’ backgrounds and theatrical experience and the performances by students. Does the school have an auditorium large enough to host performances? How many plays or musicals does the school perform annually? Where do the school’s graduates matriculate? If there’s no mention of theater arts on the website, it’s likely this isn’t school you’re looking for. By deciding on the type of school you’re looking for, you’ll be able to omit institutions that aren’t right for your family. Create a short list of schools with the educational philosophy you’re seeking. Rule out schools that don’t fit your criteria.
One of the most daunting aspects of finding an American private school when you’re a family living outside the U.S. is actually seeing the school in person. Private schools offer regularly scheduled tours to give parents an opportunity to learn about the school, meet its staff and walk through the facilities. It is difficult, but not impossible, to get to know a school without touring, especially if you’re coming from a country with different approaches to education. Reading through school websites is key, but it doesn’t give you the overall feel of the school, the classroom climate or a glimpse of the student and parent body. At some schools, it is possible to schedule a private tour on a day when you will be in town. Through a combination of regularly scheduled and private tours, you may be able to see several schools in a very short period of time.
Since you’ll be applying long distance, you will have to rely on your impression of the school as you go through the admissions process. For example, how friendly and accommodating is the staff? Will they work with you on scheduling your interview and the child’s test or assessment? Can this be done via Skype, FaceTime, or phone if you can’t make it to the U.S. during the application period?
Language differences can be an issue for some families. Few U.S. private schools provide English as a second language (public schools do offer this) and private schools have varying approaches to children entering who may not be completely fluent in English. Families should be sure to ask what the school’s policy is regarding language and whether there will be an admissions assessment for language arts. There may also be an ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) test requirement depending on the grade a family is applying for (typically, U.S. private schools require this exam for entrance into 5th grade and beyond). Many American students are tutored for this exam, so it may be helpful to consult a tutor prior to the test.
Throughout the admissions process, be sure to communicate the value your family will bring to any school by adding cultural diversity. Private schools in the U.S. are eager for diverse families, including those from foreign countries. In your applications, you may want to mention that you’d be happy to share your family’s culinary or other traditions as a volunteer at the school. And, expressing a strong interest in the school’s programs and community is also essential.
It is worth noting that many top-tier private schools reserve spaces for relocating families, whether they are from outside the U.S. or from another state. Many schools expect to get applications from families who are relocating for jobs or other reasons.
American private (independent) elementary and secondary schools typically hold one or more accreditations, including the National Association For Independent Schools, The California Association For Independent Schools, The New York State Association of Independent Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and various religious accreditations such as the Western Catholic Education Association. In order to receive accreditation, schools must undergo an extensive evaluation process by the organization issuing accreditation. Any school that is not accredited by at least one credible organization should be avoided. Note: preschools are licensed by the state or other government agency.
If you feel you need help, an education consultant can give you lots of insight into schools, offer recommendations as you develop a list of schools and help facilitate interviews.