During this uncertain time of education, many families find themselves shopping around for school options. I have experience with traditional public and private schools as well as distance education. Here’s my advice for choosing a new school. While a couple of these items are geared toward high school considerations, most of them also apply to all primary and secondary education, as well as the college search process. The first items in the list below are applicable for any school search, whether you’re considering a traditional in-person format or distance education, and whether it’s through public or private schools. The latter list applies specifically to distance education options.
- Make sure the school is accredited by one of the six regional accrediting bodies, so colleges or any school you might transfer to in the future will accept the transcript for evaluation without question. (Regional accreditation is not to be confused with private, national, religious, or other niche accreditation.)
- If your student wants to play competitive sports at the college level or try for any sports scholarships, make sure the school offers NCAA-approved courses.
- Look at their course offerings. For high school, do they offer AP or IB courses that might help provide college transfer credits? Do they offer a variety of language courses? Do they offer electives that might appeal to your student’s interest?
- Consider the support system. Will the student have regular contact with teachers, if not in person than via email, phone calls, or online meetings, and are the teachers accessible for additional support outside of “classroom” hours? Will high school juniors and seniors have access to a college counselor and assistance with their college application process? Is there a reliable student services department? Is there frequent communication with parents or an online portal to check on your student’s progress? Do they offer options for tutoring or homework help if needed? Do they offer accessibility and any special education support that the student might require in order to be successful? Are there school clubs, extracurricular activities, or other opportunities beyond the classroom to pursue the student’s interests and interact with other students?
- For high schools, take a look at high school graduation rates and the percentage of high school seniors who go on to college.
- If having or not having a religious affiliation in school is important to you, make sure the school’s curriculum and practices align with what you expect from a school.
- Find out the total cost. Are there additional costs such as books, supplies, uniforms, activities fees, application fees, testing fees, room and board, etc.? If it’s a private school, what is the cost of tuition? Do they offer grants or scholarships?
All of the items in the list above apply to both traditional campus as well as distance education options. However, if you are specifically considering a distance education program, here are a few additional topics for consideration:
- The method of delivery should fit your lifestyle and your student’s learning style. Are the classes live online classes, and if so, are these compatible with your time zone? Do they offer asynchronous learning, in which your student can pace themselves and watch recordings or work through course material in their own time? (This option can be compatible with any time zone and is usually preferable for those living abroad, those who have sports or professional schedules that take up most of the day, and those who travel frequently.) Knowing the student’s learning style can help you narrow down which option might be the right fit.
- Make sure you know what is expected of parents. Does the program provide teachers and a cohesive curriculum, or are parents expected to supplement teaching? Teaching at home using a homeschool program is an option that offers flexibility and affordability that works for many families, and there are a number of proven curriculums available. However, most homeschool programs require more involvement on the part of the parents than a traditional campus environment or an accredited online school.
- Ask about transcripts. Does the school provide a transcript documenting the courses taken and grades received? This is something that should be provided by any regionally accredited program, and it’s important when it comes to applying for colleges or simply transferring schools.
- Find out what tools and supplies will be required to complete the coursework. Is a computer required to access online courses, or will a tablet suffice? Can the computer be shared amongst other family members, or will each student need a separate computer to use full time? Do you need to order books and supplemental materials to work in a text-based format? Are there additional lists of supplies for science projects and other assignments?
I hope these tips help in choosing a school that meets your needs. If you have any questions or additional advice to add, please don’t hesitate to comment below.