Private schools: advice from the experts

This September at PrepConnect 2014 – Toronto's premier private school admissions networking event – our all-star panel of private school admissions officers, selected from the most prominent private schools in North America, had plenty to say: how to get in to an independent school, what makes the private school experience special, what private schools are looking for in a student, and much more. You can listen to their candid answers to the questions most frequently asked by parents considering private school…or read some excerpts from this incredibly dynamic, exciting event.

Difference between public/private school education:  A public school has public funding; a private school is privately owned and operated; and independent schools have a Board of Governors that effect policy changes and hire staff. There is no government funding for private and independent schools; their costs are paid for by tuition fees. Private and independent schools offer an alternative – with such things as smaller class sizes, different resources, and a different curriculum than that offered by the local public school.

What to expect at the admissions interview: Every school is different, even in how the interview process is conducted. UTS does an MMI – mini-multi-interview – similar to that performed by McMaster University's med school. The interview aims to answer certain questions, such as, does the child actually want to come here? Is the child articulate, do they want to learn? From a paperwork perspective, does the report of what happened in the interview match with the report cards and the child's profile? The interview gives admissions officers a chance to really get to know the child – and bring everything together.

Are private schools affordable? What types of financial aid exist? It's safe to say that all the top private schools offer financial aid! How much, and how it is allocated, can depend on the school and specific donor criteria. One universal: if you are considering an independent school and you experience sticker shock, don't let that stop your search or be a deciding factor. Of course private schools are fully run on tuition fees, but they also want to be as helpful as possible to as many children as possible. Most of the funds are provided based on merit. The schools often use a third party company, Apple Financial Services, where parents can go to view the application form. The resources are available for many; just ask.

Is an all-girls or all-boys environment better than co-ed?  It's a very personal choice. There is a lot of research supporting the theory that boys' and girls' brains develop at a different rate in different areas, so when you choose a single-sex environment you can be sure that those schools have a lot of training around servicing only that sex. It goes from what equipment goes in the gym to what is taught in the curriculum: everything is specifically geared to how girls' or boys' minds and bodies develop. For example, girls learn through collaboration, conversation, eye contact, and teacher involvement, so Havergal has classrooms set up that way; boys may like to move around more and focus on a single task at a time, so boys' school teachers move around more and so can the students. It can also help relieve distractions and social pressure when everyone is in a same-sex environment. Yet, it is a co-ed world, so there are many co-curricular sport and team opportunities with other schools and outside agencies that provide opportunities for age-appropriate, co-ed experiences. To re-state, it's a highly personal choice and research is required to select a school that is a good fit for your child.

To get honest answers to many more of your private school questions, as well as hear more from Toronto's most elite private schools on what makes their schools special and unique, visit the PrepConnect 2014 page… and be sure to save the date for next year!