Starting with private elementary school tours, parents need to be careful they’re not swept up in the enormous wave of “Top School” pressure. Even before you’ve seen one school, you’ve probably already heard about “The Best School” and “The Ivy League Feeder School” and so on. If everyone you know is buzzing about one or two schools, try to think outside the box and tour a few schools that aren’t on everyone’s speed dial.
When I was touring schools, I looked at about 10 schools. I needed to know more about schools that sounded good, but weren’t on the radar of anybody I knew. I felt certain that the schools that were uber-popular would have a lot to offer, although I didn’t end up liking all of them. But, I also wanted to see schools with solid reputations and minimal hype. They’re out there in every neighborhood, you just have to be willing to ignore the opinion of the preschool queen bee moms and seek out these schools on your own. Of course, talking to other parents is a great way to get information about private schools. But, parents are highly opinionated when it comes to this topic. So, don’t let a very small group of them be your only source of information.
One of my friends has a very bright daughter who is about to enter middle school from a public elementary school. I like my friend’s approach. Rather than become obsessed with the most popular schools, she sought schools that would be sufficiently low key for her family, yet still challenging for her daughter. I was a bit surprised, given that her daughter could probably get into any school. But, knowing my friend, she wants her daughter to have a school experience that will be about learning, growing and thriving and not about her mom’s ability to drop the name of her kid’s school.
Applying to private schools in L.A. is competitive in every way, there’s no denying it. This reality hits most parents even before they submit their first application. Prospective parents are bombarded with education terms they’ve never heard of like “feeder schools” and “developmental schools” and horror stories about families getting shut out. You’ll hear about celebrities whose kids attend one school and entertainment moguls who financed the new building at another school.
All this talk naturally makes many of us tense and worried, wondering how we’ll beat out hundreds of other families for a spot. We assume we’re not doing enough, that we can do more thing to get our application into the “accept” pile during the admissions process…one more letter of recommendation, one more call, one more tour, gifts for admissions directors, donations prior to admissions letters arriving (yes, it happens, but isn’t recommended).
But, if you include “off the radar” or “hidden gem” schools on your list, you’ll be able to see the full range of schools in the L.A. area, from those that are talked about ad nauseum at cocktail parties to the schools that aren’t on the cocktail party chatter circuit, but that just do a great job educating kids. They’re out there, you’ll see. You just have to look. Oh, and get ready for a wide-eyed stare from the preschool queen bee. She’s so busy buzzing about the “top schools” she may not know what to say.