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The Gordon School

Navigating the independent school application process

Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions a family makes. There are many factors to consider, including whether or not to pursue an independent school experience, as well as questions about whether a school would be the right fit for your child and family academically, socially, financially and more. At Gordon, we know you may have lots of questions and our admissions team is always available to support you.

Below is some information excerpted from the parent resources section of the National Association of Independent Schools website to help guide you as you navigate the independent school application process. You can also click here to review a brief comparison of some of the features of public, charter, and independent schools. Please let us know if you have any questions by sending an email to

What makes independent schools independent?

Independent schools are independent in:

  • Philosophy. Each is driven by a unique mission.

  • The way they are managed and financed. Each is governed by an independent board of trustees and primarily supported through tuition and charitable contributions.

    Independent schools are accountable to their communities of parents, students, faculty and alumni, and they are accredited by state-approved accrediting bodies.

    Independent schools come in all shapes and sizes, including elementary and secondary schools; day and boarding schools; single-sex and coeducational schools. Some independent schools are religiously affiliated and others are not. They vary in size and educational approach.

Define your ideal school. Every independent school provides a unique experience, so how do you decide which schools will be a good fit for your child? Think about:

The school visit

Though schools accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools all meet rigorous standards, the differences among them are great. As useful as admissions materials are, they don’t always convey a school’s atmosphere. That’s why a campus visit and personal interview are crucial.

Inquire at each school about how the tours and interviews are handled. Some schools schedule both at one time. Others offer tours first (sometimes in a group) and then invite students back later for an interview and a half-day or full-day classroom visit. Some schools ask the parents to sit in on the interview with the student; at others, an admissions officer will talk to the student alone.

The tour

When you schedule your visits, allow enough time to get a feel for each school.Ask how much time you’ll need for a complete tour. Bring your wish list, and, once again, be prepared to take notes.

Among things to notice during the tour:

• Do the students you see seem productive, engaged, and happy?

• Is the campus clean, well-lighted, and secure?

• Does what you see reflect the school’s stated mission?

• Does the school feel like a community? Are students interacting with teachers outside and inside the classroom?

How many questions are too many questions?

Admissions officers definitely appreciate thoughtful questions. You’re there to find out if the school is a good fit for your child, and they want to provide you with the information you need in order to decide.

But do make the most of your time together by reviewing the school’s website and materials in advance, and making sure you aren’t asking them to repeat information that is available elsewhere.

The interview

Think of the interview as a two-way process. You should find out more about the school, and you should help the admission officers better understand your child. It’s an opportunity to honestly discuss your child’s candidacy as well as ask questions of your own. Although there are many things you could cover, you won’t have time for everything. Set priorities so you can make sure you find the answers to the five to eight questions that matter most to you and your child.

Among the questions you could ask during the interview:

Educational matters

  • What will students of your child’s age be expected to study? (This information may be available in a curriculum guide the admissions director can give you.)

  • How many hours of homework does the typical student have each week?

  • How does the school measure individual achievement and progress — through grades, portfolio review, or something else?

  • Does the school use a system of faculty advisers to guide students? How does it work?

  • What is the school’s educational emphasis: Is it competitive? Nurturing?

  • How deep are the offerings in any areas of particular interest to your child or your family, such as music, writing, or a certain sport?

About the teachers

  • What’s the student-teacher ratio in your child’s grade?

  • If this is an elementary school, how many teachers are in each room?

  • What are the backgrounds of the faculty?

  • Is the faculty diverse enough to provide a variety of role models?

  • Do teachers have opportunities for continuing professional development?

About the administration

  • Are faculty and staff involved in decision-making and curriculum development? What kind of counseling and support services are offered?

  • What kind of leadership and governance does the school have?

School-family relations

  • How does the school encourage parents to get involved?
  • How, and how often, does the school communicate with the family?

  • Can you call or email teachers when you need to? How difficult is it to make an appointment with the school head?

General questions

  • Have students from schools your child has attended also attended here? Did this seem to be a good fit? What is the school’s attrition rate?

Most important of all, at the end of each interview and visit, ask yourself:

Can you picture your child growing in this environment?

Paying for school

An independent school education may be more affordable than you think. Most independent schools are committed to helping families find creative, manageable ways to pay for their child’s education. Among the options you can explore:

  • Monthly tuition payment plans

  • Need-based financial aid

  • Contributions from grandparents or other family members

  • Tax-advantaged Coverdell education savings programs

  • Sibling discounts

  • Tuition loans

  • Scholarships and merit awards

    In 2011-2012, NAIS member schools awarded more than $2 billion in need-based financial aid.


    Before you decide that a particular independent school is out of reach for your family, talk to the financial aid office to learn more about the financial aid options that may be available.