Frequently Asked Questions
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Independent schools are independently governed by a board of trustees which allows schools the opportunity to define their own mission and the freedom to design a quality curriculum which best meets their mission. Their financial support for independent schools does not come from taxes or church funds, but rather from tuition-paying families and charitable contributions.
Families value the fact that independent schools work hard to create communities where students thrive in small classes led by quality faculty members who set academic standards consistent with the mission of the school. Families also like the fact that independent schools stress a well-rounded education by encouraging students to participate in sports, the arts and a variety of other co-curricular activities. Indeed, parents are also provided with substantial opportunities to get involved in the life of the school.
These important qualities were reinforced in the National Public Opinion Poll of Perceptions of Independent Schools commissioned by the National Association of Independent Schools. This poll found that "independent schools are seen as most different in offering a more personalized, customized education, and an environment that is civil and controlled. Small class sizes, individualized attention, values, manners, and discipline are the most particular factors describing differences perceived between public and independent schools." If such qualities are important to you and your child, then the next step is to find the right independent school for your child!
Independent schools are different in that...
- their existence depends on their ability to fulfill their mission
- in general, independent school students do more homework, watch less television and read more than their public school counterparts (US Department of Education study)
- a greater percentage of students participate in the arts, athletics and extracurricular activities
- typically, student achievement, hard work and study is valued by all members of the community
- teachers interact with students not only as instructors in a classroom but in all aspects of school life
- they promote critical thinking
- teachers have greater instructional autonomy
- the faculty emphasizes ethical behavior and good citizenship
- students are expected to be well-mannered and disciplined
- emphasis is placed on communication between school and home
- most are funded privately through tuition and charitable contributions back to top
ISSL schools represent a diverse group of schools, each of which has its own mission and culture. Their philosophy, principles, and practices are consistent with a free, open and human society and they encourage free and open inquiry.
ISSL member schools are primarily day schools with a few boarding programs. Enrollment has been increasing gradually over the past few years while the numbers of applicants has grown significantly. Day school tuitions ranged from a few thousand to over $20,000 with boarding schools median tuition standing at approximately $24,000. Many schools offer need-based financial aid. Member schools also pride themselves in the rich diversity that make up their student bodies.
The ISSL member schools admit students of any race, color, national and ethnic origins to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at these schools. They do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of their educational policies, admission policies, scholarships and loan programs, and athletic and other school administered programs.
- Boarding schools:
Schools enrolling 95 percent or more boarding students
- Boarding-day schools:
Schools enrolling between 50 and 94 percent boarding students, with the balance day
- Day schools:
Schools enrolling 95 percent or more day students
- Day-boarding schools:
Schools enrolling between 51 and 94 percent day students, with the balance boarding
- Elementary schools:
Schools with students in any grades PK-8 (including PK-6, K-8, 6-8), but none in grades 10-12
- Elementary-secondary schools:
Schools with students in any grades PK-6 and any grades 10-12 (including K-12, 6-12, 1-10)
- Secondary schools:
Schools with students in any grades 10-12 (including 7-12, 9-12), but none in grades PK-6
While all the schools in the association are committed to providing a positive and safe educational experience for all their students, there is no common mold for our schools. Each school has developed a distinctive program and culture based on its mission and suited to its own community. You will see evidence of these differences in the short descriptions provided within this leaflet. Finding the "right match" is not an easy process and parents should gather as much information as possible. It is recommended that parents begin the process the fall before the year in which they wish to enroll their child. Also, parents should consider a number of schools, as many schools have more applicants than places for new students.
Just as each school is unique, so each child possesses differing needs and desires. A family should spend time assessing what these needs and desires are. How competitive or supportive an academic setting is desirable? Is remedial help needed in certain areas? Does your child perform better in a structured or relaxed environment? Would your child be more comfortable in a single sex or a coed school? Is a day school or a boarding school a better environment? Are there special programs which would be of particular interest (international exchange, experiential education)? What are your child’s favorite subjects, activities, sports?
At the same time parents need to consider their own preferences and concerns. What level of formality (dress code, approach to discipline) would make you feel most comfortable? Do you want opportunities to volunteer at the school? Where do you hope your child will go for the next level of education? Where do you have questions about cost and/or financial aid? Do you need an extended day program? Is transportation a concern?
As you attempt to answer these questions, you should also begin collecting information about the various schools in which you are interested. Call and request admission brochures and applications or log onto the ISSL website which provides links to the websites of our member schools. Find out the requirements and deadline dates of the admission process. Are interviews with you and your child required? What types of admission testing or academic assessment must your child go through? Are references from current teachers required? Are there deadline dates for the various steps in the process? When will schools make admission decisions and/or financial aid decisions? What factors does the school take into account when choosing between students? The more information you can pull together, the better able you will be to understand and navigate the process.
Once you have heard from the schools that accepted your child, you will be given a certain amount of time to make your choice - usually two weeks. If you have not already spent enough time trying to find out as much about the school as possible, you should ask if you can visit the school again. Or perhaps your child can spend all or a portion of a day on campus. Many families seek out parents whose children are already enrolled in the school. These parents can provide valuable insights about the value of the school’s program and faculty. Making the final decision is never easy, but be sure that your decision does take into account as many of the things you were looking for in the first place.
Whichever school you choose, be sure to inform the other schools that accepted your child. Many schools have candidates on waiting lists, and these students are anxious to learn whether a space will become available. Therefore, prompt responses are not only polite, but important. Once you return the enrollment contract along with a tuition deposit, your family will be considered part of that school’s community. You will hear several times from the school before the start of the next school year and will begin to experience the same sense of community and caring which is such an important part of the independent school world.
While everyone will agree that private school education is not cheap, it doesn't have to break your budget. Affording a quality education does take some planning, and most families employ several strategies to keep the cost within reach. In this planning it is important to realize that the family bears the primary responsibility for financing their child’s education to the extent that they are able.
Perhaps the best source of information lies within the Financial Aid Officer at the individual schools you are considering. They can explain the full range of financial options that they offer so that you can see how these options fit within your financial planning.
Among the most common of financial options is financial aid. These grants are based upon the financial needs of a family and do not need to be paid back. The money for these grants comes directly from the school’s budget and demonstrates the school’s commitment to having a diverse student population.
Another common option is a monthly payment plan. These plans are administered either by the schools themselves or by outside agencies approved by the school and allow families to spread out their tuition payments over a period of eight to ten months. In most cases, payments start before the school year begins.
Occasionally schools also offer loan programs. Loan programs differ from payment plans in that they charge interest, require creditworthiness, and often includes fees beyond interest payments. Families utilizing this option should look carefully at both the short and long term impact of this type of plan.
Remember that financing a private school education requires some planning on your part and most families take advantage of at least one of the above options. No matter which of these options you decide to use, following deadlines for submitting the necessary forms is most important. Missing a deadline or not following directions might well diminish your chances of utilizing that particular financing option. And remember that the admission and/or financial aid officer are willing to help you with these options. They are interested is the same thing you are - providing a quality education for your child!
Admission Testing Agencies
Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE)
Administered by the Educational Records Bureau (NY)
Telephone: 1-800-989-3721 ext. 312
Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT)
Administered by the Secondary School Admissions Testing Board (NJ)
School and Student Services for Financial Aid (SSS)
Applications (Parent Financial Statement - PFS) available from the school to which you are applying.
For questions about the process of applications, call 609-771-7770
Resource Guides for Schools and Camps Nationwide
Private Secondary Schools by Peterson’s Inc.
The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS)
Private Independent Schools by Bunting and Lyon, Inc.
Local, Regional and National School Associations
Two ways to find the ISSL Secondary School Application on the Web:
- Go to “Secondary School Application” section of this website, and
- Visit participating schools' websites
Participating Secondary Schools:
- Chaminade College Preparatory School
- The College School
- Crossroads College Preparatory School
- John Burroughs School
- Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS)
- Saint Louis Priory School
- The St. Michael School of Clayton
- Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School
- Visitation Academy
- Westminster Christian Academy
- Whitfield School
*Note: Not all ISSL member secondary schools utilize the online application process and some participating schools will require supplemental information which will be mailed to families once they have applied online.