For any parent, sending a child to school involves a number of choices, and the public vs. private question may be one of the biggest. But even once that decision is made, the questions don’t stop coming. Here are a number of factors to consider:
Perhaps the foremost consideration for many parents looking to send their children to one of Nashville’s private schools is the cost of tuition. Obviously, the financial question comes up during the general process of deciding between public and private education. But even among private schools, options in Davidson County fall at a variety of points on the financial spectrum. At the top end are those such as The Ensworth School, Montgomery Bell Academy (for boys), and Harpeth Hall Academy (for girls), where high school tuition costs more than $20,000. Other schools, like Lipscomb Academy or Nashville Christian School, also boast near-perfect college acceptance rates, high test scores and numerous extracurricular opportunities, with tuition at around $10,000 or less.
Religiously affiliated or not
Many of Nashville’s private schools have a religious affiliation of some kind. While some, like Ensworth and University School of Nashville for instance, have none, most others, such as Father Ryan Academy or Lipscomb Academy, are based in one Christian denomination or another. Nonreligious families may find some religiously affiliated schools worth considering. While some are strict in terms of doctrine, others are more open to students with different religious backgrounds — or none at all. Schools in both categories offer academic rigor and many of the same extracurricular opportunities.
Denominationally specific or nondenominational
For parents looking for a religiously affiliated private school, a subsequent consideration is whether to go with a specifically denominational school, or one with a nondenominational focus. Parents interested in keeping their child’s education within the context of their religious denomination might be drawn to a school like Father Ryan Academy, a Catholic school. Students can apply as Catholic or non-Catholic, but Catholic families sending a student to Father Ryan can get a break on tuition with the support of their parish. (Non-Catholic families pay a higher tuition.) Other institutions, such as Nashville Christian School, describe themselves as nondenominational Christian schools.
Somewhere in the middle are choices like Lipscomb Academy, which is affiliated with the Church of Christ, but states that it is open to “families of all denominations and religious backgrounds.” Karen Wood, a spiritual formation director at the school, explained to The City Paper how the school maintains its religious identity, while remaining open to students with different backgrounds.
“We try, as far as the faith question is concerned, to be about the formation of faith,” she said. “We’re a very Christ-centered school, or at least we try to be, and just really try to teach about his teachings, how he dealt with people in situations. We try to stay away from doctrine, as much as any person can do that, as much as it’s possible. But we try never to make that a focus.”
Am I paying for a guaranteed college acceptance? What are colleges looking for in a school?
In the face of rising college tuition, many parents will want to know what they can expect in return for paying the sizable tuition at some of Nashville’s most expensive private schools. Juliet Douglas, director of admissions at University School of Nashville, where high school tuition is just under $20,000, cautions against seeing any school’s tuition as a guarantee of college acceptance.
“No school, public or independent, gets kids into college,” she said. “Maybe people don’t know that. But what we hope we’re doing at USN is really creating a set of academic and co-curricular opportunities that will allow students to write their own really interesting story.”
Still, along with nearly 100 percent college acceptance rates, many private schools on both ends of the cost spectrum see many of their graduates earning significant college scholarships.
When parents are deciding between private schools, they may want to know what characteristics colleges look for in a high school, so they can look for those things themselves. On that point, Janet Schneider, a college counselor at USN, echoed Douglas’ caveat about seeing any school as a guaranteed path to college.
However, she also pointed out things that colleges like to see in a student, and therefore, in a school. Along with rigorous coursework, and extracurricular endeavors such as athletics, music or art, colleges look for students who have been given independence and the opportunity to practice making their own decisions.
Schneider said parents should ask for a school profile, which will include information like test scores, where graduates go to college, student-teacher ratios and whether opportunities for independent study are offered. If it looks good to you, you can bet it looks good to a college.