What Is An Independent School?

Jack Sweeney
Director of Enrollment
The New School


I have the pleasure of meeting prospective families every year, who ask many questions such as, “How much is tuition?” Or, “What is the teacher to student ratio? What is your college acceptance rate?” All of these types of questions have simple answers because they are just numbers and statistics that are easy to quantify. 

Throughout my career at various schools across the country, I’ve met many types of parents in different stages of life with unique backgrounds. No matter where I have worked, prospective parents often ask me the question: “What is an independent school?”

Because education has evolved and developed throughout the years, the answer to this question is not always so simple. Oftentimes, this answer requires an understanding of the culture, foundation, and affiliations of the specific independent school.  


What is an independent school?

According to the article, “What are Independent Private Schools?” published by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), “Independent schools are close-knit communities that provide students with individualized attention. They challenge students to stretch their minds and go beyond academics to develop responsible, independent, and community-oriented students. An independent school’s philosophy is driven by a unique mission. Independent schools are accountable to their communities and are accredited by state-approved accrediting bodies.”

“Independent schools come in all shapes and sizes. Independent schools include 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.”

Pretty simple answer right? Although the answer provided by NAIS may seem broad, in actuality I find their answer to be quite straightforward. I am originally from New England and it seems like there is an independent school on nearly every corner (not really). Whether that corner was nestled between two subdivisions, or the corner took up several blocks within the city, you could find an independent school just about anywhere you look. But even this proves the point NAIS was trying to make— independent schools come in different shapes and sizes. Independent schools include elementary and secondary schools; day and boarding schools; single-sex and coeducational schools.

Currently in Northwest Arkansas, independent schools are not quite as common. As prospective parents begin their school search, they’ll ask questions about our school’s tuition, philosophy or teacher-student ratio, questions I can answer without thinking. When they ask me what exactly is an independent school, I can of course read word for word what NAIS says, but I often end up answering the question with an invitation to come and see us here at The New School. I know they’ll get their answer when they can see what is going on in the classroom, outside on the playgrounds, in our upper school advisory program and all of the great opportunities available to our students and families. 

By visiting campus with their child, parents can see firsthand that independent schools are not just defined by a school viewbook or website, but a community of learners, thinkers and doers all working towards the mission of their particular school. Finding the right school for a student and their family can be difficult, and that right fit won’t always be the first campus you visit. However, visiting the campus through tours, asking questions and meeting members of the school community are all important steps in determining whether or not a school is the right fit. 

At independent schools, we all work in the admission office, not just me— our faculty and staff, maintenance team, our parents, and our students. I ask you all to keep talking about your independent school and how it benefits the community as a whole. Talk to your neighbors, friends and co-workers. Invite them to visit campus through one of your daily tours or invite them to a school function that allows guests. 

Independent schools are special places where the level of education through community is profound. You don’t want to just tell them what an independent school is, you want to show them why parents choose your particular school and why they should make that same decision. Through this type of illustration families will be able to understand what an independent school is beyond the text and feel the difference in their hearts, making the emotion-based decision of where to send their child for education easier.

Jack Sweeney is the Director of Enrollment at The New School


Take control of your enrollment funnel

Schedule a free consultation with our team.