School choice guide: 8 tips to help you choose the right school for your child

A Special Gift for Your Child: Choosing the Right School

Why do we, as women, feel compelled to beat each other up?  Why can’t we support the decisions that each woman makes for HERSELF and HER FAMILY as opposed to jumping right into judgement that a fellow mom has chosen a path different from the one you chose?

“The Battle: Stay At Home Moms vs. Working Moms”, Brooke Meabon, Alamo City Moms Blog, October 23, 2013. Brooke was writing about the debate between working moms and stay-at-home moms, but her message applies to the choices we make about education, too. Whether you choose public school, private school, charter school, homeschooling, or another option, you are still a good mom, and your child’s best advocate. We need to treat other moms with more love and less judgment, regardless of which education settings they choose for their children.

With all of these options to choose from, how do you find the right school for your chid? Here are 8 tips to help you with your search.

  1. Think about your career goals and find a school situation that fits. The more flexibility you have, the more feasible it is to homeschool. (Yes, you can work and homeschool.) Working moms might look for a school with after-school activities available on campus. Ask yourself how much time you would like to spend volunteering with the school’s parent organization.
  2. Find a school that fits your budget. Private schools offer some unique features, such as faith-based education, but the cost of tuition may use up money that could otherwise be spent for enrichment activities, travel, etc. Charter schools and magnet schools are tuition-free.
  3. Location: Do you see yourself walking your kids to a neighborhood school? Or carpooling across town to a specialized school? Or homeschooling . . . in your pajamas?
  4. Consider your child’s viewpoint. Is she old enough to have a say in which school she attends? Does he want to compete in a particular sport or extracurricular activity? Do you and your child work well together? If so, you have a good foundation for homeschooling.
  5. Draw on your support network for help with research. Ask your friends about their children’s schools. My friends and I often talk about schools while our kids have fun together on the playground.
  6. Talk to your spouse and your family about their expectations. If you and your spouse see things differently, don’t get stuck in a tug-of-war; talk about your underlying goals and try to find common ground.
  7. See for yourself. Go to open houses, information sessions, and campus tours. I strongly recommend visiting during the school year; there’s not as much to see during the summer. Pay close attention to school leadership because they set the tone for the whole organization.
  8. Prepare for the application process. Charter schools have simple applications, but then they select their students by a random lottery. Private schools and magnet schools have lengthy applications, often including test results, recommendation letters, writing samples, etc.

Once you find some good school options, when do you apply? The 2014-15 school year seems a long way off, but some decision points are happening already. Two charter schools, BASIS and Great Hearts, have already held their open-enrollment periods, and IDEA Public Schools is taking applications now. (Read more: “A Visit to IDEA Public Schools {Sponsored}”, Brooke Meabon, Alamo City Moms Blog, November 11, 2013.) Some early deadlines for private schools have already passed, but don’t worry—there are still lots of great opportunities out there. Prime time for applications and lotteries is January through March.

A note about homeschooling: You can make the switch at any time, but remember to send a withdrawal letter to your school district so they know that your kids are not enrolled there any more.

Having so many school options to choose from is exciting but also challenging. Do your research, talk to your friends and family, but remember that you know your child better than anyone else. You know how to help her grow, become independent, and connect with friends. You will be there when she finds her passion, whatever that may be. Professor and blogger Dr. Kate Clancy describes moms as “caretakers” or “ambassadors” for their kids. (I quoted Dr. Clancy at length in a recent post I wrote for the Rivard Report.) Being your kid’s ambassador means finding the optimal situation for her to learn. Let’s show more love and less judgment about the school choices we make for our children.

I hope these school choice tips are helpful for you. Do you have any more questions? Leave a comment.

Inga Cotton
Inga is passionate about parent-driven education: helping parents be the best advocates for their children, finding the right schools (or homeschooling resources), and enjoying San Antonio's variety of arts and cultural events for families. She was born in California but has called Texas home since high school. She works part time as a lawyer and also blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms. Her eight-year-old son, F.T., and five-year-old daughter, G.N., attend a public charter school in the heart of the city. She married a techie and is a bit of a geek herself.


  1. It is so true that everyone should do what is best for their own child. Thank you for all of this fantastic information and for leading the way for school choice in San Antonio!

Comments are closed.