Independent Schools Association of the Southwest

FAQs for Prospective Parents

What is an Independent School?

Independent schools are “independent” because they have distinct educational missions, are independently governed and incorporated as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, and are supported by tuition payments, charitable contributions and endowment revenue rather than by taxes. They share a commitment to achieving excellence and inspiring innovation. As part of the private school community, independent schools include coeducational, single-sex, and special focus institutions, as well as boarding and day schools. Each school meets high accreditation standards and is held accountable by its Board of Trustees.

Independent Schools:

  • Provide academically challenging environments for students that nurture intellectual curiosity, stimulate personal growth, and encourage critical thinking.
  • Develop and model supportive learning environments, where service learning, athletics, and the arts are as important as classroom lessons.
  • Motivate students to achieve excellence – in and out of the classroom.
  • Create a culture that ensures life-long returns for students including commitment to community involvement, heightened social responsibility, and understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.
  • Graduate students who are more likely to complete a bachelor’s or higher degree.
  • Attract high quality teachers who teach in their areas of expertise and are committed and passionate about their profession.
  • Encourage active participation of parents in their children’s education.
  • Contribute to the economic well being of their local communities.
  • Partner with neighbors, local governments, public schools, and businesses.
  • Earn and sustain accreditation from regional organizations such as Independent Schools Association of the Southwest.

Why Accreditation Matters

It provides consistent objective expert examination of the overall program and operations of the entire school;

It assures parents and the public that the school is focused on providing a safe and enriching learning environment and demonstrates ongoing commitment to excellence in every program;

It provides a school’s Board of Trustees with an independent, non-governmental validation that the school they oversee is effectively delivering a quality educational experience to its students in a manner that is sustainable;

It validates, through the accreditor’s accountability to various state, national, and international governmental education agencies, that schools are meeting standards of best practice and expectation required by those entities.

It provides school leaders with validation of current programs and services and peer-assessed recommendations for future growth and development;

It assures that students’ academic records and teachers’ years of service are recognized as they move from one accredited school to another, both nationally and internationally;

It provides educators with valuable professional development and information about effective practices nationally and globally; and

It provides education leaders at all levels with deserved recognition for voluntarily electing and actuating a reflective and collaborative school improvement process.

ISAS is committed to performing its accreditation program at the highest level of rigor and integrity. Upholding our values of exacting standards is strongly supported by the Membership. Therefore, ISAS Accreditation really matters.

What advantages does an Independent School offer my child?

Independent schools offer smaller class size which allows teachers to give each student more time, more challenging work and more individual attention. Independent schools offer greater communication among faculty, students, and parents, and the faculty and administration of such schools are generally more accountable and responsive to their constituent families.

How can I find the Independent Schools in my community?

The following web sites will launch your exploration. After narrowing your search based on your family’s needs and interests, contact the admissions offices at specific schools.

Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) can assist with contact information and an instructive overview of the accreditation standards required of member schools.

The Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission (OPSAC) website lists contact information for recognized accrediting agencies and member schools.

The Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC) website offers links to recognized accrediting agencies and member schools.

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) website offers a wealth of informative articles and helpful school-specific information.

How do I obtain more information about ISAS schools?

Access the websites of our member schools through the website School Directory. Schools will provide information on enrollment, tuition and fees, career opportunities, financial aid, academic programs, and arrangements for international students.

How can I find out if my child's school is accredited?

The ISAS directory lists ISAS member schools. Within ISAS, accreditation and membership are synonymous. If a school is not listed, check the NAIS website, the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools (SAES), or other state sites:

KS - Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE)

LA - Louisiana Department of Education

NM - New Mexico Public Education Department

OK - Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission (OPSAC)

TX - Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC)

What is the best advice for parents looking into independent schools for their children?

Like each child, each school has unique qualities. Parents should not seek the “best school,” rather the “best school for our child.” The search requires keen insight and honest assessment regarding a child’s strengths, needs, and preferences. All parents want their child to live and learn in an environment of high expectation and effectiveness. The school that meets this measure can be different from child to child. Give your child the gift of searching for this “best” place together.

How do I find the Independent School that best fits the needs of my child?

First, parents must define the child’s needs as distinct from their own. It is paramount to keep the child’s needs in mind throughout the process.

Next, examine each school’s mission. Be sure you understand the mission statement, and ask for specifics as to how that mission is implemented.

Look beyond the school’s reputation when making this important decision. Ask about specific programs and where students go after they graduate or leave the school. What scores did students earn on the SAT or other standardized tests? Schools should publish this summary data.

The child should have the opportunity to visit the school before any final decision is made. Depending on the size of candidate pools, many schools encourage a potential student to come to visit for a day. If your child is accepted, it is reasonable to request a visit, especially if you have doubts.

What are the most common mistakes parents make during their search?

The most common missteps concern parents’ reasons for selecting or getting their hearts set on certain schools based on name recognition, being with friends, or on cost alone. A school search is successful when it discovers the school that is right for the child. Many parents do not visit schools that might be perfect for their child because they are initially intimidated about inquiring about potential tuition assistance and creative financing plans that may be available. You never know until you ask!

At ISAS, we regard our accreditation process as our central purpose. The rigorous standards and best practices to which member schools are held are critical influences on excellence. Sometimes parents overlook a school’s accreditation. In 1986, The Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC) began reviewing and approving independent school accrediting agencies for the Texas Education Agency. If a school is approved by one of the twelve agencies listed at, it is recognized by the TEA and its academic credits have the same full faith and credit as state public schools.

What questions should I ask during the interview?

Consider in advance all you want to know about the school in order to feel both comfortable and glad to make the investment and to entrust the school with a portion of your child’s education. Be sure to visit the school’s website. Then use your time wisely during the interview to ask those more personal questions that have not yet been addressed through your research.

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) proposes this list of questions to consider:

Are there high quality and committed teachers?

Is there a low student-to-teacher ratio?

Do students feel challenged by their school?

Are there strong partnerships among parents, teachers and students?

Does the school have a climate that supports achievement?

Where can I find information to understand and evaluate the school's answers?

In the course of visiting and evaluating private schools, you are bound to learn a great deal. Comparison shopping will help you ascend the learning curve quickly. There are excellent books on independent education, of course, but the best place to go for answers and explanations will be other people. These might include friends or business associates who are familiar with the local private schools, who have attended or enrolled their children in local private schools, and who have perhaps already done much of the research you may be contemplating. Ask those who work at the schools themselves to help you understand anything that may be confusing. Start with the school’s admissions office, but, if you have the opportunity to meet and visit with the people who would be your child’s teachers, don’t pass it by. Finally, there are consultants who specialize in helping parents find the right school for their children. They can be enormously helpful to you.

What are the admissions policies of ISAS member schools?

Each ISAS school admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally made available at the school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin or disability in violation of state or federal law or regulation in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs. Limited financial assistance is available.

Does ISAS rank schools?

No. It is impossible to rank schools as diverse as those in our membership, just as it would be impossible to rank children in a family. Each must be judged by the degree to which it fulfills its own objectives, the kind of program and culture the school provides, and the qualities that will help a student to succeed there. The “best” school is the one that meets the needs of the child.

How do I apply to an Independent School?

  1. Ccontact the admissions office to request information.
  2. Make an appointment to visit the school.
  3. Make a list of questions you want to ask and specific programs or facilities you wish to see.
  4. After you visit, be sure you have all the necessary information about application deadlines and admission testing.
  5. Complete all forms and send them in promptly. Schools need time to obtain records or to talk with you about special circumstances.

Do not hesitate to call the admissions office to double-check on requirements or to discuss any concerns you may have. The admissions directors want to help you make the best decision for your child.

When is the best time to apply?

Parents may begin researching whenever they become interested. It is necessary to contact prospective schools during the year prior to the school year for which a child is applying. Admissions schedules vary. However, most schools begin the process in early fall of the year preceding enrollment.

Testing at individual schools is usually conducted during January and February, though some schools conduct fall testing or schedule several test dates because of larger candidate pools. Dates for national tests required by many schools for Middle School and Upper (High) School applicants are set a year in advance by the Educational Records Bureau, not the schools. Most schools make admission decisions in March and April.

Application deadlines vary but are usually in December, January, or February. Be certain to check and adhere to all deadlines. While admissions decisions are based on many factors, it is always helpful to a child’s candidacy if parents follow the process and demonstrate that they are going to be part of developing a strong collaborative relationship with the school.

How can I help my child through the admission process?

Perhaps, the best help you can give your child through “admissions” is to help yourself first. Relax, enjoy the process of learning about schools, and sharing and discussing information, and be confident together that the right match for your child and family will ultimately be made. Affirm your child's gifts and help her or him to understand the evaluative purposes of the admissions process. Middle and Upper School students should be active participants in the research and admissions process and should be encouraged to join in a well-informed choice. When schools and families with a shared sense of purpose “find” each other, it is all worth the effort.

What factors do school administrators consider when determining whether a child is a good candidate?

First and foremost, they want to be able to answer the following questions with a resounding “YES”: "Is our school the school that can best serve this child’s needs and talents?" "Will the student be a highly contributing member of this community?"

Evaluative testing is considered in two ways. First, testing allows a school to compare a student against minimum benchmarks for success in their program. Second, test scores allow for a comparison against other candidates.

Past academic performance, actual grades showing how the child has done in school, is considered. This factor is probably more important than testing. Implicit in a child’s past performance are his or her academic characteristics, whether or not the student applies himself or herself, and the child's work habits. Further, schools may require recommendations from past teachers.

Most schools will also require some form of interview or observation. Preschool and kindergarten applicants are often evaluated in small groups. Older students usually have individual interviews. The interview allows admissions committees to garner important insight into a child’s interests and personal qualities.

Schools endeavor to be as family friendly as their mission will allow. When it comes to the issue of giving siblings and legacies preferential consideration, these factors may be considered only after all other admission information has been evaluated. Typically, a school will not accept a sibling or alumnus over a candidate who is more qualified. Indeed, schools try to allocate a portion of each class for new students.

How can I prepare my child for any necessary tests?

Schools work very hard to make entrance testing/readiness assessment a positive experience for students. Some schools administer aptitude tests. Most assess skill level for mathematics and language arts. While most testing takes written form, some assessment is oral.

In the near term, parents can ensure their children’s success by encouraging them to have an open, positive frame of mind, to get a good night’s sleep, to have a good breakfast or lunch, and to be well hydrated. Children pick up on parental anxiety and will, naturally, feel pressured by it. Parents should think positively and keep it all in perspective.

Over a lifetime, parents can prepare their children for the educational test of life by modeling passion for learning and making reading, both aloud and individually, a family priority.

What options do I have if my child is not accepted?

Most admissions offices are available to discuss the decision-making process and to show you how your child compared to the rest of the candidate pool. During this discussion, if your child has been offered a place on a wait-list, ask for an assessment of chances for later admission, including enrollment for the following year. If an admissions director does not feel the school is a good fit for your child, he or she may make alternative recommendations.

What about financing an Independent School education?

While everyone will agree that private school education is not inexpensive, the cost doesn't have to break your budget. Affording a quality education does take some planning, and most families employ several strategies to keep the costs within reach. In this planning, it is important to realize that the family bears the primary responsibility for financing a child's education to the extent that it is able.

Perhaps the best source of information lies with the financial aid officers at the individual schools you're considering. They can explain the full range of options offered by the school and may be able to provide information on the limited outside funding sources available. Understand that each school may offer different strategies and may have different policies. It is important to ask each school about the specifics of their various options to and see how these options fit within your financial planning.

For the typical private school, financial aid and tuition assistance come in three forms:

  • Need-based Financial Aid
  • Merit Awards
  • Tuition Payment Plans and Tuition Loan Programs

Information is available on the School and Student Service for Financial Aid (SSS) website. SSS is a service of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). It is used by more than 2,500 K-12 schools and organizations across the country to assess a family's ability to pay for independent education so that families feel confident that their request for financial assistance is treated objectively and professionally.