How to Choose a School District

Learn what to look for when choosing a school

When applying for a home loan and figuring out what to look for when buying a house, there are many important elements that factor into the final decision. If you're the parent of a school-age child, finding a quality school district will most likely outweigh many others. Figuring out how to choose a school district presents an even greater challenge if you're thinking of moving somewhere unfamiliar, as you don't have the benefit of recommendations from neighbors or general knowledge of the area. But, no matter where you're planning to move, the same basic tips apply to help you determine how to choose a school.

Compare public and private options

Before beginning the quest of choosing a school, the first decision to make is between public and private. Many people feel strongly one way or the other, but if you're uncertain, moving to a home in a new area is the perfect opportunity to explore both options. Consider your child's goals and interests and weigh them against these other important factors that will impact your decision:

  • Cost: Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is cost. You'll have to pay tuition if you go the private school route, while public schools are funded by taxes and require no specific outlay of money from you. The only exception is public schools that allow out-of-district students to attend for a fee. Take a look at your budget to see what works for you and your child. If a tuition bill is high, consider scholarship options or public schools in the area.
  • Location: Public schools will most likely limit you to the homes within a district, as children are generally assigned to schools based on where they live. If you like a particular public school system, you'll want to look for homes in neighborhoods assigned to that district. Private schools don't have this restriction, so as long as you can transport your children to and from school every day, where you live won't prohibit them from attending that school.
  • Admissions: Unlike public schools, private schools are not obligated to accept every child. Therefore, admission may require entrance exams, interviews and testing. Discuss this with your child and determine if he or she is up for that challenge.

Do your research

Whether you've made your decision between public and private or you're still weighing your options, there are many other factors to consider when choosing a school. Luckily, there are plenty of sources that can help you identify the right questions to ask and things to consider. Start online with the National Center for Education Statistics website. This is the primary federal resource for data related to education. Here you'll have access to statistical information on classroom sizes, enrollment numbers and other data relating to both public and private schools across the country. The website also gives public schools an overall rating if you're looking for a quick snapshot when choosing a school.

Other sources of information include U.S. News and World Report's annual list of top-performing schools and the non-profit organization GreatSchools. The magazine ranks schools by state based on graduation rates, test scores and AP course enrollment. The non-profit offers information on programs, culture, test scores and enrollment figures, as well as parent reviews of schools.

Visit schools

Once you've decided on a location and live close enough or have the ability, take the time to conduct on-site visits to the schools in that area. On-site visits and classroom observations - perhaps the most important part of choosing a school, are the best way to get a sense for the culture and environment, and also gives you an opportunity to meet with the principal, teachers and staff members. Recognize that with security concerns at most schools today, you will likely need to make an appointment in advance to arrange for any on-site visits to a school.

Get pre-approved for a home loan today

Even if you don't have kids, living in an area with a reputable school district helps raise the property value of the homes within that zone. So, it may still be worth adding to your checklist of factors to consider. When you're ready to begin the home-buying process, start by getting a mortgage pre-approval so you know how much you can afford and get a better idea of what areas you should be considering. Contact a home loan advisor at Citizens Bank today to learn more about the home loan process, and getting started with a pre-approval.

Check out these other resources for tips on what to look for when buying a home


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