5 Things to Keep in Mind When Transitioning from Public to Private School

July 11, 2024

Having helped students in independent schools for decades, we have witnessed countless new students join the independent school community. While private schools offer a warm, welcoming environment, there are definitely things to consider to make the transition to your independent school easier to navigate and set yourself up for success.

1. Organizational Style

You will likely have more homework and, in particular, more writing assignments to complete. This is always a shock to the system for students coming into an independent school, and being organized is key to your success. 

Find a system that works for you—a physical calendar or a calendar app—and schedule work time/study time ahead, meet with teachers on early drafts to ensure you’re on the right track, and let your advisor know right away if you are struggling to keep up.

2. Interact with Faculty (In and Out of Class)

Smaller class sizes means you can’t hide! And while it might feel very different from your public school experience, smaller classes are an important aspect of your new school. Expect to participate in class discussions and have more interaction with teachers both in and out of the classroom. They’ll likely start up a conversation while walking the halls or heading to the cafeteria because they want to get to know you. They will attend your plays, recitals, and sporting events to support you and learn even more about who you are as a person.

The faculty are great resources for students and they often have open office hours. Use them! Don’t be intimidated or afraid to ask questions—they expect you to!

3. Different Teaching Styles

It’s fair to assume you will have more hands-on learning opportunities rather than the traditional lecture style or ‘teaching to the test.’ A hallmark of an independent school curriculum is that it will typically require deeper learning, interdisciplinary studies, working together in small groups, and an expectation to do more than the ‘minimum.’

4. Make the Most of What’s Available

Independent schools offer a wide variety of ways to engage both in and out of the school, all of which can provide excellent opportunities for leadership and growth. Make a point to join a club and participate in the school’s community service outings your first year as this will help you integrate into the community while making friends across grade levels.

Frequently, independent schools offer the opportunity to travel with the school as part of an educational program and while there may be additional fees involved, they work hard to make these affordable for all students. Often these trips—language immersion, environmental education, international affairs—are deeply meaningful experiences that allow you to explore your interests beyond the classroom, deepen your understanding of world events, and build a strong resume.

Most independent schools offer support in securing summer research programs, internships or shadowing experiences, and major/career/personal interest summer programs. The key is to plan for these early as deadlines are often in January or February, so be sure to discuss your interest in any of these opportunities with your advisor in the fall.

All private schools will offer some sort of summer programming for new students and families. Take advantage of orientations, ice cream socials, or meeting a “buddy family” before the school year begins. It’s helpful to get the lay of the land before your busy schedule kicks in!

One note of caution is that you shouldn’t overload your activities until you’ve had time to adjust to your new academic schedule.We’ve seen many eager students join multiple clubs and sports teams only to struggle under the weight of the additional academic expectations and simply try to do too much too soon.

5. Summer Reading List

You may just be receiving your new school’s summer reading list or work packet, and this might feel a bit overwhelming. You haven’t met the teachers and don’t have a sense of their expectations.

It’s a good idea to complete all of the summer packet early; don’t put it off thinking you can rush through it the week before school begins. Consider getting academic support in the coming weeks to help plan out the work, ask questions, and really set yourself up for a strong start to the new school year.


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