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The Right Road

Why Families Seek Independent Schools

All families desire the “best” education possible for their children. However, that vision varies widely because of families’ diverse backgrounds, experiences, and goals. To clarify what parents hope to find in a school search, the National Association of Independent Schools recently conducted a study using the “jobs-to-be-done” methodology.

Organizations use this framework to consider how products or services match customers’ desired objectives—ranging from small, concrete tasks to life-changing outcomes. NAIS identified four fundamental jobs that families often look to independent schools to fulfill. Exploring them here may help you recognize how an independent school can serve your family goals.

Job 1: Overcoming obstacles. These families believe their current school is failing their child. Perhaps their student has unique learning needs or feels unconnected from teachers and peers. Parents seek a new school to reignite their child’s love of learning.

Job 2: Finding a values-aligned community. These parents believe their current school is not academically challenging enough. They see their child as intelligent and emotionally mature and seek a school that will inspire the student to excel in the classroom and cultivate leadership qualities.

Job 3: Developing a well-rounded person. These parents feel their current school is overly focused on standardized test scores and does not offer diverse experiences to fully prepare students for the broader world. They seek a school that emphasizes a “whole child” approach and the application of knowledge through projects and experiences.

Job 4: Realizing a plan for a talented child. These parents want their child to attend a top college. They seek schools with reputations for graduating students to subsequent prestigious middle schools, high schools, and eventually colleges.

Obviously, these goals overlap, but NAIS points out that it is difficult for any one school to serve all four jobs equally well. Slight differences in emphasis can significantly impact the daily student experience, so a successful school search requires an in-depth understanding of the student, combined with thorough knowledge of the educational mission and culture of individual schools. While the NAIS report reflects broad generalities, this focus on individual students and families is the core of what we do as educational consultants at The Bertram Group.

The key to any of these goals is identifying schools where students feel challenged and supported—academically, socially, and in co-curricular activities. This will remove impediments to engagement, cultivate community connection, and motivate students to take the healthy risks needed for personal growth. Independent schools are particularly successful at fostering communication, self-advocacy, and leadership skills. Relating to colleges, note that no educational path guarantees entry to specific institutions. The effect of attending a school that is a strong fit is that students become their best selves, and the resulting personal and academic growth maximizes their opportunities.

Independent schools can be many things to many students. Regardless of what brings a family to explore this path, at TBG we facilitate a process that celebrates the intrinsic value of learning and empowers students to feel invested in their own educational journey.

Holly McGlennon Treat specializes in helping families interested in independent junior and secondary boarding schools. She can be reached at