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Ask Our Kids: Top ten expo questions from parents

If you haven't yet checked out the community section of our website, this is one of the best places to ask questions and consult with other parents who may have similar questions as you regarding everything from private school to summer campand the place get expert tips and advice from other professionals and parents just like you!

This community portal is meant to be one of the many go-to sources for direct answers, with featured questions and answers and a list of questions you can browse by grade, school type, and topic.

It's also one of the many ways we at Our Kids want your voices to be heard! So we invite you to join the community, ask your most pressing questions, and check back here regularly for answers to some of the most common parent, school and camp questions out there. We're listening, so let's talk!

Ask Our Kids - Erin

As we transfer into fall, Our Kids has been gearing up with families across the country for the annual Private School Expos!

Our very own Montreal Private School Expo launches this Sunday, September 16th, 2012, followed by Calgary, Halton-Peel, Toronto and Vancouver. More than ever we've been receiving key questions from parents regarding what they can expect to learn from attending the Expos — everything from financial aid, to information about choosing a school, to special needs — and we've compiled the top ten questions from our parent community about what they hope to find out during their Expo experience:

  1. Who can I speak to about financial aid?
  2. Will I be able to speak to someone concerning special needs programs?
  3. What is the availability of scholarships like?
  4. What are the options available to fund private school and how do I go about applying?
  5. What are the best criteria to choose a private school?
  6. What is AP and IB? Which schools have AB and IB programs available?
  7. Which schools have the highest university admission rate?
  8. How critical are grades when applying to school?
  9. Why do schools vary so much in tuition costs?
  10. How can I apply for bursaries?

All of these questions can be answered in one-on-one discussions with the attending schools at the Expos, but we aim to provide some insight here as well in this mini Q&A! So let's get right to it:

Q: Who can I speak to about financial aid?

Any of the schools at the Expo! Many schools are willing to work with families and offer scholarships or other payment options in order to help cover the costs, so it doesn't hurt to ask. Information on private school grants and bursaries, including requirements and a search tool for financial aid and scholarships can be found in our articles here, as well as information on private school tax deductions and some other tips for paying for private school. But the advantage of attending the Expos is being able to ask these questions face to face and sit in on the expert information seminars. 

Q: Will I be able to speak to someone concerning special needs programs?

Absolutely! There are plenty of representatives at the expos from individual schools that you may like to discuss this with and who would be happy to speak with you about how your child may benefit the most from the programs they have to offer for special needs students. You may also wish to browse some of our general information about special needs schools and listings before the Expo. When speaking with the schools of your choice, feel free to ask them as many questions as you like to get the answers you need.

Q: What is the availability of scholarships like?

There are plenty of scholarships available to students of private schools and numerous schools even offer internal awards. Students receive scholarships on the basis of merit and, unlike financial aid, your child must be proficient or involved in a particular area to receive a scholarship. If you are looking for a scholarship, a good tip is to start your search early, as most schools or organizations have strict application deadlines. The Our Kids list of private school financial aid offers a comprehensive list of scholarships that schools offer. External scholarships change yearly, so check back often. But again, don't be afraid to ask about scholarships at any of the Expos to see what that particular school might have to offer.

Q: What are the options available to fund private school and how do I go about applying?

Other than the options listed above to help fund private school, you might find our articles on the Real Costs of Private School and How to Pay Under $5,000 for Private School helpful for discovering additional resources.

As far as applying to schools, we have several in-depth articles and a video on everything from how to begin to what to expect throughout each step. We advise parents to start researching schools early as independent schools require a year's lead-time and generally have different deadlines for applications. Feel free to check out some of our expert advice too. At the Expo, be sure to attend one of the seminars regarding applying to private schools—many parents find these seminars key to understanding the process!

Q: What are the best criteria to choose a private school?

Guess what—there is no such thing as "the best private school in Canada." Many organizations, like the Fraser Institute, produce yearly report cards that rank schools by province and categories but these ratings, which many people find helpful, are incomplete. They don't take into account factors such as what parents look for in a school, what programs are most important to helping a student succeed — most importantly, they just don't address the unique qualities of your child overall. Our advice to parents in choosing the right school for their child, begins with understanding your child and taking the time to thoroughly research the options to ensure your child gets the most out of their school experience. Feel free to take a peek at our step-by-step guide to choosing a school and article on what makes a good school.

We also suggest that parents bring a list of questions with them to school visits and Expos to make sure they are able to get all the resources and information they need to make such an important decision.

Q: What is AP and IB? Which schools have AP and IB programs available?

A closer look at AP and IB programs (including school listings) can be found on our website, with the main difference being:

International Baccalaureate

The IB organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to create academic programs to challenge students while promoting intercultural respect and understanding. Three programs aimed at varying age groups (three-12, 11-16, 16-19) feature subjects like math, science, physical education and the arts, but also personal and social skills, humanities and technology. Students must also study a second language and complete a personal project.

Advanced Placement

The AP program allows high school students to take university courses for an extra challenge and to give them a head start in their post-secondary education. There are now over 30 rigorous AP courses and exams spanning many subjects available to high school students in Canada.

AP takes an à la carte approach, and allows students to choose which AP subjects they would like to enrol in. "With AP, students can work to their own strengths, whether those are singular or multiple," says Lynda Robinson, associate director of AP Canada.

IB programs are more comprehensive. Students are required to take all IB courses, and must complete 150 hours of extracurricular CAS activities (Creativity, Action and Service), which can entail anything from music to sports to volunteer work. They can choose different levels within the IB courses, depending on their strengths in particular subjects. "It's a coherent philosophy," says Marilynne Sinclair, teacher and IB coordinator at Ashbury College in Ottawa. "At Ashbury, we help students put together an IB program that's right for them. It's a very personalized approach."

Both programs are ideal for students who are intellectually curious and perform well academically. "If students aren't challenged, their minds wander," says Robinson. "A good advanced study program allows students to be creative and to become more advanced learners. They're not spoon-fed so much."

Advanced Placement (AP)

  • Students at private schools that take AP can get an edge by pursuing college-level courses in 22 subject areas ranging from culture and Italian language to chemistry
  • Recognized by universities and colleges, the program allows students to start post-secondary school with first-year course credits under their belt

International Baccalaureate (IB)

  • A rigorous university entrance program that focuses on liberal arts, theory of knowledge, community service and practical learning
  • Embraces a "curriculum without borders" approach that equips students to become responsible citizens and critical, compassionate thinkers who are ready for universities worldwide

Find out more through the AP testimonials and IB testimonials, and feel free to ask the attending schools at the Expos whether they offer these programs!

Q: Which schools have the highest university admission rate?

We don't have specific statistics available on which schools have the highest university admission rates, but we do recommend checking with any of the schools you may be interested in to get the best comparison as they should have those statistics. In general, private school students constantly score top marks on standardized tests and college entrance exams, and many schools have a 100 per cent rate of students attending their university of choice.

Q: How critical are grades when applying to school?

Great question! Report cards are generally not what schools solely base their decisions on — they try to take everything into account when meeting with a student and family. If a student demonstrates drive and a willingness to improve, low test scores will likely not stop them from accepting. It depends on if the school feels your child is an overall good fit, and vice versa. You can learn more about meeting with schools on our site, and again feel free to ask the schools directly for their opinions at the expos!

Q: Why do schools vary so much in tuition costs?

Private school tuition varies widely depending on two essential factors: where the school is located and what type of private school it is. All schools listed with ourkids.net clearly list tuition costs. Quite a number of member schools that list with us have tuition starting under $4,000 per year for elementary levels. Independent private schools in provinces that provide some government funding may even have yearly tuition rates below $1000.

Q: How can I apply for bursaries?

There are two primary sources of grants and bursaries: Individual schools may offer specialized grants to families that can demonstrate a need. Bursaries and grants are also available from organizations, such as Youth in Motion and Ontario Child Benefit. Almost all private schools have deadlines by which you must apply for these grants so be sure to check with the school of your choice about whether they offer this type of assistance.  

We hope that some of these questions help you and your family as you prepare for the expos or even if you can't attend the expos, perhaps they've given you some further resources during what can often be an overwhelming time in deciding on the right school for your child. Please feel free to contact us anytime here at Our Kids so that we can assist you in any way possible! 

To learn more, read our in-depth guide to the top questions to ask schoolsand print this list of questions. You can also download our e-books on questions to ask private schools and choosing the best private school.

Register now to get 50% off admission a family of four for any of the Private School Expos: /expo/
—Erin McLaughlin
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