If our most recent post, which discussed the somewhat challenging process of navigating San Francisco’s public schools, left you wondering if the SFUSD is the right fit for your family, you’re not alone. Among U.S. cities, San Francisco has the third-highest percentage of school age children attending private schools. Almost 20 percent of San Francisco families choose private education — many at great financial strain. The cost of private education, especially in the Bay Area, is not insignificant and the admissions process is no small matter.
The good news is that the region’s great interest in private education has afforded a deep roster of top-flight private schools. While some city residents choose to commute to highly-rated schools in Marin and Alameda Counties (The College Prepatory School, in Oakland, was ranked third in Business Insider’s most recent list of top U.S. private schools), most find they don’t need to leave home. San Francisco has more than enough options.
There are 29 independent grade schools and 15 independent high schools in San Francisco, and those numbers continue to grow. A dozen new schools and/or campuses of existing schools have opened since 2009. In addition, the Archdiocese of San Francisco operates 27 elementary schools and five high schools.
San Francisco private schools come in all shapes and sizes and offer a smorgasbord of programs and academic focus. There are schools based on language and/or culture (Chinese, Spanish, French and Italian), schools based on faith and religion, schools that specialize in science and math, schools offering the latest in education methodology and schools with a more traditional bent. Independent schools also promise more resources, smaller classes and a much lower teacher-to-student ratio than public schools, and will almost always feature a highly motivated and dedicated parent population. There is literally something for everyone — provided they can successfully complete an application process whose challenges rival (though do not resemble) those of the SFUSD and are willing to pay tuition that ranges from approximately $6,000 for parishioners at some Archdiocese schools to almost $40,000 at independent high schools.
The application process for independent elementary schools proceeds like this: parents attend informational meetings, complete applications and then have their child attend one (sometimes two) formal “playdates” on campus, during which children are evaluated on “readiness” and “fit” rather than on potential and demonstrated abilities. Despite many parents’ fears that these are weeding-out sessions designed to spot budding geniuses, they are in fact designed to holistically assemble a cohort of incoming kindergarteners who will then be classmates for nine years — the longest stint at one school of their lives. Decision letters are mailed in early March and parents are advised to apply to multiple schools to find the best fit for their child.
High school application is similar with a few twists; eighth-grade students begin “shadowing” visits to school during fall quarter, then complete applications and take the HSPT (High School Placement Test). Some schools require or recommend in-person interviews. Decision letters are mailed in early March. The good news is that local private elementary school counselors are trained to help guide families through the high school application process.
There is no way to disguise the fact that San Francisco’s private school application process is almost as intense as the process of applying to college. The payoff to a Parochial or independent school education can be enormous, though, with children and parents not only receiving first-rate educations (two of San Francisco’s independent high schools, University and Lick-Wilmerding, also appear on Business Insider’s list of top schools) but also getting the opportunity to more directly shape their educations and develop lifelong positive relationships with classmates, teachers and administrators.