Choosing a DC Area Independent School

by Jason Hersom, Director of Enrollment Management

Director of Enrollment Management Jason Hersom discusses the important factors in searching for an independent school.  

Each fall, I have the opportunity to begin conversations with families considering The Field School. While some families at Field have come from other area independent schools, a number of new families to Field are families making the move from their local public school to the world of independent schools. 

The reasons families choose an independent school education can vary. In the DMV, there are a plethora of independent schools that range in everything from size, to pedagogical approach, to community feel, and some even specialize in the arts or athletics. There truly is a school for every child here in the DMV. That’s what I think makes the school search process so important , yet also a bit confusing for families - “How do I find the right school for my child?”

When families begin to consider independent or ‘private’ schools, one of their top priorities is small classes where their child will be known and valued. Here at Field, we pride ourselves on the teacher-student relationship both in the classroom but in the greater community. It brings me such joy when a former advisee of mine stops by to update me on their math assessment, or a student from the musical comes to tell me about a show they just saw at The Kennedy Center. Research continuously points to the science of ‘mattering’ as a key factor in mental wellbeing and success in school. 

Field also offers a range of opportunities for student engagement beyond the classroom. Walking by one of our new science labs after school the other day, I saw a group of students with Robert, one of our science teachers, building robots for an upcoming competition. Later that week, I observed students working with Kiersten in the theater - not in rehearsal for our upcoming musical Zombie Prom, but arm-deep designing and building the set.  This January, students will embark in Intersession courses my high school self didn’t have access to but dreamed of - Wilderness Survival, LGBTQIA+ Advocacy,Underwater Robotic Engineering, internships, and travel trips that engage students in service learning, historical understanding, and cultural immersion.

Independent schools also are great places for families to build community. At Field, our Field Parents Association (FPA) not only holds on-campus gatherings, but class parents also organize social events such as potlucks and game nights off campus as well. This is a great opportunity for parents to build community. 

Finally, our Field graduates are not only ready to take on the rigors of college life, but the world around them. Using real-world experiences in class - whether that’s steaming bao buns to measure density and mass, or understanding the current migration patterns of displaced people around the globe, students have learned how to ask questions that enable them to be part of a solution. 

When looking at independent schools, families should take into consideration not only the pedagogical philosophies of the school, or the size, but the feel of campus. Some students will thrive in a highly competitive, tightly packed hallway. Some will be better served with lots of outdoor space to contemplate the discussion they’ve just left in history class. Field, with its sweeping views of downtown Washington, DC, is alive with the hum of students, but also has great areas for students to take a pause in the day and reflect. In fact, reflective + resilient are two of our six core values. 

Director of Enrollment Management is not a job description I aspired to  growing up, and my colleagues and I are former educators, counselors, coaches, and marketers. But at our core, we come to school excited everyday because we have a passion for the transformative power of education.  I encourage you to get to know the admissions representatives and directors of the schools you’re considering - they are mission driven and powered by a belief in kids. 

Certainly, I’m always happy to meet or talk with families as they start their search process. I can be reached at