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Top Tips for Choosing an Independent High School for Your Daughter

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Did you know that the Delaware Valley has one of the highest concentrations of independent schools in the country? With more than 50 private high schools to choose from, selecting the one that is most appropriate for your daughter is no easy task. To help guide you through the process, Eileen Killeen, Director of Admissions for Merion Mercy Academy in Merion Station, Pa., offers these top tips.

All Girls or Co-Ed?

Girls’ high schools teach young women that regardless of what they want to pursue, there’s nothing that can stand in their way. That message provides powerful, relevant advantages. From politics and passion for a cause to pursuing leadership opportunities or a STEM major in college, research has found multiple ways in which young women who attend girls’ schools are more likely to stand out.

Still on the fence? When considering a co-ed school environment, be sure to ask:

  • Are girls really on the front lines of leadership?
  • Are girls actively called upon and encouraged to participate in class?
  • Are there fewer girls than boys in the upper level science and math classes?
  • Are girls’ athletic teams valued as much as the boys’ teams? Are budgets, staff and facilities equal?

At an all-girls’ high school like Merion Mercy Academy, studies show that girls tend to feel more respected, supported, are more engaged, and have higher aspirations than in co-­ed environments.

Religious or No?

The majority (68%) of independent high schools in the Philadelphia area are religiously affiliated, however, what that looks like can vary significantly. For some schools, religion is reflected primarily in a value system; for others, it means required theology courses and attending Mass. If you’re interested in a religious school, be sure to find out what that means in practice so you can find the right fit for your daughter.

At Merion Mercy Academy—a Catholic school in the Mercy tradition—Catholic Social Teaching is central to our faith life as we seek to build a just society and live lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. Our students are required to take four years of theology courses, participate in prayerful reflection, attend Mass and partake in other faith-filled traditions.

Educational Philosophy

Strong academics may be the rule, but private schools’ educational philosophies can be quite different, as is the type of student they are trying to attract. Is the curriculum traditional or exploratory? Is everyone on the same track or is the course schedule personalized? How is technology integrated into learning? The most important thing is that a school’s approach to education matches the learning style of your student.

Merion Mercy engages students through reflection and transformational learning experiences that develop critical thinking skills, cultivate student agency, unleash creativity, harness the power of collaboration, and build community. Each girl’s progress and growth is evaluated and adjustments and recommendations are made to ensure that she is on her own path for success.


We all know there’s a private school student stereotype. At some schools, it fits. At others, like Merion Mercy, you’ll find a nurturing, caring community where sisterhood extends to every student.

Another aspect of a school’s culture is its diversity. At Merion Mercy, we foster a welcoming and inclusive community, where students build friendships with girls from throughout the Delaware Valley, including South Jersey; all with varied cultures and backgrounds. We believe that in order to succeed, students should expand their world and understand and respect other people’s stories, while shaping their own.

The best way to get a sense for a school’s culture is to visit and talk with teachers and parents of current students. Even the school’s social media can shed light on the school environment.

Student Outcomes

Parents often choose a private school for its outcomes. How well do its graduates do when it comes to college? Each school’s Admissions department should be able to tell you what percentage of their students are admitted to college, how many schools they’re admitted to and which ones graduates attend, and what kind of scholarship money is earned.

At Merion Mercy Academy, 100% of the class of 2022 was admitted to college, and graduates are attending the Ivies, national research universities, top-ranked Catholic schools, historically Black colleges and universities, art schools and state colleges. Their scholarship money totaled over $24 million.

Extracurricular Activities

Is your daughter all about sports? A gifted musician or speaker? Passionate about the environment, service, math or writing? Often a school’s extracurricular offerings are influenced by its size, yet even with its relatively small enrollment (and the wonderfully small class sizes that result), Merion Mercy is big on athletics, arts, clubs and activities. In fact, there are more than 70 of them and time to meet is built into the weekly class schedule! When choosing a school, be sure to select one that aligns with your daughter’s interests and abilities.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Tuition for Philadelphia-area private schools can range between $8,000 and $45,000 a year. Even if cost is not a significant factor for your family, it’s still worth asking yourself if the schools that cost more offer more of what matters most to you and your daughter. Are they worth the additional investment?

Merion Mercy Academy’s 2022 tuition is $21,950. Financial aid is available, as are a variety of scholarships.

As you consider these factors, write down what is most important to you and your daughter. When you visit campus, ask questions of teachers, current students and administrators. If current parents are available, be sure to engage them as well. The more you know the easier the decision will be!

Eileen Killeen
Director of Admissions
Merion Mercy Academy
511 Montgomery Ave.
Merion Station, PA 19066
610-664-6655 ext. 166

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