Making the Most of School Visits
Are you ready to take the next step toward finding the right school for your child and your family? Now is the time to begin planning your fall school visit schedule.
Most independent schools, even pre-schools, offer fall Open House events. Many also offer school tours—I recommend attending both whenever possible. Fortunately, most events are being held in person again, and nothing gives you a better sense of a place than being there. Some schools require pre-registration for these events, so plan ahead and pay attention to each school’s requests.
Open House events are an excellent time to hear from the Head of School, Director of Enrollment and the Enrollment Team, and current students and parents. Even though Open House events can be busy, they are invaluable opportunities to speak with current families on what they love about the school.
As you walk around campus, pay close attention to what you see and how you feel. If your child has specific interests, such as STEM, languages, visual or performing arts, athletics, etc., be sure to visit those departments and introduce yourselves to the teachers and coaches. It can be eye-opening to watch how your child responds on these visits as well.
The Open House should help you pare down your school list. If after this visit, you can’t picture your child as a part of the community, cross that school off your list.
For the schools that remain on your list, a school tour is your opportunity for a more focused visit and to gain a deeper feel for the school’s day-to-day operations. Be sure to observe in-session classes; note teaching style and student interactions. A tour is another chance to visit the spaces that cater to your child’s specific interests. Look at science labs, art rooms, the library, and athletic facilities—ask how often your child would visit these spaces.
I recommend my clients bring a journal on every school visit to keep school-specific notes in one, easy-to-find place. Below are a few questions I ask that they consider when they are on site:
- How do you feel when you are on campus? Why?
- Are the students friendly, welcoming, and engaged?
- What is happening in the halls between classes?
- Are there spaces for students to collaborate around campus?
- What types of technology are students using?
- How and when are they using it?
- What is on the walls in the classrooms and halls?
- Is the campus an inviting one where you can picture your child working and socializing?
These notes will come in handy to not only narrow your school list, but also when it comes time to complete the parent and student statement portions of the application.
Remember that every interaction can make an impression on the admission committee, so be sure to stand out in a positive light. Make an effort to dress appropriately, make eye contact, avoid mobile phone use, ask questions and follow up with Thank You notes as appropriate.
School visits give you the real feel for what makes each educational option unique in the broad landscape of independent education. With a little planning and a bit of luck, you can spend your energy focusing on best-fit schools, giving your child a better chance of admittance.
About the Author:
Lindsey Valente is an educational consultant in the greater Boston area working with families and students applying to preschool through Grade 12.
Previously, Lindsey worked in independent school admissions in Chicago and New York City, and has independent school experience in Dallas, London, and Boston.
She has served on the boards of two independent schools and is an associate member of the International Educational Consultant Association.
Lindsey lives outside of Boston with her husband and three children.