Now that our students are back on campus and the school year is in full swing, Meeta and I are hard at work preparing for the upcoming admission season – preparing tour guides and processing inquiries as we reinvent ways to really get to know our prospective families in a virtual setting.
As I look at how much there is to do and start to see my calendar filling up, I am reminded how overwhelming and daunting the admission process can feel. If you’re a parent considering PBS for your family, I would like to help dispel some of that tension as you begin the process of finding the right fit.
How do you pick the right school for your child? Whether you are choosing a public or private school or homeschooling, careful planning is a must. There is no magic answer – no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll need to do some research early on and visit a number of schools before finalizing your list. The following sections will provide your family with some helpful tips for getting the process started well and setting your family up for success in the coming year.
Open House Tours Matter
The tour is one of the most important steps in the process. Take it seriously; open house tours provide an opportunity to get a feel for the school and envision your family in the community. It’s also a time to dig beyond the marketing materials.
Before you start, reflect on what you and your family will value in the school you choose. Keep in mind these important questions:
- What are the qualities you want in a school?
- What are your educational values?
- What are your family’s practical needs around location, after-school care, tuition, and financial aid?
- How important is the community of other parents at the school?
Questions to ask yourself before touring the school:
- What are your child’s needs?
- What is your child’s learning style?
Questions to ask yourself while on tour:
- Are students and faculty engaged?
- What is the interaction between students and faculty? Students and students?
- Does the school live its mission and philosophy? Can you see it in action?
- Do the children look happy and cared for?
- Do people greet you warmly? Does it feel welcoming?
- Imagine your child in this setting. Does it feel like a place where they will flourish?
- For optimal learning to take place, students need to feel safe and a part of a community. Do you get a sense of that during your visit? Does the community feel warm and inviting?
Prioritize these needs to help guide you through the process.
Magnet schools, public schools, independent schools, charter schools, parochial schools, proprietary schools… there’s a ton of models out there for schools. For an overview, I recommend this article from the Rasmussen University Education Blog.
If your child is new to schooling, it’s important to learn about the different methodologies that are out there. The differences among Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Waldorf, and other approaches are sometimes subtle and other times vast. Here is a great guide to preschool philosophies.
Starting with the long list
Make a list of the schools you are considering or have heard about. Take some time to learn about their mission, philosophy, and curriculum. Click around. Watch some videos. Look at their social media profiles. It even helps to look at sites for schools you don’t think you’re going to apply to. Knowing a little bit about what different types of schools are out there will help you ask meaningful questions and better define what you’re looking for.
Ask the school
Questions to ask administrators, faculty, or tour guides while on tour:
- What words describe your typical student?
- How are you different from your peer schools?
- What do you look for when accepting a student?
- What is the student retention rate and what are the most common reasons why students leave before graduation?
- How do teachers and administrators engage parents?
- What are the key criteria for hiring faculty members?
- What is the faculty retention rate and what are the most common reasons why faculty members leave?
- Have there been or will there be any major strategic changes or updates in curriculum?
Moving from list toward a decision
Once you’ve completed your tours, or ideally, after each visit you complete, it’s helpful to jot down the name of the school alongside the answers that stood out in your mind, and the instinctual feeling you had while you were there. This will help you prioritize and shorten the list, and come to clarity about schools you felt were the right fit for your family’s needs.
As you assess your decision, do not second guess your instincts - after all, they’ve gotten you this far!