When I’m researching anything for my kids, whether it’s what brand of diapers to buy my daughter or what pre-school to enroll my son in, I start with a Google search. How did we ever exist without the ability to read about cost, value, user reviews, and mission, all while sitting in a waiting room?
As great as Google is, however, an online search can only provide so much information -- especially when the subject is something as, well, subjective, as the right school environment for your child. So how can we, as parents, use all of the tools at our disposal to make a truly informed decision?
When you’re looking for a new school, your family is really looking for a new community. A school’s website should give you the first glimpse of not only what programs a school offers, but also what the community feels like.
If created correctly, a school’s website should give you a “gut feeling” of whether you want to see or know more. You should learn about their mission, their philosophy, and their approach to education. Once you do that preliminary background research, it’s time to put a school’s messaging to the test … offline.
The best way to understand the true personality of a school is to visit in person. I recommend visiting a school for the first time without your children. I don’t know about you, but I always feel like I miss 20% (sometimes more) of the conversation when I am half-focused on my kids.
Your first visit can also be a great opportunity to talk about any of your child’s challenges, to see if the school can address them. This conversation is more open and comfortable when done outside of your child’s presence.
Talk about it, but not too much
It’s great to talk to other families who have sent their children to private schools; they can give you information and help you prepare with better questions once you tour the school of your choice.
However, don’t forget: you know your child better than anyone. Take in all the suggestions, but toss the ones that aren’t helpful.
Visit again, and again
If you like what you are seeing, schedule another visit -- this time, with your child. Now you can focus on seeing the school from their perspective.
In addition, ask if you can attend any school community events (talent or holiday shows, sporting events, etc.) to see how the kids interact. This will also give you a chance to talk directly to current parents -- a great source for information.
Ask a lot of questions
It’s not annoying; it’s what us admissions professionals are here to do -- help you! We understand that it’s a big decision to switch schools, especially if you will be paying tuition for the first time. There really are no silly questions, and it’s more than OK to ask.
Enjoy the journey of searching for the right school for your child! (Plus, think of it as good practice for the college search process!)