Independent School Advice: School Visits

Your parents have spent months looking at boarding school websites. Dozens of them. The photo galleries look amazing. The academics include courses you could only dream about taking in your current school. The athletic departments look like something you’d expect to see at college. The extracurricular activities which most schools offer are beyond extensive. That part of going to boarding school sounds exciting. But, and it is a very big ‘but’ as far as you are concerned, what are these schools really like? You want to see them with your own eyes. Experience them. Get to know them a little. Because the last thing you want to do is to make a mistake and choose the wrong school. No matter how wonderful everybody else says it is, if you don’t like it, you will be one very unhappy camper.

So what to do? You have to visit those schools you and your folks decided are worth a closer look. Let me back up a bit. I am assuming that your parents got an educational consultant to help you out with choosing schools to apply to. If they didn’t do that, just be very careful to have at least one school on your list which is what we call a safe school. Safe schools are schools which are ones you know you could get into in a heartbeat. The problem is that way too many parents want their kids to go to places like Exeter and Andover. Those are fabulous schools. But they are insanely competitive. Really, really hard to get into UNLESS you offer everything those schools are looking for.

Scheduling school visits

The best time for visiting schools is over the summer. Most boarding schools end their academic year in late May or early June. The admissions staff will be there for most of the summer. That gives you three months to visit those three or four schools on your short list. You can spread out those visits so that you have time for all the other things which you like to do in the summer.

What happens during the visit

Every school is different. But during the visit you need to be prepared for:

  1. An interview
  2. A writing sample
  3. A tour of the campus including classrooms, media center, dorms, athletic facilities

As I mentioned earlier, every school is different. So what happens at one school won’t necessarily happen at another school. The elements of the school visit will be pretty much the same. But the individual schools will handle things differently. Don’t let that throw you. What do I mean? For example, if you were expecting the tour to come first, but you are suddenly ushered into the Dean of Admissions office for your interview, don’t let that upset you. Relax. Go with the flow. Listen carefully to the questions the admissions person is asking you. Be yourself and be honest. If she asks you a question and you haven’t a clue what the answer is, say so. “Gosh, I have never thought about that” is a far better answer than making a fool of yourself by bluffing. You are not expected to know everything. Nobody is. What the admissions person is doing is testing your limits. She needs to know who this person sitting in front of her really is. She has some documents in your admissions folder which give her an outline of who you are. All she is trying to do is to complete the picture. Another tip is to ask questions yourself. Suppose you are interested in learning how to row. The school offers crew as one of their sports. Ask about the crew program. Your questions signal your interest in the school and its programs.

Which schools should you visit?

Your folks are probably going to want you to look at schools within a two­hour plane flight from home. Let’s say you live in Cleveland. Schools in New England are relatively easy to get to as you can fly from Cleveland to Boston non­stop in about two hours. Or you could look at Canadian schools in Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa. Most of those are a short flight from home. On the other hand, if you live in Boston and are thinking about going to school in the western states somewhere, expect to encounter a few raised eyebrows. Unless, of course, you have family fairly close to the school you are looking it. Put yourself in your parents’ place. If the school calls and says that you broke your leg while skiing, your parents will be on the next plane out. Guaranteed. Maybe you are blessed to have a parent who has her own private jet which will make getting to your bedside a non­event. But most parents will have to drive or fly commercial airlines to get to your school. This is one of those ‘peace of mind’ considerations you need to be aware.

Who should go with you?

Most of the time you will probably only have one parent available to visit schools. If you have both, that would be great. And, I daresay, schools will be impressed to see both parental units show up. Be prepared for the admissions staff to interview your parents separately from you. That’s normal. Just like they want to size you up, the admissions staff want to do the same thing with your parents. Why? Because your education at a boarding school is a three­way partnership consisting of you, your parents and the school. The school needs to reassure itself that all three partners are on the same page.

Anyway, have fun visiting the boarding schools using the search engine on Boarding School Review.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter @BoardingSchlRev

One comment

  • It is good to know that you do not need to have both parents for this type of thing. My husband and I sometimes have a hard time coordinating our schedules, so this is harder than it sounds. That being said, if it’s possible then we will both come, especially if it is appreciated by the school. Thank you!

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