Visiting schools on your short list is one of the most important parts of finding the right private school for your child. You cannot and must not skip this part of the process. Why? Well, the videos on YouTube and the glossy catalogs are excellent introductions to the schools which you have identified as possible matches for your requirements. They give you an overview of the school and its programs. Unfortunately, the schools have positioned those videos and photos to show the best features of their schools. Think Architectural Digest. Have you ever seen any clutter in an AD photo shoot? Of course not. Everybody puts their best foot forward. Same thing with schools.
The school visit allows you to look at things which are not in the photos or mentioned in the catalog. The same rationale applies to you when you visit schools. Up to that point, you and your child are simply names on a list and a file folder. Your visiting gives the schools the opportunity to see who you are and to gauge your child's preparedness for the academic work ahead. So, when you visit schools, please don't make the following common mistakes. A little thought and preparation will help you make the best impression possible.
Being 10 minutes early for your appointment is sensible. That way you will have time to park and compose yourself and your child before entering the admissions office. Admissions staffers are busy professionals who keep a schedule of appointments just like other professionals do. If you are late, you will create scheduling problems for the admissions office. That will not create a positive impression. When you discover that you will be late for a good reason, call the admissions office as soon as you can and let them know. They will appreciate your courtesy. When you do finally arrive and meet the admissions staff, apologize for being late. A brief explanation is all that is necessary. "I am so sorry that we are late. My car had a flat tire, and AAA took forever to come." As this video illustrates, punctuality is a sign of respect.
Being dressed inappropriately
I cannot imagine having to counsel parents and students to be dressed appropriately for a school visit and interview. But dress codes have changed greatly from when we were young parents looking at schools for our girls. Nowadays business casual works fine. If you happen to be very wealthy and can afford a Chanel suit, wear it only if that is what you would normally wear during the daytime. The school will know that you have money. No need to flaunt your wealth. Wearing jeans or other more casual attire will create the impression that you could care less. A good idea is to look carefully at the school's photos and observe how the faculty and staff dress. Mirror what you see. If the school has a dress code or uniform, then dress your son or daughter in a shirt or blouse, slacks or skirt, and leather dress shoes. If they or you chew gum, don't do that during your visit.
You know that the visit will take about an hour or so. Following the tour you will meet with an admissions staffer and your child will have some testing to complete. You must be prepared with answers to obvious questions such as why your child skipped the first grade or had Cs in mathematics. Don't be defensive. Answer the questions truthfully and explain what steps you took to remediate the issue. You can save most of your documentation on your smartphone, so it is easy to access. If you don't have an answer to a question, be honest and tell the admissions staffer that you will look into that and follow up with a reply by email.
What I mean by being over-prepared is that you must not sit in the admissions office reading a prepared speech about your child, her accomplishments and your opinions about the school. Come prepared to ask questions. Ask them respectfully. Listen to the answers carefully. You have every right to interview the school. Just make it sound less like an inquisition and more like thoughtful questioning. Schools value parents who are cooperative and willing to help the school in whatever ways they can. Demonstrate your willingness to be part of the school family.
Being rude and disinterested
Informing the admissions staffer that her school is your third choice is rude. Don't do it. Play your cards close to your chest. The schools have been at this admissions game a lot longer than you. They understand that you will have a school which is a reach, another one which is not so competitive and yet another school which is a safe school. Furthermore, they know where they fit in because they have reviewed your child's academic achievements to date. They know what sports and extracurricular activities he likes. They will very quickly deduce that into which category of school they fit. You do not and must not tell them. If you tell them that you are not likely to send your child to their school, they will put your child towards the bottom of their admissions list. Even worse, they might wait list your child.
Taking calls or texting during your interview and visit is also rude. If a true emergency call comes in, excuse yourself politely. "I am so sorry. This is my nanny calling. It is an emergency." An honest explanation is all that is needed.
Offering to write a large check to the school if they will accept your child is the height of rudeness. The school will know you have money. If and when your child is admitted, expect a visit from the school's development director and/or head of school soon after school opens.
To summarize how to handle your school visits, put your best foot forward. Politeness and graciousness will trump most other considerations. You may have spilled coffee on your white blouse, but your cordial demeanor will more than offset that accident which could happen to anybody. Coolness under fire is always a good policy. Remember that the school sees a reflection of you and your educational philosophy in your child. If you are brash and rude, the schools will most certainly assume that your child considers that kind of behavior is acceptable.
Your child's education in her new school involve's a partnership of three - the school, you and your child. The visit and interview is the best time to show everybody how much that association will mean to you.
Questions? Contact me via Twitter. @privateschl