by Director of Admission Margaret Shoemaker, Ed.D.
Although we know parts of the search for a new school can feel overwhelming (we try our best to minimize those!), touring a new campus, seeing classes in action, having coffee with current parents or having impromptu conversations with students can also be exhilarating. Even brief immersions into the life of a prospective school can provide a vision of the future for your child as well as visceral feelings about the school and a glimpse into the life of the community beyond classroom doors. While these in-person opportunities are missing this year, there are some unexpected benefits of our current situation for those researching schools this fall.
Additional insight into your child’s individual needs.
For many parents, remote learning this spring and fall meant more time watching their child be a student (albeit, a virtual student) and a firsthand look into the learning dynamic she is engaged in 4-6 hours per day. Her learning styles and needs have probably become more evident and in some cases, students and families are able to pinpoint what is missing the most in the online world and what they will appreciate anew when school resumes. Other families may see their student homing in on discreet interests and enjoying a less hectic daily schedule. For all of us, physical and mental health have risen to the top of the priority list and programming that supports students in these areas will be critical in the school years ahead. And, whatever it is that you have learned about your child since March, let it help you have more nuanced family discussions about this year’s school search.
Easier access to detailed program information.
The trade-off for giving up open houses and tours can be more time to talk with the school about detailed program information. Though we love showing off our campus and meeting families in person, we have realized that our online information sessions and virtual tour allow us to provide more specific program information than their in-person counterparts. We have time to discuss more elements of our program and go a bit deeper into each than when hosting large-scale events on campus where traffic, parking and work schedules can be distracting. And, best of all, our online information sessions allow prospective families to speak with more teachers and current parents. So yes, after thinking about your daughter’s needs as a learner, the next step involves more screen time (sorry!) and digging into the virtual tours and information sessions offered by most area schools.
Of course, we acknowledge that lack of access to campuses and, importantly, communities will make it more difficult than usual to get to know the heart of a place. We know the importance of gut feelings in this process, and we always want families to understand that in addition to signing up for an academic program, you are signing up for a community for your daughter and your entire family. Here are a few thoughts for you on how to gain as much insight as possible into the less obvious side of a school:
- Ask to speak to a current parent or alumnae.
- Ask for a phone call or Zoom meeting with a person or two in the admission office.
- Head to the remote learning corner of school websites. These sections often provide insights into what the school has prioritized while in a difficult season.
- Look for consistency of messaging. Pay close attention to what schools are asking in the admission application and how consistent you feel the messaging is between online information, live meetings, word of mouth, and your application experience. Consistency is key—all schools are nuanced and families’ experiences with schools are unique. However, there should be some overriding themes that surface to let you know what the school values, how it is unique, and what its strengths are, as well as if you like what you are reading, hearing and seeing.
- Ask for a copy of the school's strategic plan. I know, these can be dry—but they reveal what is important to the school and where it is headed over the course of your daughter’s tenure.
- Social media—although school looks different right now, what is most dear and special to a school are the things we are all fighting to maintain for our students academically, socially, and emotionally. Current social media posts are still a good portal into the heart and soul of a school (and we would recommend scrolling way back to see what the regular ebb and flow of the life of the school was before the pandemic!).
We know the importance of gut feelings in this process, and we always want families to understand that in addition to signing up for an academic program, you are signing up for a community for your daughter and your entire family.
As we collectively struggle through social distancing, we are all learning a great deal about ourselves and what is important to us and that will help us all in so many ways, including school searches. Some of the things I love most about working in school admissions is the self-reflection inherent in the process and the excitement and hope of what the future will bring. Those have never been more on display than this admission season while we—and you—look forward to a deeply connected and, hopefully, in-person learning experience next fall.