Private School Visit -- Now What?

How to reach the right decision.



In the perfect world scenario, parents and children go on visits to private schools and afterwards all reach the same conclusion. Though that does happen, it's more likely that opinions will differ. Educational consultant Nicky Carpenter calls this part of the decision-making process when picking a private school a roller coaster ride for parents and children. Coming to a mutual conclusion is not easy; however, a few pointers can help level the differences.



Understand each other's expectations.



How much of the decision is left up to the child depends on the child's age. The older the student, the more say he or she should have, admissions counselors advise. Parents should set parameters, but the student who is forced to go to a school won't last too there, speculates John Thorsen, Director of Boarding Admission at Darlington School in Rome, . Reaching a final agreement begins with understanding before the visit what each other's expectations and needs are. Parents might have one agenda, while the child has another. This is normal, but difficulties can be overcome when those parameters are clearly communicated to each other.



Take your child's dislikes and fears into account.



Karen Suplee Hallowell, Director of Admission at George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania , notes that children's fears are often transitory, so get them to articulate what it is they don't like about the school. It could be they fear not making friends, which you know will change in a short time. Or, it could be because the student tour guide was a basketball player and your child hates basketball. However, the lack of a particularly key activity or program might indicate that another school would be a better choice for that student.



Should intuition be part of your final decision?



People talk about chemistry; however, when you're making that final decision, it's hard to justify a yes or no based on a feeling. It works, though, if you've clearly defined the needs of your child and narrowed the list of possibilities to four or five schools. "Not until then," says Andi O'Hearn, an educational consultant. "You may not be able to articulate why, but I've seen it happen time and again where that inner voice says this is the right place." Those parents and children who can rely on intuition did a lot of homework before coming, she stresses. It was not just a quick walk around the campus that led them to a conclusion. Another situation that seems to give the nod to intuition is if two schools meet the needs of the child equally. Then, gut reaction is reliable.



Was it raining when you visited?



Yet, Carpenter warns families not to let their opinions be swayed by the variables that can change from day to day. The visit could have taken place just before exams, creating a tense atmosphere on campus. Patsy Isley, a parent putting her first child in a private school, visited a campus in the mountains of North Carolina on a cold, gray, January day and returned another day to give it a second chance.



Listen to your child's opinions.



Sometimes, kids do make decisions for odd reasons, yet it's wise to listen to your child's arguments, because they can be valid ones. As long as the parents are satisfied that the child's needs are being met, the child's opinions should play a part in the final decision. Children observe things that parents might overlook.



"Parents should come up with a list of schools they will invest in for their child, and say, 'I'm happy with these four schools. Which of these four are you most happy with?'" Robert Murphy, Director of Admissions at The Blue Ridge School in St. George, Virginia , recommends. Educational consultant Jean Hauge agrees that children's opinions should be seriously considered and older students even more so, because if they're part of the decision, they're less likely to fail. Patsy Isley concurs. "Try to listen to as much of the child's input as you can and not your own desires," she says.



Before you leave the school, write down your impressions.



Carpenter advises both child and parents to immediately write down their opinions and observations after each visit and wait until they return home to compare notes. With a checklist of likes and dislikes, the family can determine later which schools are appropriate or not. Often families find they have more questions to ask. O'Hearn urges a call to the admissions office to allow the staff to address those concerns. Talk to parents of other students and get their unvarnished opinions about the schools.



Take your time.



Heather Hoerle, Director of Marketing and Admission Services at the National Association of Independent Schools in Washington, D.C., suggests sitting on all this input--the written literature from the school, the visit, your notes--for a while. Don't make a snap decision. If the visit took place in September and the child is accepted in March, Hoerle recommends that additional visits take place to schools that are high on the list. Your child may have gone through some big changes during the interim.



The final touch.



Send a thank you note to each school and person who was helpful. It's good training for the child and indicates to the admissions staff that your child is enthusiastic about its school. Carpenter notes that schools won't accept or reject an applicant based on a thank-you note. However, if the child particularly loves the school, it could be that little nudge that makes the difference between