Make the Most of School Visits

You’ve defined your ideal school, used the NAIS School Search to find schools that fit your child’s needs, and narrowed that list by asking the school questions. Now it’s time to see for yourself what the schools are really like.

All schools have their own timelines and procedures for family visits. Check the school’s website or call the admissions office to ask when and how they recommend families visit the school.

The Open House  

The majority of open houses occur in the fall, although some schools schedule one just after the first of the year.
  • Look for a calendar or open house dates on the admissions section of the school’s website, or call the admissions office
  • Check to see if you need to register, or if you can just drop in
  • Find out if there will be a formal welcome during the open house and what time it will occur. This presentation is an ideal opportunity to hear the school head and admissions director talk about the school
  • Remember, an open house is not the right forum to ask in-depth questions — it’s too crowded and busy. Jot down questions as you think of them, so you can ask them later, during a personal tour or interview

School Tours

As you tour the school, take notes on your impressions about:
  • The quality and condition of school facilities
  • The various programs offered that may interest your child
  • What the students, teachers, and other families are like
If your tour is conducted by a current student, try to ask:
  • Where else did you apply?
  • Why did you choose this school?
  • If you could change anything about this school, what would it be and why?

 Visiting Preschools and Elementary Schools

When you schedule a tour, ask what happens during school visits. Teachers may invite your child into the classroom, either with you or without you. This may be a chance to see if your child seems best suited for a full day, for mornings only, or whatever schedule the school offers.
Before deciding whether to take your child on a school visit, ask yourself:
  • Is your child able to separate from you fairly easily?
  • How are his or her verbal communication skills?
  • How does the child do in a group?
Ask what the school day is like and how the school program’s size and structure will fit your child. You want to know what the school offers, and more importantly, whether your child is ready for what the school has to offer.

Visiting Boarding Schools

Even if a boarding school is far away, a personal visit is the best way to inspect facilities, meet the staff and faculty, see how classes are conducted, and find out what the other students are like. If a visit is impossible, ask the school for the names of families from your city or area who’ve been involved with the school, so you can talk to them.
As with any school visit, keep good notes of your thoughts and experiences. What impressed you? What fell short of your expectations? You want to determine:
  • Will your child be supported here?
  • What is expected of students from day to day?
  • Where can your child shine in areas of strength and improve in weakness?
  • What students do on the weekends? Are there any school-sponsored weekend activities?
Your child will not only be learning, but living at the school, so read the student handbook carefully. What are the general rules? What are the disciplinary policies? What is the school’s definition of academic honesty? Ask the admissions staff what kinds of disciplinary problems the school has dealt with in the last year.
You can get more tips on visiting boarding schools from the Association of Boarding Schools.