Though NAIS schools all meet rigorous standards, the differences among them are great. As useful as admission materials are, they don’t always convey a school’s atmosphere. That’s why a campus visit and personal interview are crucial.
Inquire at each school about how the tours and interviews are handled. Some schools schedule both at one time. Others offer tours first (sometimes in a group) and then invite students back later for an interview and a half-day or full-day classroom visit. Some schools ask the parents to sit in on the interview with the student; at others, an admissions officer will talk to the student alone.
When you schedule your visits, allow enough time to get a feel for each school. (Ask how much time you’ll need for a complete tour.) Bring your wish list, and, once again, be prepared to take notes.
Among things to notice during the tour:
- Do the students you see seem productive, engaged, and happy?
- Is the campus clean, well-lighted, and secure?
- Does what you see reflect the school’s stated mission?
- Does the school feel like a community? Are students interacting with teachers outside and inside the classroom?
How many questions are too many questions?
On the one hand, admissions officers definitely appreciate thoughtful questions. You’re there to find out if the school is a good fit for your child, and they want to provide you with the information you need in order to decide.
On the other hand (especially during group tours) no one likes a time hog — the type who dominates discussion with questions that pertain only to their child or that could easily be answered in admissions materials or on the website. You don’t want to get yourself labeled as picky and difficult from the start.
Think of the interview as a two-way process: You should find out more about the school. And you should help the admission officers to better understand your child. It’s an opportunity to honestly discuss your child’s candidacy as well as ask questions of your own.
Although there are many things you could cover, you won’t have time for everything. Set priorities so you can make sure you find the answers to the five to eight questions that matter most to you and your child.
Among the questions you could ask during the interview:
- What will students of your child’s age be expected to study? (This information may be available in a curriculum guide the admissions director can give you.)
- About how many hours of homework does the typical student have each week?
- How does the school measure individual achievement and progress — through grades, portfolio review, or something else?
- Does the school use a system of faculty advisers to guide students? How does it work?
- What is the school’s educational emphasis: Is it competitive? Nurturing?
- How deep are the offerings in any areas of particular interest to your child, such as music, writing, or a certain sport?
About the teachers
- What’s the student-teacher ratio in your child’s grade?
If this is an elementary school, how many teachers are in each room?
- What are the backgrounds of the faculty? (You may be able to get this information from faculty profiles on the website or in admissions materials.)
- Is the faculty diverse enough to provide a variety of kinds of role models?
- Do teachers have opportunities for continuing professional development?
About the administration
- Are faculty and staff involved in decision-making and curriculum development?
- What kind of counseling and support services are offered?
- What kind of leadership and governance does the school have?
- How does the school encourage parents to get involved?
- How, and how often, does the school communicate with the family?
- Can you call or email teachers when you need to? How difficult is it to make an appointment with the school head?
- Have students from schools your child has attended also attended here? Did this seem to be a good fit?
- What is the school’s attrition rate?
Most important of all, at the end of each interview and visit, ask yourself:
Can you picture your child growing in this environment?
Two tips for better interviewing
- For comparison’s sake, ask the same questions at every school, and consistently look at the same factors that might be important to your child.
- If your child has a strong talent or interest you hope will be nurtured, ask to meet with the appropriate staff adviser, whether the school newspaper supervisor or the lacrosse coach or the drama instructor.