For most families, the admissions process is daunting. Although most independent and private schools have one, all are not made equal. When parents ask me about the admissions process, I have lots of advice, but mostly I try to get across that every school culture is different and every admissions director handles the process according to their specific school culture. Below are five take-a-ways for families in the admissions process.
1. The process and the school are one
There is one thing I know for sure; never separate the process from the school. How your questions are answered, how much time you spend talking to administrators face-to-face, how and if you get to spend time in the classrooms, all of this is a direct sampling of the type of interaction you will have going forward. Not getting questions answered or calls returned is a sure sign that what’s ahead won’t be any different. If you just can’t seem to get a real feel of the school community through the admissions process, there’s potential that things may not change once you enroll.
2. All access
One of the most important decisions of your child’s academic and social development is in your hands. Every admissions process should afford you the opportunity to talk to teachers, parents, students, alums and administrators. As a matter of fact, you should be provided with all access. I personally prefer to hold open house events on school days. I do this because I want parents to see a real day in the life at my school. I want them to get a survey of the students and envision their little one sitting in those chairs or playing that instrument in the music class. When I interview families, I always ask them if they want to see more of the school or if they want to meet with our division head. Our current admissions process encourages parents to visit one or two classrooms. Just recently, I had a parent ask to visit four classrooms, noting that she wanted to get a sense of how the road ahead looked for her three-year-old. I truly believe that if we did not offer the flexibility to do this she may not have chosen our school. Any school, no matter how big, fast and strong, should be open to sharing any and everything with you, no matter how many times you ask.
3. Clear understanding of the educational program
Whether the process takes you to the admissions director, division head or head of school, you should walk away with a sound understanding of what type of education your child will be embarking upon. Is it play-based? What is the high school record? Is there an emphasis on a certain type of learning (e.g., project-based, experiential, inquiry-based)? Most importantly, every person you connect with should be saying virtually the same things. The themes should be matching up, the culture should be connecting, and your perception and understanding should be growing deeper with each encounter.
4. Understanding and expectations of the process
Every step of the process you are expected to undergo should be outlined either on the website or in the admissions materials. You should be provided an outline or overview of how long the process will take and all the people you may be required to meet. Some schools require that families meet with both the admissions director and the head of school. Others require that you meet with members of the school community such as the advancement officer or trustees. Wherever the process takes you, you should have a clear road map to get you through the process that includes decision letter deadlines, interview dates and all parties involved.
5. The right to choose
Many of my colleagues are going to squirm at this, but the need for the school to be the perfect fit for your child and family is far greater than the need for you to meet the contract deadline demands of a school that may not be your first or best choice. Admissions Directors are people too and in most cases, if you ask them to provide a modest and reasonable extension on your contract deadline, they should. I once had a family on the wait list who shared with me that the “other” school they had applied to was using very intimidating tactics to get them to sign their contract. They even went so far as to give this family a time stamped deadline. I know that some schools fill up fast, but this kind of pressure is not representative of the best practices outlined in the national standards and best practices for enrollment management professionals. Bottom line, you have the right to choose, and no admissions professional should intimidate you into thinking otherwise.
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