Ready to Tour a School Campus?
When it is time to take your tour of campus, how do you get the most out of it?
Here are my top ten tour tips:
- It all begins with the Admission Office.
In most traditional private schools, the Admission Office is the gatekeeper at one end of the school, College Counseling at the other. In my role in Admission, I feel it is my job to reflect what it feels like to be a member of the school community. A family should have an experience with the Admission Office that is consistent with the experience they will have once enrolled. So, take note of how the office runs tours and how the people you encounter during your visit respond to your presence and help you to discover the school.
- Make sure to tour when classes are in action if you can.
It is important to see kids in classrooms and to get a sense of the overall learning environment. Do the students seem engaged? How big are the classes? How is the physical space of the classrooms arranged?
- Pay attention to the hallways.
Take note of what is hanging on the walls as you walk the school buildings. It takes time and cares to make colorful and creative bulletin boards and displays. What are the messages highlighted on these boards? Is student artwork displayed, too?
- Ask about faculty turnover.
High faculty turnover may be a sign of an unsteady foundation, or of necessary change afoot. Be sure to ask about faculty tenure and how much faculty attrition is happening each year. High turnover could result from a change in leadership, or it could point to discontent within the faculty culture on campus.
- Who is the Head of School?
Personally, I think it is important to know the background of the Head of School and his or her style of leadership. I have worked for Heads who never met any of my admission candidates and others who were willing to meet as many candidates as I wanted to present. I much prefer working with a Head who takes an active part in the admission process because it displays the view that admission is an important tool for shaping the future of the school. So, see if the tour offers you the chance to interact with the Head of School. You will be in partnership with this person for the length of your child’s stay at the school, so it is good to have a sense of who this person is at the outset.
- Check out what’s cookin’.
In my experience, students will always complain about the food, especially at a boarding school; however, I have seen vast differences in both the quality of food offered and in the philosophy of foodservice. Some schools choose to outsource the food service to a food service company, while others choose to hire their own staff and make them a part of the school’s faculty. Each has advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to ask about how the foodservice is organized. Also, ask if the school incorporates fresh local products and has the ability to accommodate food preferences and sensitivities.
- What about Health?
This past year has shown a giant spotlight on one area of every school—the ability to navigate through a time when health and safety have been at the forefront of virtually every decision. Make sure you understand if the school has an infirmary and ask how that infirmary is staffed. Also, if you are exploring boarding school, ask what happens if your child is ill during the school day and also during the middle of the night. If your child takes medication, it is also important to know how these are administered. Does the student have to go to the Health Center to receive daily medication, or is there a different system?
- Seeing the dorms is a must.
If you are touring a boarding school, make sure your guide allows you to see several dorm rooms. I think it is even ok to ask to see a random room, not just the one the tour guide chooses as the showcase. This will give you a better sense of how the rooms are kept and if there is a dorm counselor who is supporting kids to keep things relatively neat.
- Remember this: The students are the brand of the school.
The main reason an on-campus tour is so important is that you get to see the kids and feel what it is like to be in the community. Can you see your child in the mix? I make it a point to introduce every prospective family to as many current students as possible when we are out on tour. I want a prospective student to leave with the strong feeling they can see themselves at the school, or knowing they don’t. Assessing a prospective student’s reaction to the community is a very important piece of the fit question.
- Trust your gut!
Last but by far least, trust that internal feeling you have when you think about your visit. Write a list of the things you saw that you liked and note any additional questions you have. There is certainly a scientific approach you can take to learning about a school, but in my opinion, paying attention to the feelings you have during your time on campus is number one.