applying to schools choosing apply

School is Closed. Please Apply.

It’s application season. If you keep one thing in mind, let it be this: Schools aren’t good or bad. Focus on where your child will thrive.

There’s a fast-food chain near me that was recently shut down due to unsanitary conditions. Word on the street was that it had something to do with disease-carrying rodents. Shockingly, since the joint reopened it has received 23 five-star reviews on Yelp.

When I saw the reviews, it reminded me of parents chattering about schools. Far too often, I hear descriptions of schools as “good” or “bad.” Oh, if only it was that simple. And as a parent of a 5th grader, it’s stressing me out. Well, stressing me out more than corona-normal.

I know, it feels like the current school year just started. It also feels like it’s gone on forever. My adjustment to covid reality is still wobbly. Nonetheless, if you have a child starting kindergarten, is at a matriculation point, or who wants to explore a move, now is the time to start looking.

applying to schools choosing apply

Not to ask the obvious, but how are we supposed to do that when we can’t even leave our homes? For crying out loud, can’t there be anything school-related that’s not impossible these days! Nope. So deal with it and get to work. Yes, I’m projecting. So where to start?

If you keep one thing in mind, let it be this: Schools aren’t good or bad. Schools can be great for some kids and not for others. Don’t buy into what “everyone says.” Focus on where you think your child will thrive.

Back to the Yelp reviews. How much information do we really get from someone who may have completely different standards or tastes? It’s the same as hearing about a school from someone whose child has completely different needs (I don’t eat there, but McDonald’s has served billions – it says so on the arches). Take the parent scuttlebutt with a grain of salt.

I’ve spent years running school open houses. While in many ways covid doesn’t change things, it certainly messes up the most important thing to consider – how you feel when you’re on campus. That’s out the window. So now when I’m speaking to parents, I suggest starting with four steps.

  1. Do your homework
  2. Register for virtual information sessions
  3. Include your child in the process
  4. Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions.

Do your homework

Pandemic or not, research is step number one. Explore school websites. You’ll find that most schools say similar things on their sites. From boasts about academics to more extracurriculars than a student could participate in 12 years. After a few schools, it seems like you’ve stumbled across a trove of the best schools in the history of the world. Many top schools have full-time PR staff. Just like any brand or product, the website will be polished and will showcase the positives. This isn’t to say that the schools aren’t excellent for the kids who are a good fit. But can we really expect anything but a great outward face? Probably not. So keep digging.

Pay close attention to what’s not explicitly said. For example, read the school’s mission and view the site through the lens of that mission. Does the program align? Are the school’s stated values in line with their programs?

In other words, read between the lines.

One caveat. When you’re sleuthing online, be wary of sites that claim to review schools independently. Or where the public can post all of their unvarnished thoughts (just remember all those 5-star reviews of a rat-infested restaurant). article continues after advertisement

Step one can be summed up thusly: Be smart.

Register for virtual information sessions

This makes me sad. It’s not the worst thing going on in the world, but I do like visiting a campus, feeling the energy, and meeting teachers and staff face to face. Alas, not going to happen. Therefore, we’re left to go virtual – like everything else.

Register for a tour. The upside is no babysitter or traffic. On the downside, you’ll start to get a whole lot of emails from the schools. Seriously, I just want to clear my inbox once. But I digress.

I’ve “attended” a bunch of these virtual tours and have been generally pleased. Often the teachers or admissions people will spend time answering questions after the presentation. Some schools have included current students and parents. That can be really helpful.

Include your child in the process

This looks different depending on the age of the child. No matter what age, have them join the virtual tours. This isn’t so critical for kids entering kindergarten, but even some participation can get them excited for school.

I require my kids to make pro and con lists during the presentations. This ends up being helpful when you’re all trying to remember what you liked about each school. I have them also talk about whether or not they can see themselves attending the school.

Older students should do applications on their own. Not only is it obvious when a parent “helps” with the essay, but it also takes away from the child’s pride and accomplishments. And do you really want to set your kids up to need your help with everything? Proofing is perfectly fine.

Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions.

I refuse to ask for special treatment. For example, I would never ask to change my child’s teacher. I believe kids need to learn how to work with people they find difficult and to respect them as humans. But when making the school decision, it’s wise to ask anything that makes a big difference for your child’s learning. article continues after advertisement

Keep in mind that schools shouldn’t only be about what you learn. Rather, schools should be teaching children how to learn.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Can the school handle your child’s academic needs?
  • Is it a one-size-fits-all kind of place?
  • Do you get the sense that they are genuinely interested in what your child brings?
  • These questions are critical.

If you can’t get answers, then you have your answer.

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