If you’re searching for the boarding school that is the right fit for you, you might want to visit a few to narrow down your options.
Visiting a school is the best way to get a sense of the community, to see classes in action, and to meet potential classmates. You will also see firsthand how the classrooms are structured, how many students are in each class, and how instructors teach. And of course, you will get acquainted with facilities on campus and learn what a normal day looks like for students. All of these benefits of a campus visit prevent making the costly mistake of spending a year at a school that is not a good fit.
Making these visits, however, can be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, especially if you’re considering many different schools. Therefore, it’s important to plan how to maximize the benefits you get from visiting schools. Here’s how to get the most out of each trip, and hopefully have a great time in the process!
Set Your Priorities
The first step is to identify the top three to five qualities you’re looking for in a school. Sit down with your family and actually make a list of these top priorities. During the school research and visiting process, this list will help keep you focused and on track.
Lay the Groundwork
Research the school(s) you want to visit ahead of time. With your priorities as a yardstick, review school websites and any other materials (brochures, handbooks, etc.) provided by the school. Write down any questions you still have about the school before contacting the Admissions office to set up your visit, and make sure to get answers to anything that would rule out the school from your consideration.
Schools are usually happy to accommodate a visit at any point in the application process, but you’ll get a lot more out of a visit when you know as much about the school as you can beforehand. Being prepared ensures that you won’t waste a minute of your campus visit.
Another way to initiate interactions with a potential school is to attend an Open House. Even long before you decide which school(s) you’ll be applying to, you can attend an Open House to get a very broad view of the school, as opposed to a more individualized tour. At these events, schools generally try and give a taste of everything that they have to offer. They might feature members of their leadership team, or teacher and student tour guides. An Open House is a way for you to meet and interact with a variety of people on campus. And because you’re not the only prospective student in attendance, you’ll have a chance to explore the school without any pressure.
Interact with the Admissions Team
Once you’ve decided to apply to a school and are ready to plan your visit, begin by contacting the school’s Admissions team. They are fully prepared to help you in your journey, so be sure to take advantage of the resources they offer. Have as many conversations with them as you need to prior to your visit. Request more materials and ask lots of questions, such as “What time of year should I visit?” “Will I get a chance to interact with students?” and “Can I sit in on a class?”
Be sure to share information about yourself and what you’re interested in with the Admissions staff. A 10- to 15-minute phone conversation can help the team get to know you and learn what kind of student you are, and you’ll also learn more about how the school fits with what you’re looking for from your educational experience.
Let the Admissions staff know of any special considerations or interests that you want to focus on during your visit. For example, if you have an individualized education plan (IEP) and want to know about extra student support services on campus, communicate that requirement prior to your visit so that the Admissions office can connect you with the Director of Student Support to discuss how your needs will be met. If you’re interested in athletics or specific academic pursuits, the Admissions team can help set up meetings with coaches and other mentors during your visit.
When to Visit
When planning your campus visit(s), consider not only the time of year but also the time of day. For example, the school might schedule academic classes in the mornings, with electives, extracurriculars, and sports in the afternoons. Some schools are limited in campus visit availability; others have a more flexible schedule. Reaching out to the Admissions office will help you target the areas that are most important to you during your visit.
Consider also how many schools you plan to visit. Are you trying to pack them all into one trip? How much time do you need to dedicate to each school? It may be easier for you to visit schools that offer weekend tours, and you’ll have the added bonus of seeing what campus life outside the classroom is like for students. Of course, if you want to get a sense of the academic environment of a school, you’ll have to visit during the week. Try to arrange to sit in on a class or two to get a feel for what the school offers academically and to meet potential teachers and classmates. Don’t rule out multiple visits, if possible given the time and expense involved, as there is certainly a benefit to seeing the schools in different contex
If you know you like a school and you have the time to do so, ask the Admissions office to arrange for you to “shadow” a student—accompany the student throughout the day to all of his or her classes and activities. With enough notice, schools are usually happy to accommodate such a request. Contact the Admissions office and let them know which grade you want to shadow (you can choose whether it’s the grade you’re currently in or the grade you’ll be moving to).
A standard campus visit lasts about two hours, but if you want to sit in on a class, have lunch, or meet with a teacher to discuss a particular program, it may take a little longer. Make sure your schedule includes enough time to learn about all the things the campus offers that may not be so easily discoverable through its website or brochures.
As you plan your visit, you’ll also be figuring out what your travel arrangements might be like as a student at that school. Consult the Admissions team about the options for getting to and from campus. What airports will you fly into? How far is the school from the airport, and what type of transportation do students typically take (bus, train, ride-share services)? How do students travel to shopping or around the local area?
Ask the Admissions team for hotel suggestions if you’re planning on arriving the night before for an early campus tour; they may even be able to offer discounted rates at local facilities. Be sure to obtain the correct address for and directions to the school, and share your itinerary with the Admissions team. Finally, allow for travel time (and the possibility of traffic delays) between sites if you’re trying to visit multiple locations.
The Right Mindset
It’s important to approach a campus visit in the right state of mind. Imagine how you’d feel if you visited a school in the morning, the tour took longer than expected, you needed to stop for food on the way to a second school, and you showed up an hour late and completely frazzled. Such an experience would probably mean you wouldn’t be in the best mindset to absorb the campus’s culture and judge whether or not it was a good environment for you. Consider how the logistics of your visit will influence your experience and try to make your trip as relaxing as possible. Allowing for extra time beyond the few hours allotted for a tour will help open your mind to discovering unexpected elements of the school’s culture and campus.
Get a Broad Perspective
It’s possible that the person giving a tour may not be able to answer all of your questions, or just may not “click” with you and your family. Asking to speak with other students or faculty members is always acceptable. Don’t let your impression of a single individual affect your opinion of the entire school. Talk to a variety of students, sit in on a class, or participate in an activity to get a broader overall view of what the school is like.
Remember, You’re a Guest
Of course, your main concern during a school visit is to thoroughly observe the school and make sure you’re getting all the information you need. Remember, however, that you are a guest of the school, and it’s important to show respect to the school and its community. Use common courtesy and abide by the rules of the campus. Prior to arriving, ask the Admissions team if the school has a dress code and dress appropriately. Refrain from taking photos of students or classes without their permission. Observe things with a critical eye, but try not to criticize the school during your visit. Show up promptly, and remember to thank students and staff who take time to speak with you; respecting the time and energy of those you interact with will go a long way toward ensuring your visit is smooth and productive, as well as benefit you during the application process.
After Your Visit
If you plan to visit multiple campuses, realize that you will likely find yourself comparing and contrasting the first school you visit with all of those that come after (this is called the “primacy effect”). The best way to remain objective on your journey is to identify the pros and cons of each school, especially with respect to the priorities that you identified at the beginning of your search, right after each visit—maybe over lunch at a local restaurant. What are the things you liked and the things you didn’t like? What did you learn? How do you see yourself fitting in at the school? How will the school help you prepare for your future? Write it all down so that you can compare notes at the end of the process.
A Final Note
The process of researching and choosing a new school can be daunting—and stressful. But approaching the task with a detailed, personalized plan in place can help reduce the stress involved. Remember to reach out not only to the Admissions team and various school representatives but also to peers and your family for support as you embark on this decision-making process, and you will be sure to find the school that is right for you.