Boarding School Visits 101

Boarding School Visits 101
Visiting schools allows you to determine if the school is a good fit. During your visit observe and ask questions.

Many parents feel they know a boarding school because they have spent time on its website. They 'liked' the school's Facebook page and followed it on Instagram. They also watched all the videos the school posted on its YouTube channel. They and their child are convinced that the school is a good fit for them and their requirements. So why bother hopping on a plane, renting a car, booking accommodation, and taking all that time to go and visit the school? You need to visit any school you are considering sending your child to. The school will insist on it because they want to meet you in person whenever possible.

Your educational consultant may have given the schools glowing reports. Your great uncle has always fondly spoken about his years at one of the schools on your shortlist. He has given generously to his alma mater. One of your colleagues in the Boston office has a daughter at another school on your shortlist. She loves her school's equestrian program. But that's their opinion. You and your child need to set foot on each campus on your shortlist, scope each one out, and use your judgment about whether your child will be happy there for three or four years. Here is a list of things to look for and questions to ask.

Things To Look For and Check Out

The dorm rooms

Given that your child will spend several hours studying in her dorm room, review what can and cannot be brought into the room. Of course, the school will have lists of things they will not allow - hot plates, microwaves, mini-fridges, etc. - but ask.

Here is a brief overview of Madeira School.

The meal arrangements

Allergies? Gluten-free? Lactose intolerant? Vegan? Other dietary restrictions/requirements? All need to be discussed and clearly understood. If your doctor requires your child to follow a specific diet for medical reasons, the school nurse and dietitian need to be involved.

The quality of supervision

As I have often pointed out in other articles about boarding schools, these residential schools take their role as your surrogate very seriously. However, the code of conduct and 24/7 supervision may strike your child as excessive. Have that discussion with her. Make sure she understands the rules and boundaries. If she breaks those rules, depending on the seriousness of the infraction, she risks being asked to withdraw from school. This short video showcases some new classrooms at Detroit Country Day School.

If the school is located in an urban area, understand the rules and regulations regarding visits to the local shops and restaurants. Perhaps the location in a town may be a deal-breaker when you visit and decide you would rather have her isolated out in the countryside somewhere.

What about day students? Are they permitted to drive to school? Will your child be invited to drive home for a meal at a day student's home? Who is responsible for the supervision, then? Better to worry about details like this before you sign the contract.

Questions To Ask

Do they have the specific academic courses you want?

Hopefully, the schools you visit earn a place on your shortlist because they offer most of what you want. But when you visit, ask about the courses you really want your child to take. Sometimes, classes will not be taught due to staffing and scheduling issues. This question is particularly relevant if your child already demonstrates above-average interest and competence in a subject. She will not be happy if she is held back.

Ideally, your child will be able to explore several subjects in depth. That will help her begin to refine her career objectives. No, it is not too early to be thinking about careers. The old approach was letting her get into college where she could find herself. That approach is not strategic enough in today's job market. Encourage her to set some goals and shoot for them. In eight or nine years, she will be glad she did.

Do they have the specific athletic programs you want?

Use the same line of questioning regarding the schools' sports programs as you used for academics. Confirm that the sports she enjoys and wants to play are offered at the appropriate level for her needs. If she needs advanced coaching, confirm that she will be able to have that and that she will be able to fit it into her schedule.

Most boarding schools have their sports very well-organized. Moreover, sports are an integral part of the program, meaning that everybody engages in an athletic activity at the same time. Usually, that's Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. However, some schools offer more variety and multiple skill levels. Make sure the programs fit with your objectives and plan.

Do they have the specific extracurricular activities you want?

Extracurricular activities are not frills or even extras. They emphasize teamwork, character development, and socialization in many special ways. All contribute to your child's development. But make sure that the activities she knows and loves are indeed part of a school's program.

The following brief video shows the Marching Band of Jesuit High, New Orleans, performing at Disney World.

What about religious observances?

If your family is not particularly observant and you are considering a school that has chapel regularly, make sure you are comfortable with that. Many boarding schools are non-denominational, while others belong to a particular faith.

What about medical emergencies?

Are there trained/qualified staff on duty 24/7? How close is the nearest hospital? I am not trying to scare you. I am just making sure that you know how emergencies will be handled when you are two or three hours away by plane.

If anything else comes to mind, ask about it. Most boarding schools are only too willing to answer your questions to proceed to the next stage of the admissions process, which is the application. The visit will cement your final decision.

By now, I hope you understand the importance of physically visiting schools on your shortlist wherever and whenever possible. Don't leave this vital step out.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @boardingschoolreview

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