Tour de Choice: 6 Tips for School Tours, by Megan Freedman

Published on December 30, 2014

It’s time to look at some schools for your kid! You may already be convinced that you should go on some school tours, and now the question is, which ones? I toured 11 schools, but I could have done well with maybe half as many tours.

Here are few things to consider as you make your list of prospective school tours.

1) Location

Where do you live? And where do you or your co-parent work? Proximity to school doesn’t just matter for daily drop-off and pick-up. You’ll have to go to your child’s school for field trips, book sales, volunteering in the classroom, holiday lunches, picking up someone early because they threw up, etc. My husband and I aren’t particularly big joiners, but we probably make an extra four or five trips to school per month (in addition to pick-up and drop-off). It really helps your life for the drive to and from school to be short and easy. Our drive is five minutes, the walk is about 15, and that works well for us. You might want to take a map, draw a feasible circle of distance around your house, around your/your co-parent’s office, and then look at schools within those circles.

2) Future location

Are you feeling pretty set living and working where you are—or do you plan to change that in the next few years? Think pretty hard about that now. If you’re more than 75% sure that your home or office will move, it could make a big difference in your school commute time. For reasons why this is important, see #1 above.

3)     Public vs. private

Are you interested in just private schools, just public schools, or both? We were open to considering both, and if you are too, take a moment to explore your feelings about paying for education, because tuition is not nothing. Do you feel that you want to give your child the best your money will buy? Do you want to support the public school system and be an engaged parent who will help improve the system? Will you have one, two, three, or more kids who may be going to school at the same time? Do you need to weigh other costs (for example, vacations, ski passes, summer camps) against educational expenses? If you’re not sure (as we weren’t), be sure to tour both private and public schools. What you see and learn there about what they offer and at what cost will give you great perspective.

4) What type of education does your child need?

This was a hard one for us. For our kindergartener, we had very little idea what kind of a learner he was.  There are traditional schools, gifted schools, foreign language ones, religious schools, schools that focus on the environment or “expeditionary learning,” and more. You can pay a consultant to give your child tests and write up how he or she thinks your child learns and what school type will fit best. A few of my friends did that, and it was very influential on their school choice. Delve into the school’s particular flavor and see if it fits with what you know about your child. If a certain type of school really resonates, that’s fantastic—go to see that school. If nothing jumps out at you, your child might do well at many types of schools.  If you’re like me, you may still feel unsure what type of education your kids need. But realize that you may not know for sure until you see your kids in action (and their reaction) in a real school. Then, if you need to make a change, cross that bridge when you get to it.

5) School popularity

For some public schools, if you’re not within their boundary, you have a very small chance of getting a spot. For some private schools, you almost have to be an alumnus to get a spot. If you’re pressed for time and could take it or leave it, call the school’s office to ask about admissions statistics before you tour. On the other hand, you may want to visit these in-demand schools to see what the fuss is about. I remember touring a couple schools that were supposedly impossible to get into and feeling like, well their floors aren’t paved with gold and Harvard diplomas after all. Or you may tour one and realize you want to throw everything you have into getting in, such as moving within their boundary or starting to work the admissions process. The sooner you take a tour and know this, the better.

6) Where do your friends’ and neighbors’ kids go

I hesitate to bring this up, because most people think about this anyway, and maybe even overly rely on friends’ opinions about what the “best” schools are. And I really think most people (myself included) feel a natural instinct to defend their choices. Who really wants to say “I haven’t felt right about my kids’ school, but it seems like too much work to move them?” So you can’t totally take what people say about their kids’ schools at face value, especially if they’re not close friends who you can be really real with.

That said, where your child goes to school will play a big part in who her friends are, which extra-curriculars she picks, who you’ll be interacting with at school drop-off, activities, play dates, and fundraisers for the next several years—and even where she goes for middle and high school. If you respect and like certain people, and they’ve chosen a certain school, it’s worth adding to your tour list.

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