How do we tell if a school is any good or not, particularly if friends do not know of it?
Although all schools put their best foot forward in formal presentations, such as open houses and tours, such events reveal true philosophies behind the programming, community, and curriculum, of which they are proud. Many differences between one school and another will become evident after attending and comparing a number of open houses or after visiting the school. Bear in mind that every school works well for some children and may not for others. Some questions to ask are what kind of children will and will not prosper at the school and how the teachers and the administrators handle problems should they arise.
However, do not make such an important decision on the basis of attending formal programs alone. Make time to visit the school at drop-off and at pick-up time. Do children come by bus, with parents, or with nannies? Are there others with whom you could envision yourself and your child sharing your daily lives? In addition, if you have time, try to attend some extracurricular activities, such as a performance of a musical group, dramatic endeavor, or sporting event., You can learn a great deal about a school by observing coaches, students and faculty on the sports fields and parents in the stands.
Student led tours can be revealing. You can ask students what they do and do not like about the school and get an honest answer. Finally, ask the admissions office if you can speak with two current families who have children the same age as yours who currently attend the school. You can ask questions of these parents that you may not want to ask of the admissions officer.
Is it important to have high level contacts to gain admission at top schools?
While many families in large cities where admission is competitive use high level contacts to assist in securing places, at School Choice International we believe that it is not in the interests of the child to do so. While stressful, the admissions process is well thought out, and results in matching children with schools where they will prosper. When these procedures are circumvented, children may be admitted to a school that is too challenging, or in which their particular learning style is not addressed. Often these children do not enjoy attending school, many are unsuccessful academically, and they may be “counseled out.” At School Choice International we believe that it is far more important for a child to be placed in a school where s/he will be successful than to get into the “top school” through any means. We believe the best school is the one that is right for your child.
Is it possible to jump the waiting list?
This is a question that applies differently in different cases. There is no uniform answer. There are international or national schools worldwide that have absolute policies that prohibit families from moving ahead on the waitlist, except if they conform to their particular procedures, i.e., sibling priority. These schools tend to be firm because the majority of their applicants are high level executives at leading companies, and they have no way of distinguishing between one and another. Their boards are comprised of people from all of these companies, and they cannot favor one trustee’s firm at the expense of another’s.
In contrast, there are schools where board contacts can make a difference, where companies have purchased seats (or debentures) for their employees, where relationships with admissions personnel can be advantageous. At School Choice International, we have excellent relationships with schools in many countries because we have a reputation for sending them children and families who will be a good fit, both academically, and socially. As a result, schools take our recommendations seriously and even phone us if they have chance vacancies.
Is it necessary to pay registration fees in order to visit a school?
This is a practice that varies in different locations, but also differs according to what takes place during the school visit. In London, for example, it was common for schools to offer families tours without requiring that fees be paid. More recently, certain schools have begun to request registration fees in advance of a visit. In New York, however, all schools expect application fees to be paid in advance of a visit. The visit typically consists of a tour, a parent interview and a child assessment. School personnel feel that in order to schedule staff and dedicate time to this process, applications must be complete and fees paid.
Is it important to give donations?
In fee paying schools in some countries, tuition and fees cover the costs of education, and no private donations are solicited or expected. In others, tuition covers only a fraction of the cost of educating students, and private donations are customary to support extras such as capital improvements, sporting equipment, and scholarships to provide tuition assistance for those unable to pay fees themselves. In some cases the amount of donation is a private matter and there is no discomfort about making a contribution that feels comfortable to you. In others, there is peer pressure to give. It is wise to ask other parents about the culture of the school before joining.
In public schools, costs are supported by taxes. However, there are times when budgets are stretched and schools find ways of establishing vehicles to supplement public monies. Once again, current parents are your best source of information both about level of available resources and requests for funding from parents of enrolled students to ensure that you are comfortable with the school culture.
How many application fees should we allow?
The number of applications appropriate depends on the amount of competition for vacancies. In urban areas where schools are abundant, yet competition is intense, it is wise for students to apply to 8-10 schools as long as that number will consider an application. In these situations, each possibility actually is a long shot, and more irons in the fire will improve the likelihood of success. However, in a remote location there may only be one or two realistic options, so that many applications should be sufficient.
What do we do if we aren’t accepted at our first choice school?
The competition for places at schools in some locations is intense and it is important to be realistic about your child’s chances of success. Admission depends on the number of spaces, time of year, as well as his or her personal qualifications compared with the pool of applicants. It is wise to keep your options open by applying to a range of schools. If you feel it is essential that you enroll your child in an independent school, you may have to apply to as many as ten schools in some locations.
You should always make sure to have a safety school that you would be comfortable having your child attend. Often a family may feel negatively about a school that is possible for their child to get into, and yearn for one that is unattainable. However, it is important to visit schools that do have places, speak with current and past parents, and learn as much as possible about them.
School reputations can be very different from the education they offer – generally because reputations take a long time to change when practices may have in fact changed much earlier. In addition, what works for someone else’s child may not be what is right for your child. Therefore, the only way to judge a school is based on personal experience.
If you have explored all options carefully and your original top choice truly is the best fit, but no places are available, you can always reapply to the school the following year when your child is more settled. In our experience, children generally end up at the schools which suit them best but it can be a grueling process and it is important to keep a sense of perspective and above all protect your child from any feelings of disappointment you may feel.
What do we do if only one of our children is admitted?
It depends why. Some schools only accept children based on merit, and if a child is not accepted it could be that they would not flourish at that particular school. In that case it is more advantageous to find a school that suits their needs more closely where s/he will thrive. Although having your children together is convenient, no child benefits from constantly being in his or her sibling’s shadow.
If it is purely a question of space, your consultant and the admissions director will be able to determine if a vacancy is likely to become available later in the year and whether being patient is the answer. Even if one child is not clearly academically stronger than another, there are also psychological advantages when a child has his or her own school.
Your consultant will always be available to help you consider your options and to decide whether or not to continue searching for a school that will accept both children or whether to search for an alternate school for the unplaced child.
What are the implications of signing a contract?
Read the contract before signing it. You should expect to be bound by its terms. In the UK, families commit to schools by the term, and one term’s notice must be given if a family wants to leave a school without financial penalty. In NYC, once a parent has signed a contract with an independent school, no other school will consider the child, even if they are on a waitlist. The family is committed to a full year’s fees even if they leave the area. International school contracts offer varying degrees of leniency throughout the world, from no tuition refunds, to providing refunds if a family gives six weeks notice. Given all of the variation in contract terms in different locations and according to type of school, it is essential for companies and families to be familiar with the contracts signed in order to avoid major losses in the event of a mid-year transfer or, simply, if a child is not happy.