More often than not, I come across students and families involved in the school search who place too much weight on the wrong factors – either inadvertently or quite intentionally. Whether it’s a result of word of mouth, peer pressure, lack of time, or simply not having the right information at hand, this can put a student’s school search and the student’s entire school experience in jeopardy.
It is not terribly difficult to conduct a thorough self-assessment to effectively identify his or her strengths, interests, learning style, areas of opportunity, etc. At the same time, this exercise is also easy to skip – and often is. When faced with the daunting process of choosing schools, particularly in geographic markets that encourage broad choice, families and students are often overwhelmed and starved for time.
While empowered to choose, they also must rely on fragmented, and sometimes inaccurate, information, or any easily accessible statistics they may or may not even be relevant for their particular situation. That assumes they even have the time and resources to conduct this research and make these informed choices.
Nevertheless, in my work with hundreds of families I have identified a number of factors that tend to have more impact than initially perceived but are unfortunately often overlooked.
• School leadership. School leaders set the trend and vision for their school. Understand their philosophies and style, and ask yourself if it fits with yours. Human nature plays a role, and if you don’t like the school leaders as people, consider the impact this probably has on the school community.
• Classroom model. What do classrooms look like? How are they set up, and how are classes conducted? What role does the teacher play in the learning process? Is technology prevalent? Are quiet learners nurtured?
• Culture. During times of adversity, what is considered acceptable behavior? Are students discouraged to act a certain way, or is peer pressure or competition rampant? How does your child tend to behave under adversity, and does this jibe with the school culture?
• Learning style. Consider your child’s own learning style and whether it fits with the school model. Do they learn best by participating or listening? Are you more visual? Are they a superstar test taker, or do you flourish in a project-oriented environment?
• Intangibles. Don’t discount that intangible, gut feel you and your family get when you visit. Very often your decision can come down to that vs. a more scientific assessment. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.
It can be simple to consider factors that are more easily accessible or to place too much weight on characteristics that your friends and neighbors are discussing. Don’t fall into that trap. Comparisons like that can lead to anxiety, wasting time, and ultimately lack of fit. Take the time and consider what’s best for your child and your family.
Maurice Frumkin is President of NYC Admissions Solutions, former independent school admissions officer, and former Deputy Executive Director of High School Admissions with the NYC Department of Education. Maurice was involved with all aspects of running the city-wide high school admissions process. He has counseled hundreds of families on school admissions, supports schools and PTAs with school placement, and is a frequent lecturer on a variety of admissions topics.