Five Important Areas to Cover When a Family Visits Your Admissions Office
Some years ago, the president of our parent association told me that “the decision to consider an independent school is the easy part. It’s the process that follows that creates so much anxiety.” Families arrive at an admissions office filled with excitement and nervousness, emotions driven mostly by their lack of understanding of what independent schools are and how they work. As most new students come to our schools from public schools, these families have a lot to learn. The key role of an admissions officer is to be a source of information as we educate and shepherd these families through the process. When we host them for a campus visit, five areas are critical to cover.
- Expectations. Are they realistic? Does the family define success for their child regarding a grade point average, or how many awards the child will receive? Does the family expect the school to deliver Ivy League placement? Drilling down this topic can be helpful in determining fit, and it can help you to define your school’s mission and programs.
- Governance. What makes an independent school “independent?” Families are likely unfamiliar with the roles of trustees and division directors, giving initiatives (annual and capital funds), volunteerism, and need-based financial aid (as opposed to “scholarships”). This is a good opportunity to talk about how independent schools operate in general while avoiding pointed discussions about the importance of a family’s contributions to the annual fund (lest the family infers that a donation can increase the odds of acceptance).
- Communication. How do teachers and coaches communicate with parents and when? Families may not be accustomed to the elevated level of outreach that distinguishes us from our public counterparts. The active and proactive nature of the communication and the volume of what families receive is an important value-added that is good to describe to families early in the process.
- Adjustment. What will the first month look like? The first semester? The first year? Students want to know whether they will fit in, and parents want to know that their children will be known and valued. The new kid just wants someone to sit next to at lunch. What support mechanisms are in place to help new students and parents? This is a good way to help you to describe the ethos of your school, and what “community” really means.
- Process. At the close of the visit, what are the next steps? What forms are needed to complete the file? Once the file is completed, how much time elapses before they will receive a decision, and what form will that take? Families should leave clearly and completely informed about how to move forward. They want to know what to do, and what to expect, so make sure you close the visit with that information.
Director of Admissions
Saint Stephen's Episcopal School