Don't Wait to Visit Private Schools in Person

Online research is good, but it can only get you so far.

By Polly Williams
Director of Admission, Trinity Episcopal School of Austin

Lower schoolers play on the playground by the athletic field

So you're considering a private school for your child, and you are coming to grips with just how much information is out there. Where do you start? Online research seems like a logical first step. It's a good way to see the available options, but too much of it too early can cloud the picture.

An in-person visit might seem a little low-tech, but it really is the most efficient way to start crossing schools off your not-so-short list. You can get a feel for a place as soon as you step on campus, and as an admission director and former teacher, I highly recommend bringing your child along to share the experience. After all, they will be spending the most time there!

Maybe you're feeling a little overwhelmed and hesitant to get your feet wet. Or maybe you've psyched yourself into taking the plunge. Either way, before you dive too deep into research, I recommend visiting a few campuses relatively early in your process. You might be surprised with how much clearer things become.

You Had to Be There

Many families begin the selection process with an open house event, but not all of them appreciate the value of a follow-up campus tour. Some schools, like the one I work at, offer extra visit opportunities like weekend observation days, child-centric campus playdates for elementary students, and shadowing days for middle-school students. 
A school's environment should align with how a child learns best. A mismatch can cause a child to perceive something is wrong with them. An initial visit plus an observation/shadowing day enables an admission team to do the following:

  1. Identify your child’s potential for success at that school.
  2. Provide feedback on your child's learning style and strengths.
  3. Help you determine what school environment aligns best with your child. 

With younger children, an observation day may suggest the student is not quite ready for the next grade level. You may want to wait a year to give the child a little extra time to mature and consolidate their skills. This does not mean your child is behind! It's common for children to be below average in some areas and ahead of the pack in others. Learning is not a one-size-fits-all process!

Ask the admission team how the school is able to adapt the curriculum to the needs of your student. For example, at Trinity we have a program called Extensions where faculty assess the unique struggles and strengths of each child. We then augment the curriculum to align with those particular needs. It's not just remedial. If a student is excelling in an area, we provide extra opportunities that challenge them and nurture their passion for that subject.

The Good, the Bad, and the Data

Parents agonize over which school will allow their child to grow and thrive the most. It's a big decision, so naturally, you want to gather as much information as possible. Our societal obsession with data can lead parents to prioritize facts and figures over feelings and instinct. Trusting your gut has never seemed so old-fashioned. 

However, data almost always hides biases of who collected it or who tout the results, or both. Another downside of data is that it usually relies on past results to predict future trends. If you keep even just a casual eye on the stock market, you know how unreliable that strategy can be. I'm not saying quantitative information isn't important! Of course, it is, but it's not the be-all-end-all. As you shop for schools, don't discount the feeling you get when you walk across campus. The people and the energy can tell you a lot.

Don't Take My Word for It 

I guess I'm saying, "Follow your brain and your heart." We all lean, at least partially, on instinct when we're making decisions, big or small. Research suggests trusting your intuition is actually the best approach. (I'm about to get very meta and use data to argue against relying on data too much. The irony does not escape me!)

Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer, director of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy at the University of Potsdam, found that people who make decisions with intuition focus their attention on one or two key components instead of considering every aspect of a situation. Dr. Gigerenzer says intuitive decisions tend to lead to better outcomes compared to decisions made by hashing out all the details.

If you are grappling with what to pay attention to when selecting a school for your child, I recommend keeping these three things in mind:

  1. Do your research, but don't get bogged down.
  2. Visit the school in person, and ask lots of questions.
  3. Pay attention to the feeling you get when visiting campus or interacting with the community. 

In other words, don’t forget to follow your heart!

The Feeling Is Mutual

My admission team knows we have a mutual fit when we hear comments like these: 

  • “It felt like home.”
  • “I knew in my heart that this place felt right for our family.”
  • “I left my visit with the best feeling.”
  • “We could envision our child thriving here.”

If you're looking for a new PK-8 home in Austin, Texas, we encourage you to stop by our campus to see what your gut says about us! We can't wait to meet you!

Plan a Visit!