5 Tips for Making the Most of an Open House
In my first blog, I talked about the importance of finding the right school match and being authentic and honest about what your child wants and needs from a school. There is no better place for this journey to begin than during open house and tour season, typically in the fall before you apply. Almost all schools offer the opportunity for prospective families to be on campus. Visiting schools gives you a sense of the community (teachers, administration, and often, students and parents), as well as the academic, social, and extracurricular programs. This is a great first step in determining which schools should be on your child’s final apply list.
For our school, we offer a few different types of visit opportunities, most notably the larger weekend open house and weekday morning tours so families can get a sense of classes on a typical day while school is in session. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to focus on the open house as these tend to be relatively similar events you will find at most schools.
These events will differ slightly from school to school, but one thing remains constant: the school is putting themselves on display, showcasing their strengths, and inviting you to interact with their community in order to get to know them better. Take them up on that offer! Here are some things to consider for making the most of your visit.
1. Make sure you’ve read the event description so you understand what’s in store for you. Is it an open house where you can come and go as you please or is there a set program with sessions and set times for speakers and tours? This will help you plan your arrival time and make sure you don’t miss anything you want to see.
2. Come up with a list of must-haves and would-like-to-haves. A good exercise for the family might be designing your ideal school – what are the programs and elements that this school would have? How are classes structured? Is it essential that the school have a stellar orchestra or volleyball team or robotics or…? What are you willing to compromise on? Be sure to think about things beyond academics, athletics, and the arts, such as clubs, electives, character and leadership development, service learning, affinity groups and other opportunities for your child to grow into a well-rounded individual and pursue their areas of interest. And don’t forget the social and/or community aspect. Remember, this will be their world and their community (and yours, too!) for years, so you want a school to partner with that best suits your child’s needs and matches your family’s values and goals.
3. Keep in mind, there is so much to talk about in schools and no one event can tell you everything. Schools have to make tough choices about what to highlight on these days due to time or space constraints, so you can get a sense of what a school values about their program or what they perceive as their strengths by what they put forward on these days.
4. Many open houses will have time where you can mingle and interact with faculty and parents. This is a good opportunity to get a sense of the people that make up the community and to ask some of your questions. School representatives want to be sure each family in attendance has the opportunity to get their questions answered, so please be understanding to the fact they may need to keep moving after a few minutes. A piece of advice in group settings (like on a tour or in a session) is that it’s best to keep personally specific questions to a minimum. If your child has a unique circumstance that you want to ask questions about, find the right person to speak with one-on-one or follow up after the event with an email or phone call to the admission office.
5. Talk to the students! The students live the school experience every day and choose to return year after year. Hear directly from them why they value their school. What is their favorite thing about the community, the teachers, the curriculum, etc.? Ask them what they think is special or unique about their school. Keep in mind, they are children, so if you have concerns or policy-related questions, it is best to direct those questions to the admission team or administration. Keep questions directed to students and parents about their own experience or programs they are involved in. And remember, they may only have their perspective, so follow up with school personnel if it’s a question that really matters to you to be sure you got the correct and most up-to-date information.
There is a lot to take in at an open house and it can be like the proverbial fire hose of information, but visits are so important to learning more about a school. If time is given, I suggest taking a moment to stand back or just sit on campus and soak up the environment. Watch the interactions and the comings and goings. Imagine your child and yourself there and do a gut-check. How does it make you feel? Are you feeling comfortable and content? Is there something that really spoke to you or rubbed you the wrong way? Were there any common themes or consistent words used that kept rising to the top? If so, those are worth noting. Listen to your inner voice and talk about it with your family afterward to gauge everyone’s reactions to the day.
And remember! Many schools also offer opportunities to see the school on a typical school day. Should a school you are interested in offer those types of events, I strongly encourage you to take advantage. Nothing beats seeing it all in action.
Interested in learning more about Westridge School’s open houses and other visiting opportunities? Click here to see more details and to RSVP for an event at Westridge!
Westridge School, 324 Madeline Drive, Pasadena, (626) 799-1053 ext. 200 or visit www.westridge.org.