As we enter the peak of the admissions visit season, you've seen campuses, toured with students, and chatted with admissions officers. With a list of schools to which you plan to apply taking shape, your family is discussing what differentiates each school and hopefully talking about "fit." On paper, prep schools can all look the same and data points like student-to-teacher ratio, percentage of day and boarding students, number of AP classes offered, college matriculation lists, etc. are all incredibly similar. The key differentiating factor among boarding schools lies in each school's culture. The feel of each school is what makes these institutions unique....and perhaps that feel is the most important factor as you and your child look to enroll at a school that will enable him/her to thrive, grow, and succeed in meeting his/her educational goals.
But, how do you really get a good sense of a school's culture? How can you obtain an authentic perspective on what life is like in the classroom, dorms, and on the weekends? This blog takes a look at four ways to get an inside look at campus community and culture.
1. CONNECT WITH STUDENTS. You may be thinking, "check, done." That tour you took with a student tour guide or admissions officer gave you the opportunity to meet and chat with several students. This was just scratching the surface. At many schools, tour guides are trained and prepped with a script to deliver to perspective families. While offering a look at the student perspective, their narratives are well-rehearsed. You need a genuine conversation on the student experience. Reach out to admissions offices and ask to be connected with a student who shares your son or daughter's interests or needs, or perhaps is from your region. This will enable you to ask the questions most important to assessing school culture and experience. Questions to consider asking include:
- What about the [school name] classroom experience is different from your previous school?
- Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with your teachers? Are they available for extra help and supportive of you as a student or community member?
- What is dorm life like? Can you talk a little bit about living in a dorm and living with a roommate?
- What are weekends like at [school name]?
- Tell me why you chose to look at [school name] and ultimately why you ended up choosing to enroll?
2. TALK TO CURRENT PARENTS.
Parents are a gold mine of information and perspective. While students draw from day-to-day life on campus, parents have the ability to reflect on the bigger picture. Parents can speak to their child's growth during their time at boarding school and offer insight to their child's development academically, socially, and as a whole person (think values, maturity, and relationships with their peers). At Salisbury, we encourage prospective families to pursue parent connections. Reach out to your admissions officer to be connected with a current parent, and keep an eye out for virtual event invites where current parents and students BOTH share their insights.
When speaking with current boarding school parents, some questions to consider asking are:
- As a parent, how engaged are you in your child's experience. What is your contact/involvement with his/her advisors, teachers, dorm parents, coaches, etc?
- Can you share a bit about how your child has matured as a student at [school name]? How has the classroom experience and the faculty engagement impacted him/her as a student?
- For your family, why boarding school? And, why did you end up choosing [school name]?
3. PERUSE SCHOOL PUBLICATIONS. Whether it is a school newspaper, literary collection, or a school's annual magazine, these publications offer great insight into the current happenings on campus. By reading articles or stories written by students, alumni, faculty, and the communications office, families get an in-depth look at what matters most to a school, and can thus gain a better feel for the school's culture and values. Many of these publications are available online, but be sure to ask admissions officers for a copy of the latest publications when you visit campus. Be sure to check out Salisbury's latest magazine, published this summer for a deeper look at life on and beyond the Hilltop.
4. CAST A WIDE NET. Once you hone in on a handful of schools you feel best matched for your child's educational development, connect with as many individuals as you can manage. Be it alumni, students, current parents, or faculty, each perspective will allow you to better formulate your own views of a school's community and culture.
One of the easiest and most convenient ways to do a deep dive into school culture is to browse a school's social media accounts. View photos and read snippets to see what's happening on campus and what each school is highlighting. If you can, attend receptions hosted by schools in your area. Often, these events are attended by alumni, current parents, faculty and other prospective families, allowing you to have many conversations about the school and thus gather many perspectives. Salisbury will reach out to families directly when we are in your area hosting an event.
As you do your research, remember that your son or daughter is unique and ultimately his or her experience will be their own. As a family, the most important and empowering step you can take in your school search is to be well-informed.