Open houses allow families to walk through the doors of an institution, get a sense of what the school offers, and ultimately make the right choice.
William Higgins, principal of St. John’s Preparatory School in Astoria, said it’s also an opportunity to meet the teachers, students and staff.
“You get a sense of the atmosphere of the school,” he said. “It’s a very valuable tool. See how much they love what they’re doing, how it gets passed on to the students.”
Amanda Slinger, director of admissions at Martin Luther School in Maspeth, said it’s an advantage over just looking at a school online.
“You get to see the classrooms, the gymnasium,” she said. “You can see yourself in the school.”
Every student is different and has different needs, noted Susan Nicoletti, principal of the all-girls St. Agnes Academic High School in College Point. Going to an open house allows the student to determine his or her comfort level at each particular location.
“Some thrive in a large school, and some might need a more nurturing environment,” she said.
The experts all stressed the benefits of talking to current students. Higgins said he has the same philosophy for his seniors when they explore potential college destinations. Set up a visit and speak with current students to get a different perspective.
“You don’t want to just rely on what school officials tell you, talk to the students,” he said. “They’re the consumers of the product.”
“Adults will give you their take on the school, but the students are living it, they can really tell you whether they’re comfortable in the environment,” Nicoletti added. “They can tell you how teachers relate to them. They’re living it.”
Many schools offer a “Buddy Day,” where prospective students can shadow a current student for the school day. Slinger said it’s like walking “a day in the life,” going with students to classes, eating in the cafeteria and interacting with teachers and staff.
“They can experience a French class and then go to performing arts,” Nicoletti said. “We see if they have a particular interest and try to explore that class.
“Students can feel the nurturing and the care that the teachers exhibit everyday in the classroom,” she added. “They can see the students are happy when they come to school.”
For parents, visiting a school means they can physically see the building to understand how secure it is for their student. They can engage with teachers and administrators and ask questions.
“How well is it maintained? Is it a place that is a pleasure to be in?” Higgins said. “Is a student walking into it going to feel good?”
School leaders said parents often ask about Advanced Placement or honors courses, college readiness, sports and extracurricular activities. Nicoletti said getting involved with clubs not only gives students a sense of school spirit and pride, but those students also tend to fare better academically too.
“That’s how they’re going to love their high school experience,” she said. “You become part of the school.”
“When they’re coming in as freshmen, we’re getting them ready for college and building a resume,” Nicoletti added. “Colleges looks for students who are well-rounded and active.”
She also recommended asking a school if they offer SAT review classes, and what administrators do with PSAT results. Parents should also ask if the school offers college-credit courses to get a jump start in their post-secondary education.
Higgins suggested that parents ask which universities a school’s graduates end up in, what the school is doing with new technologies, and how they prepare students for the fast-changing working world.
Nicoletti said parents should “be very nosey” during this process and ask questions to everyone, from teachers, students to guidance counselors. After all, their students will be spending the next four years at the institution, and these decisions count.
“I think they have to be willing to spend the time,” she said. “They’re going to spend a lot of money, they might as well put the time to find the right fit.”