Families can do their own research before attending, but nothing can replace the open house, where parents can tour the facility, meet faculty and administrators and ask questions to current students.
“Open houses provide the best and most comprehensive window into our community and program,” said Bradley Walters, director of admissions at The Kew-Forest School.
While prospective students may want different things in a school, admissions directors agree that families should consider whether they can see themselves “at home” in the school community.
“Ours is a small school, even by private school standards,” Walters said. “Those of us in the Kew-Forest family love this intimate environment, but it is not for all students and families.
“Pay particular attention to the social relationships in the building,” he added. “You’re likely to see warm, familiar, happy interactions across grade levels and even between students in different divisions.”
Lisa Schaefer-Heuer, director of admissions at St. Francis Preparatory School, which has a much larger student population, said students should “get a feel of the school” and visit the facility if they haven’t done so already.
“See if that feels right to them,” she said, “if they feel comfortable.”
One way to do that is by setting up a “Buddy Day,” or a day in which a prospective student is matched up with another student and shadows them.
At St. Francis Prep, prospective students are typically matched with freshmen. They go with them to classes, homeroom and even lunch. They are then dismissed a period early.
“You can see how the teachers act, what their policies are,” Schaefer-Heuer said. “Really get an idea of what a day is like at the school.”
She added that because open houses are marketed for a large group, they don’t always lead to the best experience for families.
“Sometimes it’s better to do something in addition to that,” Schaefer-Heuer said.
Similarly, Walters said if possible, families should attend one of their school-day open houses.
“You will get the fullest understanding of Kew-Forest by seeing the community in operation,” he said.
Admissions directors also advise families to ask each school what makes their academics strong. Schaefer-Heuer said parents should look at Advanced Placement (AP) classes, college credits or extra help that might be available to students.
They should also look at class sizes and teacher ratios, which are two different metrics.
The academic portion is important for a competitive school like St. Francis Prep, which considers a student’s average, attendance, discipline, lateness and, of course, their performance on the TACHS.
Walters said The Kew-Forest School also looks first at academic readiness. The school is a college-preparatory program, and they need to be confident that students are on that track, he said.
“This does not mean we expect perfection,” he said. “Instead, we need to see evidence that a student will put in the work necessary for a college-preparatory curriculum.”
Once they accept academically-ready students, Bradley said the school seeks to build a diverse class across a number of metrics.
“We are lucky to have astonishing racial, ethnic, language and religious diversity in our community,” he said, “but we also value diverse personalities, interests and talents.”
Ultimately, Schaefer-Heuer said, while open houses are important for students already applying for high schools, 6th and 7th graders should also be attending open houses.
At the very least, parents of middle school students should be looking through the TACHS booklet and attending school fairs, she said.
“At least start looking at schools through the books,” she said.