US Boarding School Visit - Part I: School List and Visit Timeline
Demystifying the US Boarding School Visit: Why, When and How to Find a Fitting School
For many families who are applying to US boarding schools, the application process can be overwhelming and complicated from start to finish. A convoluted application process and over three hundred schools to choose from make successfully applying to US boarding school quite challenging for most families. All US boarding schools prepare students for college, but experience tells us that students who enroll in US boarding schools that are a good “fit” for them are not only happy, but also they tend to excel better and eventually gain admission to top US universities. But is one school better than the other, or more suitable for your child’s personality and interests? Trying to figure this out on your own isn’t easy.
ARCH Education is here to help! Based on visiting on average 40 boarding schools each application cycle with our consultation families, our team hopes to demystify one component of the application process - The School Visit.
Are School Visits Required?
First, is the school visit required? Recognizing the expense and distance that some families face in visiting schools, some schools indicate that the school visit is optional. While technically this is true, it is our professional opinion that not visiting a school makes it difficult for students to be competitive.
Most schools have multiple qualified applicants for each available spot. Admission officers trying to select from two equally qualified candidates where one had visited the school and the other had not, might feel more secure in their decision to choose the student who had visited knowing that he or she had been on campus and in submitting an application had determined that the school is a fit for them. This decision has a much lower risk for an admission office.
Visiting schools is a two way street. One is the opportunity for the student to complete the interview so that a school can determine if they are a good fit. The other purpose of the visit is for students to determine if the school is a good fit for them. Many schools’ applications will ask students to complete what we call the “Why Essay”. This essay asks students to articulate in writing why they feel a particular school is a good fit for them and what they would contribute to that school if accepted. Websites are a wonderful way to familiarize yourself with a school and its programs, but there is nothing like actually visiting a school and seeing things in person, meeting faculty and students to give an idea of school culture and fit. For the students that we work with, we consider the school visit a requirement!
The School List and Visit Time Line
One never knows exactly what impacts admission decisions year to year so even the most competitive student should have a balanced list. Too often parents seek us out for advice only after March 10th when their student has had no offers of admission or only waitlist offers. During our meeting with these families we learn that the student only applied to top 10 schools, demonstrating the potential consequences of an unbalanced list. There’s just simply not enough spots at the top 10 schools for all the great international applicants.
Hopefully you have had some professional help and have a list of schools that is balanced based on the region you are applying from, strength of academic record, test scores, and profile. By balanced we mean a few dream/reach schools, some target schools that you would have a good chance of being admitted to, and some schools to which you have a likely chance of being admitted. The boarding school list should be approached like a university list with schools in each of these categories.
Finding a fitting school requires looking beyond the website and the school ranking. Visiting is critical to make sure that you like all of your schools on your list whether they are in the dream/reach school or likely categories. Perhaps after visiting, your dream/reach school isn’t all that you thought and one of your target schools becomes your top choice because you learned that they have a very specialized program that meets your needs.
When is the best time to visit schools?
Most schools allow students only one opportunity to interview, so it is important to consider what is the best time for your child to travel to the US to visit boarding schools.
Some parents may want to tag on school visits in the summer, perhaps following a student’s time at a summer program in the US. For students who have a broad list and would like to narrow the list down, a pre-visit in the summer can be a good way to familiarize yourself with schools and determine a shortlist. However, keep in mind that during the summer the students are not on campus and for some boarding schools, summer programs may be operating and the demographics of the campus look very different during the summer than they do in the school year. So visiting in the summer is really meant to give you an idea of school location, programs and facilities, very little else.
Most families will schedule their official tour and interview for the fall or early winter of the year they are applying. For an 8th grade student applying for grade 9, this means that the student will need to plan to visit schools for an official tour and interview in the fall or early winter of their 8th grade year. The optimal time for a student to visit is when the visit is the least disruptive to their academic and extracurricular activities and when they have had sufficient interview preparation. Some schools have school holidays in the fall and students find that this is a good time to visit, providing them with the time off so missed school work is kept to a minimum. Keep in mind that during the American holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, boarding schools are not available for tours and interviews.