US Boarding School Visit - Part II: Planning & Tour
Once you have a balanced list, determined the schools you want to visit, and the time frame that works best for your child, it’s time to get to planning and preparing for the school visit trip.
Step 1: Pre Visit Verification
Due to the massive influx of applications the US schools receive from Asia, some schools will require pre visit validations from students from certain regions before scheduling an on campus appointment for a tour and interview. The purpose of this is to ensure that all students who arrive on campus are at a minimum qualified. Some schools may ask students to send SSAT scores or require an interview with a third party screener BEFORE they will invite a family to visit the campus. Be sure to check the admissions requirements on each school website before calling a school to schedule an appointment.
Step 2: Online Inquiry and Pre-Interview Questionnaire
In order to schedule your school visit you will need to do a few things ahead of time. First you will need to complete an online inquiry form at each school you intend to visit to make sure that the student is in the database. Some schools require further steps to complete a pre-interview questionnaire. This is a more comprehensive survey than the online inquiry. The pre-interview questionnaire asks questions related to student activities and interests. Spend the time to complete the pre-interview questionnaire as it is sometimes used by admissions to customize a student's visit based on the indicated interests to make the visit as meaningful as possible. For example, if a student indicates on their pre-interview questionnaire that they are an athlete or interested in robotics, the school will try to match those interests with the tour guide.
Step 3: Scheduling
Having completed all of the requirements prior to scheduling an appointment, you are ready to call or email each admissions office to schedule a specific date and time. We suggest you map out your route ahead of time to determine the general distance and sequence of schools to visit. You should plan about 2 hours at each school to complete the tour, student interview, and parent meeting. We do not recommend that you try to schedule more than 2 schools/day. Keep in mind that Wednesdays are usually half days (students compete in athletic competitions on Wednesday afternoons), so admissions offices only offer morning appointments. The same is true for Saturday - if a school has Saturday classes they will most likely offer Saturday admissions appointments, but they will only be in the morning due to athletic competitions in the afternoons. If a school does not have Saturday classes they do not usually have appointment availability on Saturdays.
Having made it on time to the school for a school visit, many students and their families do not know what to expect. The process can be very stressful unless you and your student are prepared for what to expect.
The difference in culture and programs carries through to the school tour. Some schools have students and parents tour together, while others provide separate tours. Some schools provide a tour first and others have the student interview before going on a tour. A student who arrives at a school unprepared and expecting the tour to provide him with some key speaking points for his interview is out of luck if that particular school’s policy is to conduct an interview before the tour. Or sometimes, a student tour guide may be suddenly unavailable so in order to best utilize the time, an admission officer might conduct the interview first while the admissions staff is looking for a replacement student tour guide. Prospective students need to be prepared for unexpected change and be able to adjust accordingly.
Generally speaking, the tour is usually about a 45 min “walk” around the campus led by a student tour guide. There is usually some sort of training for tour guides, and at some schools it is considered a prestigious leadership position, but the quality of tour guides varies greatly so we encourage students and parents not to judge a school solely based on their experience, whether positive or negative with one particular tour guide.
Often times, especially during peak times, tours are given with several prospective students and their families together on one tour. Most tours follow a set route and are not designed to cater to individual requests, but sometimes if you ask the tour guide, they can make an adjustment to show you something important to you that was not necessarily on the pre-prescribed tour route. If not on the tour, a well-trained tour guide will be able to modify the tour to meet your request or at the very least provide you with instructions on where the building is on campus and invite you to visit it after your interview.
Be aware that some schools ask for feedback from their tour guides about their experiences with you during the tour. Keep in mind that a tour guide is a student so when they are touring you, they are making considerations from a student’s perspective like, “Would I like this person to be on my sports team or live in my dorm? Would this person be someone who I would like to engage in a conversation with in the classroom or have in a study group?” They are not evaluating you on your SSAT scores or your GPA, they are considering what it would be like to have you as a classmate, teammate, peer, or friend. With this in mind, it is important that students engage with their tour guides. Ask them things about the school that you would want to know as a fellow student and not something you can find on the website.
You have a lot invested in making sure that your son or daughter attends a fitting school. Traveling thousands of miles and investing time and money to visit schools shows your support of your child. However, there are times when parents can monopolize the tour and bombard the tour guide with questions making it difficult for their child to interact with the tour guide and vice versa. While it is certainly fine for parents to ask a few questions on the tour, save the majority your questions for your parent meeting with the admissions officer and allow your son or daughter the space to ask their own questions, get to know and make a good impression on the tour guide.
Once your tour is finished and after your tour guide says goodbye, you will return to the admissions office and wait for an admissions officer to retrieve you for the student interview.