If you're considering a private school for your child's education, think back to the last big purchase you made. How did you overcome any concerns or hesitations you had about the item before buying?
Perhaps you read online reviews to see if the claims being made by the manufacturer were true. Perhaps you turned to experts for their input. Perhaps you asked friends or family members who already own the product for their opinions.
Even if we don’t think the opinions of others make an impact on our decision-making, they do: 82% of Americans seek recommendations from friends and family before making a purchase, and 92% of consumers are more likely to trust non-paid recommendations than any other type of advertising.
Selecting a new school for your child is no different. Enrolling in a private school is a big decision, and a big investment. While it’s critical that you make a decision based on your own research and feelings, there is also a place for outside perspectives in your decision-making process.
During your school search, conversations with current and past families can help you gain important insights into the school community and an understanding of the school’s educational approach. However, these opinions should play a small and specific role in the school search process.
Why? We call it finding your right-fit school because not every school is right for every student. Just because your neighbor’s child excels at a school does not mean your own child’s experiences will be similar. Do your own homework and exploration, form your own opinions, and narrow down your list of potential schools to your top contenders before asking for outside opinions.
Once you’re ready to have conversations with current or past families, keep these tips in mind:
- Try to ask open-ended rather than yes-or-no questions. This will ensure you gain deeper insights and feelings in their responses.
- Don’t lead their answers. Saying things like, “I heard the teachers are really strict. Is that true?” puts that thought and opinion into their minds before they respond.
- Don’t argue or disagree. Every family will have their own unique school experience. If what the parents tell you doesn’t match up with your perceptions, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong or overreacting — it just means you should do a little more digging to find out if other parents have had similar experiences.
What types of questions will give you the most helpful and actionable information when deciding on the right-fit school for your family? Here are 10 simple queries that will lead to important insights:
<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">What made you choose this school initially?</span>
Finding out the top reasons other families chose the school you’re considering will help you see if their priorities align with your own families’ needs.
<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">How did it compare with other schools you were considering?</span>
Knowing which other schools were on a family’s shortlist will help you understand the types of schools the family was pursuing and what stood out most in the chosen school.
<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">What concerns or hesitations did you have before committing to this school?</span>
All families have hurdles they must overcome, even at their right-fit schools. Finding out what a family was worried about before they made their decision could help alleviate your own concerns about a school.
<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Did any of those concerns become challenges once your child enrolled?</span>
You also want to know if any worries a family had about a school were either dissipated or materialized into real challenges once they joined the community.
<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">What do you think is the school’s biggest strength?</span>
It’s great to hear what other families most appreciate about a school, especially if you get different answers from different parents. This could help you form a well-rounded perspective of a school’s strong points.
<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">What is the school’s area of weakness?</span>
Likewise, it can be difficult to understand where a school falls short until you’re part of the community. Finding out areas for improvement from other parents can help ensure you’re prepared for any obstacles prior to starting school.
<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">What words would you use to describe the school’s community?</span>
A school’s personality is best understood by current or past families — and how parents describe that personality will help you figure out if it’s the right environment for your child. For example, if multiple parents describe the community as “competitive” and “formal”, and you’re looking for a place that’s more creative and relaxed, you’ll know it may not be the best choice.
<span class="text-color-lightblue" role="decoration">What words would your CHILD use to describe the school in general?</span>
Parents and students perceive community in different ways. If you can’t ask a student to describe the school community, ask the parents how their child would talk about the school. Parents hear their child’s positive remarks and negative gripes all the time, so they can give you some honest insights.
<span class="text-color-green" role="decoration">Who are your favorite faculty/staff/leadership members, and why?</span>
This question will most likely lead to different answers from each person you ask, giving you a complete picture of the individuals who will teach and lead your child.
<span class="text-color-orange" role="decoration">Do you think your family will stay at the school through graduation?</span>
Knowing a family’s long-term educational plans will help you understand if they believe the current school will serve their child well over time, or if they will soon be looking for a new option.
Again, the insights gained from current or past families at a school you are considering for your child should be one small part of your school-search research. Use this information to help you form a complete image of a school to ensure that you find the perfect learning environment for your child.