Hello from Oxfordshire!
As part of our Essentials Series, today we will introduce you to the crucial topic of school visits and how best to prepare for them.
When advising families on the most appropriate boarding schools for their children, we strongly recommend visiting a short-listed selection of three to five schools beforehand. This is crucial. In fact, it’s THE most important step in the entire research process.
We know from hundreds of consultations that most families find the school visits stressful. They really needn’t be! In fact, with a little thought and preparation beforehand the visits will be nothing but insightful, rewarding, even enjoyable!
Royal Hospital dining room
Why are the visits so important?
Firstly, they allow families to get a first-hand experience of a school. A school might look amazing on paper or a website. Yet, once you visit you might quickly realise that the school, for whatever reason, isn’t for your child.
Secondly, it will allow you to get a comparison. Seeing 3 - 5 different schools will give you a chance to gauge similarities and differences in things like the academic and extracurricular offer, atmosphere, location etc. Comparing schools will give you a sense for what’s normal and make a decision for or against a school easier.
Thirdly, the schools expect your child to introduce herself. They want to get to know her a bit, her motivation, interests, personality and level of English. In short, they want to see if there’s a good fit. Makes sense, right?
Lunch at Malvern College
What should you expect?
A school visit lasts about two hours. You will be given a guided tour through the school, most likely by two pupils. You’ll be shown everything from the boarding facilities and creative departments to the dining hall. You might even be allowed to listen in on a lesson!
After the tour you will meet a senior member of the school for an informal chat that will last about 30 minutes. This could be with the headmaster, the deputy headmaster or simply the head of admissions.
Workbench in the DT department at Malvern College
Here are 5 tips for you to have the most successful possible school visits:
We know, the school visits can be nerve-racking for children and parents alike. Will we make a good impression? Is our child’s English good enough for a conversation? Will we understand everything?
Let us help you out a little bit here:
Remember that your child was invited for a visit. Not everyone is! We know from many years of experience that your child’s odds of getting a place now are well above 50%!
This is NOT an interview. No, it is a friendly, informal chat. Whoever you meet wants to get to know your child, gauge their level of English and find out if your child actually wants to come. You’ll be surprised how warmly you’ll be received. Also, remember that the schools are competing for YOU!
No one expects perfect English. The schools know that they’ll be meeting a non-native speaker. The schools adjust their expectations for this.
Targets at Uppingham School
2) Still - be prepared!
The best way to make a great impression and mitigate stress is to prepare beforehand. From many years advising families we know that these chats are at least somewhat predictable.
Here is what we advise our families to do:
Be sure your child can talk about his/her academic interests: the schools will have seen recent reports and will ask about favorite and least favorite subjects.
Be sure your child can talk about his/her extracurricular interests: what are hobbies, passions and positions of responsibility?
Make sure your child can talk about why he/she wants to go to a British boarding school in general and why this school in particular
Since your child will inevitably be nervous speaking English, have them write down word for word what they are planning to say and get them to learn it by heart.
Also, think of good questions to ask! You’ll learn more about the school and impress your counterpart.
Double bass at Royal Hospital School
3) Ask to be shown everything that interests you
The visit is your chance to get a proper look at the school to see if it suits you and your child. Seize this chance! If after the tour you are still missing anything, ask to be taken there.
In any case, make sure you get to see the boarding house your child is most likely to stay in. Also, very importantly, meet the house-parents of this house! These will be very important people in your child’s life during his/her stay.
During the tour, keep your eyes peeled. Do pupils seem happy? Are teachers and other staff friendly and helpful? Is the school tidy? Does the school strike you as overly strict or laissez-faire?
Lab coats at Denstone College
4) Do the admissions tests after the visit
Some schools will ask beforehand if your child wants to do admissions tests during the visit. Our advice is to postpone this part of the application process to later.
Firstly, the visits are already stressful enough as it is.
Secondly, you won’t know for sure if your child will actually apply at the school. So why go through the hassle of admissions testing unless you are sure your child actually wants to apply?
Thirdly, most schools are OK with your child doing the tests a few days after the visit.
Library at Cheltenham College
5) Trust your gut
Upon return from your school trip you will have to decide which school(s) to apply for. Often this decision is easy because you and your child will have fallen in love with a school.
We do, however, often encounter families that are paralysed by too much choice. More often than not, the reason for this is that they are approaching their decision-making in a very rational way: best exam results? Longest pool? Most beautiful campus?
It might sound esoteric but our recommendation is to follow your gut. Without overthinking - which school did you like the best? Where did you feel most comfortable?
We hope this helps! Please never hesitate to get in touch to ask for more information.
Yours von Bülow Education