The most important part of the school tour is the prep work before you even step onto the campus: know your priorities. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then you’ll be easily impressed by the charming tour guide, the shiny new athletic center, or the great-smelling food from the kitchen. You can also easily get turned off by an older building, a tour guide who doesn’t click with you, or the lack of squash courts. And if your child is old enough to join you on this tour, work as a family to determine your priorities and build together the checklist you’ll utilize during your tour and for the conversations that follow.

Key aspects to consider

Schools have different kinds of tour guides: current students, employees, and parent volunteers. Once you know who will be touring you, adjust your expectations accordingly. Don’t ask the parent tour guide about pedagogy and curricula; don’t ask the student tour guide how tuition is set and about payment plans; don’t ask a staff member if parents feel pressure about the annual fund. If you align your expectations and actively choose to learn from the limited perspective your tour guide can provide, you’ll be much happier. And, if at the end of it all, you still have unanswered questions, share those with the admission office. They will surely connect you with someone whose perspective would be informed and helpful. 

But what if you had a ‘bad’ tour or a bad tour guide?  First, remember that this is a one-hour snapshot of the school. None of us would like our totality judged based on one hour. Perhaps it was a rainy day that forced the students to skip beloved outdoor recess; perhaps second grade lacked joy because they found out their classroom turtle died over the weekend; perhaps the tour guide was ‘off’ because she was unknowingly coming down with the flu. Or perhaps it was you. Were you rushed because your child refused her favorite french toast sticks this morning or were you frustrated by the amount of unexpected traffic or were you the one unknowingly coming down with the flu? You chose to tour the school for a reason; don’t dismiss all those reasons because of a disappointing visit. The tour is only one part of the process and shouldn’t singularly rule a school in or out for your child.

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to tour again. Once you’ve done your preliminary work, attended the events, and toured the schools on your ‘long list,’ it’s not a bad idea at some point in the admission process to tour again.  Each time you visit a campus, you learn more and gather points of comparison; you become a more educated and savvy consumer. If one of the schools you toured first ends up a top choice, you’d be wise to tour again, using the lens of all your subsequent tours to recalibrate or confirm your initial impressions.

Now, go back to the checklist and priorities you established before your tour and evaluate the school accordingly. Don’t let the shininess and charm–or lack thereof–overly influence you.