It’s the time of year when many families find themselves faced with the decision of what school to attend. Maybe you’re opting to go the private school route. Or maybe you’re in the process of enrolling your child in a preschool. Or maybe your public school system gives you the option of enrolling in more than just your local geographically closest school, such as by offering charter or magnet options.
And you thought the college admissions process was stressful. You know when you agonized over what if you picked the wrong school and your life was ruined forever? (For the record, I have never met anyone who found that single decision as high school senior set the entire course of their life. But of course, we are now able to look back on our teenage angst and melodrama and realize it was a bit over the top.)
Of course, stress was nothing compared to the stress you feel now. Because what if you pick the wrong school and your child’s life is ruined forever? (Remember that whole part on angst and melodrama? Apparently some of our 17-year-old selves still live on in us somewhere…)
Trust me, as the mother of three, I understand the stress that comes with choosing a school. Having moved a handful of times over the last decade, we’ve been through the process a few times. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Have an idea of what you want.
It doesn’t have to be a 15-page single space checklist down to the ply of the bathroom toilet paper, but understand what is important to you in a school for your kid(s). Is it technology? A good music program? A diverse student body? Class size? Hot lunch menu? Distance from your house? Then prioritize the things on the list as far as “must have, would be nice and doesn’t really matter.” Look for schools that meet that list.
If it feels like a super easy choice, then it’s the right choice.
Now, maybe that’s an easy choice. You found your perfect school for your kids – and it was a no brainer. That happened to us when we selected the school that our daughters currently attend. When my husband and I were going to tour schools, we had a few visits set up. After the first school, we looked at each other and said, “This is the one.” And we signed up that day. It was really that easy.
Now, you might be sitting here going, “But what if it doesn’t feel that way? What if I keep going back and forth like one of those Bachelor/Bachelorette folks who are like crying hysterically as they have to decide who to send home and who to marry?”
Here’s the thing – just like there’s not necessarily only one single soulmate on the planet that you are meant to marry (obviously, you and I are an exception to that, dear – just in case my husband is reading):
There’s not only one perfect school on the planet.
As someone who recently visited six different schools in two days, I can tell you that there are a lot of really good schools out there. Now, sure, there are also some duds, but you can probably tell those right away. To draw back to my Bachelor analogy: the first episode or two or three, the person doing the choosing seems to have no issue going, “Becky, you gotta go.” Or whatever they say. (Full disclaimer, I have never actually watched an episode the Bachelor or Bachelorette. That is truth/not sarcasm font.) The point is, the schools that are awful – probably even the ones that are just “meh”- are probably going to be obvious.
If at all possible, visit the school.
Keep in mind that a school’s website and admissions people are in place to convince you that their school is the best place in the world for children. You’ll get a feel for if it’s a fit for your children when you’re there. How does it look? Does it look like a Pinterest fail version of the images on the website? How do the kids seem? Do they seem engaged? Bored? Happy? Are the teachers friendly? Are they screaming? (Tip: If at all possible, try to see if you can book a tour outside of “tour hours/days” – so you can get a view of what the school is like on a typical day.)
Sometimes, you’re moving from far away and that’s not possible. Or sometimes, you just want to dig a little deeper.
I’m not talking hire a P.I. or like dig through the dumpsters. But see what parents think. Social media for all its shortcomings is a great platform. See if there is a mom’s group page in your city (or part of the city) and ask. You’ll be amazed by how many replies you might find you get – and good ones too. Now, keep in mind, it’s still the internet and people are going to have different opinions, but if you get a bunch of “Yes! Go there!” or “No!!!! Run as far as you can” replies, you’ll know.
You might find the deciding factors have nothing to do with the school themselves.
The differentiator often comes down to other parts of life – like tuition costs or distance from your house or start time. That’s OK to factor that into your decision-making process.
But there are a lot of really great schools out there – and if after you weigh out the pros and cons and you find the scales are balanced, then you’re not going to go wrong with either of them.
My co-founder/mother always says, “When you make a decision based on ‘This is what I truly believe to be best for my child,’ you find you rarely go wrong.”