It’s school shopping season and we want to make sure you have all the information you need to feel supported in your school search. Our last post featured an interview with college admissions counselor Heather Parry, helping us put college worries aside until high school. Today, Education Consultant Christy Haven, shares what parents need to be thinking about when searching for preschool through middle school options.
Christy Haven knows what she is talking about. She has been an admissions director at area schools for over 15 years, and during that time has helped over 150 families through the middle school application process. Christy’s knowledge of Seattle area schools runs deep, as does her ability to help families move through this process with confidence and ease. Her guidance was just what we needed as we moved through our own middle school search and application process last year. One of the best parts of working with an education consultant is reducing stress and helping parents and kids work together through the process.
I sat down with Christy recently to get her top advice on finding the right school for your child; here’s what she had to say:
When do I need to start thinking about school options for my kid?
Christy: Deciding when to begin the process of looking at schools can really vary from family to family and it also depends on the age of the child. Some families prefer to look ahead of time (before the admissions season) so they feel calm when the season approaches. Others don't want to think about it until they absolutely have to. Either way is perfectly ok! Here are some guidelines.
Preschool – Most Preschools in Seattle have an application deadline of the first week of February so beginning your search process in the late fall is ideal. Some Preschools have rolling admissions and will accept children all throughout the school year based on number of openings. Tour dates can vary but are usually in the late fall and throughout the winter.
Pre-Kindergarten – This can definitely vary. If you are considering a school that is only Preschool and Pre-K (for 2’s, 3’s and 4’s for example), the deadlines are usually in February. If you are considering a Pre-K that is part of an elementary school, those application deadlines usually fall on the same date as the elementary, middle, and high schools (mid-January).
Elementary, Middle and High School – Application deadlines are usually in mid-January so tours usually begin late September/early October. Many schools hold Open Houses in the fall as well.
There are so many schools; it’s overwhelming! Where does a parent start?
Christy: First, take a deep breath! The best way to begin this process is to start early so you don’t feel stressed and more importantly your child (if he/she is applying to middle/high school and a big part of the process) doesn’t feel stressed. Start by thinking about what is important to you - Are you willing to commute to take your child to school? Do you want more of a neighborhood school? Do you want a large or small school?
Once you’ve identified what’s important to you as a family, then you can look at some school websites and see if they speak to you. From there you can narrow down your search and start visiting schools that interest you and meet your initial criteria.
As soon as schools begin to schedule open houses, put those on your calendar and attend. Feel free to bring your child to the open houses unless your child becomes overwhelmed in environments with lots of people! Your child will have their own visit to be able to experience the school and give you their thoughts (even Kindergarten applicants have thoughts about their school visits).
What factors should I consider when looking at schools?
Christy: This really depends on your family’s values. As I mentioned above, location is important to some families, size of school is important, etc. From there you need to get more specific about what is best for your child and your family. Does your child need an environment with a lot of structure? Does he/she need to be where he/she isn’t sitting a desk and is allowed to sit on the floor at times or in a quiet space in the classroom? Is academic rigor important? Is a social emotional programming something your family values?
Most importantly, does the school feel like “your” community? This is especially true for elementary schools. Your child’s friends’ parents become your friends during the elementary school years and it truly becomes your community so it needs to feel like “home” to you. In middle and high school, it’s more about what is best for your child. What is he/she like as a learner? What has worked in elementary school and what hasn’t? Are competitive sports important to your child? Are the arts important?
I want my child to get in to a good college, how do I know if a preschool or elementary school is going to put them on the right path from the start?
Christy: Unfortunately, no school is going to put your child on the right path to college. Some schools are more academically rigorous than others but that doesn’t mean that your child will get into a good college by attending there.
Middle schools and high schools do have lists of where their graduates have attended college; review those closely when deciding on a middle or high school. In the end, though, what is really important is that a school looks at the whole child whether it’s in elementary, middle, or high school. Research shows that colleges want well-rounded students; those who have a strong academic record but who also have a resume with extra curricular activities, community service, etc.
What goes in to the application process?
Christy: Each school is different but here’s some ideas about what to expect.
In preschool, it’s usually a parent visit and an application. Some Preschools do have the child visit as well. Elementary schools will definitely have a student visit. Some schools have parent interviews as well. The parent completes the application for both preschool and elementary school.
Middle and high school have student visits, and most have parent interviews. They also may require specific testing as a part of the admissions process. Both parent and student will have pieces of the application to complete.
What is education consulting? Why might a family choose to work with one?
Christy: Education consulting involves many different things. It could be helping a family narrow down their school search by getting to know the student and family. It could be helping the student or parent write their admissions essay. Consultants are committed to reducing the anxiety and stress that this process can bring and assure the family that there is a school for every child!
If you could give parents one piece of advice around choosing and applying to schools, what would it be?
Christy: To try not to worry. It’s important that your child isn’t stressed and they will pick up on your stress. The most important thing I’ve learned after being an Admissions Director for 15 years is that things always work out the way they are supposed to and there is a school for every child that is the right fit!
Choosing and applying to schools can be an overwhelming process and we hope these tips from Christy can get you off on the right foot. If you are looking for support in the application process, you can find Christy at Mindful Education Consulting.
For more on choosing a preschool, check out one of GROW Parenting’s most popular posts, Preschool Shopping 101.