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Our second school visit with our daughter was to a single-sex school relatively close to home that has the sports about which our daughter is passionate. My optimism quickly faded as we had to wait twenty minutes for our tour guide and there remained only one hot cup and one cookie to tide the three of us over on a damp day. When she arrived our tour guide was a lovely, friendly girl who, when asked about weekend activities at a school with a high percentage of day students, replied she goes home every weekend. This was a red flag to me who does not want to be picking our child up in rush hour every Friday. She also commented on how well put together the girls at the school are when all I saw was girls in sweat pants and artistically ripped jeans, a comment my daughter, who is slightly fashion sensitive, found shocking. We were shown all the academic support centers but didn’t see many engaged girls in classrooms. Once in the actual interview, I hoped the interviewer would talk to us about how the school used their single-sex status to develop strong leaders and thinkers, but unfortunately she didn’t. The most interesting part of the day was meeting a family from the mid-west who returning the following week with their son to look at junior boarding schools, so we had a great chat about those options. We all left feeling deflated and disappointed that a school which seemed to have such possibilities felt so stagnant.

The next day we visited a highly selective small New England school, which we all loved and about which our highly-focused daughter was very excited. The campus was lovely, the tour guide lively and passionate about the school, the academics clearly outstanding. It felt right to all of us. Then the terrible moment when the parents go in to be interviewed, and the interviewer asks “What can I tell you about the school?” For some reason, probably not rationale, this signals to me that they aren’t interested in our child and just want to move us on. While I am usually prepared for this tactic with a good strategic question, I was distracted because the name of the interviewer wasn’t the name on the door and lost my train of thought. Fortunately my husband was in better form early that morning and carried the conversation. As we have found that admission representatives often interview in offices not there own, beware and pay attention to their name. Our consultant, who seems to have a personal connection to someone at every school, did indeed report back that they felt our daughter probably lacked enough extra-curricular activities to be accepted. Our daughter is determined however and plans to apply to this school. We fear it’s a waste of $50.

Columbus Day weekend took us to a beautiful part of New England for a school visit. Not realizing it was a holiday weekend, I failed to make a hotel reservation in a timely manner, which left us stranded at a motel with a party in the parking lot in a dying mill town. This is the school my brother had left after two years because he was so unhappy, so I visited only at our daughter’s insistence. My spirits were raised by the hot coffee and pastries they had in the waiting room. Somehow, a hospitable reception area always makes me feel a school will tend to my child’s needs. To my delight, the school seems to be moving in a positive direction, the party atmosphere seems to have faded with the last century, and we were all really impressed by the friendly students, comfortable facilities and generally happy feeling we got from the school. The tour guide was engaging, had wide interests and seemed to connect with our daughter. The admission officer seemed to like us too and want to spend time talking with us which is always salve to the ego. However what was most impressive is that the coach of our daughter’s favorite sport took forty-five minutes to talk with us about his philosophy and show us the athletic facilities. Our daughter was sold. My husband and I are left wondering if there is a decent hotel nearby and how often we’ll see our child given how far from home this school is.

If these schools are starting to blur for you, they are for us too. Next we visited a smaller, picturesque school, which has perhaps the best admissions’ effort I’ve encountered. We had loved this school when we visited with our son and were sure our daughter would too. Not only is there plenty of hot coffee in the reception area, but both times I’ve toured the school, the headmaster has come out to shake hands, there are students available to chat with candidates while they wait for their interview and there are parent volunteers available to answer questions. The academics are rigorous, the students seem engaged, and the school feels like a close-knit community. It is a very smooth operation. It is also a school where the parent and child are given separate tours. (My family has divergent opinions about separate tours. Our daughter and I like it as we can both ask as many questions as we want. My husband believes it’s a family experience to be shared. I do agree with him that it’s good to be able to speak with a student while touring.) I loved my tour, but our daughter reported that her tour guide didn’t seem to enthusiastic about any of the school activities; and she had the impression it was structured beyond her needs. We were interviewed by an admissions intern who was delightful, but I felt that if they were serious about our daughter’s candidacy, they would have given us a different admissions officer. Surprisingly the consultant reported back that they did indeed like our daughter, so as of now it’s still on the list of possibilities.

We are now halfway through our eleven visits and so far have only ruled out one school. Our daughter’s goal is to apply to six schools, so this is positive. We also spent Parents’ Weekend at our son’s school during this time which has made us more sophisticated consumers but also causes us to compare and contrast the other schools to his school which is an unfair bias on our part.

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under
the pen name “Boarding School Mom” and all family, child consultant,
and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ’s
Boarding School Mom at boardingschoolmom@admissionsquest.com.