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Having identified a list of schools you would like to consider, the next step is to set foot on campus and find out more about them. Most schools have open house during the Fall. You can also call the admission office to schedule an appointment. The visit should take place while the school is in session so you can truly experience the school.

As brochures don't paint the entire picture, touring can be the most crucial factor in deciding whether the school matches you and your child's collective needs. According to many educational consultants, the visit is not only a tour of the campus, but also a tour of the people. The school visit provides the only way to get first-hand information and allows you to sense the personality of the school. It's important that you research the school ahead of time so you can get the most out of your visit.

By now you have identified your child's specific needs and what you're seeking in a school. So study the schools' brochures and websites to get answers to your basic questions. At your visit, be prepared with a list of questions that remained unanswered and don't hesitate to ask about the little things that can make a difference for your child. As the best decision is an informed one, the more information you have, the more likely you will find the school that best meets your child's academic and personal needs.

The list below is a guide to help you evaluate the schools you are visiting. Add to the list and take it with you on your visits. It's a good idea to keep notes on every school you tour and give yourself some time after each visit to absorb what you saw. 

Overall Impression

bullet Do you feel safe and comfortable walking into the school?
bullet How does the school atmosphere feel like -- competitive, nurturing, structured, or laid back?
bullet Are the buildings clean and well maintained?
bullet Do the facilities (library, science lab, computer lab, playground, gym, etc.) look up-to-date and well-used?
bullet Are the students happy and relaxed?
bullet How do students and teachers interact? How do students interact with each other? (inside and outside the classroom)
bullet How diverse is the student body?

Mission and Philosophy

bullet What are the school's educational goals? How does the school achieve them? Does the school live up to its mission?
bullet Is there a focus on a particular teaching method? Is there a special emphasis in the curriculum?
bullet What are the school's short and long term goals? How are these goals devised?
bullet Who determine school policies? What role do teachers, administrators, students, and parents have in planning the school curriculum?

Facts and Figures

bullet Is the school accredited? If so, by whom?
bullet How do students perform on standardized tests?
bullet What is the average class size? What is the student to teacher ratio?
bullet What are the qualifications of the faculty? Are they teaching outside the field of their major? What is the average tenure? Is there a good mix of seasoned and new teachers?
bullet What schools do recent graduates attend?
bullet Is the school fiscally sound? Is there an endowment and how is it used?

Inside the Classroom

bullet Are students attentive in class? Are they interested in what they are doing?
bullet Do the teachers seem enthusiastic? Are they responsive to the students?
bullet How large are the classes? Do the classrooms seem organized?
bullet What are the classes offered? Are there programs for students with special needs (gifted, learning disabilities, tutoring, counseling, etc.)?
bullet Are computers used as part of instruction? Do students have access to the internet? If so, are they protected from inappropriate websites?
bullet How does the school stimulate the top students? How does the school help students who are having difficulties or are not living up to their potential?
bullet How much homework is assigned? How often are tests and quizzes given? How does the school evaluate a student's achievement and progress?

Beyond the Classroom

bullet What athletics and extracurricular activities are offered? Does one have to be a superjock to participate in sports?
bullet Does the school get involved with its community? Are students require to perform community service?
bullet How often do parents get reports from the teachers? How are parents involved in the school? Are parents required to volunteer?
bullet What role does religion have on the school program?
bullet How does the school foster ethical and moral behavior? What are the standards for student behavior and rules for discipline? Is discipline enforced appropriately?
bullet Are scholarships and financial aid available? If so, who is eligible?
bullet What kinds of students does the school serve best? Does what the school offers complement my child's strengths and fill my child's needs?

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