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Applying to School in the Fall? Start Making a List of Schools Now

Updated: Apr 1

If you are applying for your child to schools in the fall, it is a good idea to start thinking about your list of schools now. It is a time-consuming process and best to spread the work out over time.

Some things to think over:


Think about the approaches to learning that appeal to you. There are many: Progressive, traditional, project-based, Montessori, Reggio, etc. What elements appeal most to you? Hands-on learning? Learning through exploration and asking questions? Structure and routine? Worksheets and homework? Make sure to look at the whole program if it extends past early childhood in case you stay on.


Next comes the research - go online, talk to other parents, talk to parent coordinators at schools, tour, tour, tour. Keep your options broad as the more options you have to start, the better. Create an abundant list and you can whittle it down as you go.

Your List

Compile a list of schools that check most of the boxes for you and your family. Ideally try for a list of 20 schools to start. I would suggest seeing schools in person if you can as you will learn more. I have found that it is really a gut feeling you get when you walk into a school that tells you the most. You can sense the warmth of a community and what they prioritize when you see it with your own eyes – try to take a peek inside classrooms if possible! You can tell if it’s clean, organized and get a sense of the student work on bulletin boards. Take note of how you feel as you listen and walk around.

Here are some overarching topics to collect information on:

Cost/Financial aid: What is the process for applying? Many schools admit first and then discuss financial aid. Applying early can help prioritize your application.

Overall Location, Size, and Special Education Supports: What is the commute? What is the size of the school, the class sizes and student-teacher ratios? What types of special education offerings are there? (self-contained, SETTS, ICT, related services) Are there any evaluations or testing that needs to be done before your child can access the school and its accommodations?

Classroom Structures: What are their approaches to classroom management? How structured are classroom routines? What is their approach to discipline and how do they problem solve and communicate when situations arise? Are they clear about their approach? How are the rooms set up? Does it feel organized, warm, and inviting?

Accommodations + Modifications: How do they accommodate and modify instruction for learning? Do they talk about adding visuals, repetition, flexible seating, learning tools, and wanting to meet the needs of individual learners?

Staff + Students: If you are seeing the school in action, do students seem happy and engaged? Are teachers doing prep work in a corner or are they actively engaging with students? What can you tell about the school leader/principal? How well do they seem to know the students?

Social Emotional Learning: Do they incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL), where children are taught explicitly how to navigate social situations and to be productive members of the community? What is the school doing to help develop character and values?

Windows + Mirrors: A mirror reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. A window is a view into someone else’s experience, a resource that offers you a new viewpoint. When schools offer opportunities for windows + mirrors that allow students to feel accepted and to learn about the lives of others. What do you notice about the topics students are learning about? Do you see any evidence of windows + mirrors? What kind of books are displayed in the classrooms and are there diverse characters?

Special Education Supports: If your child needs - what is the special education/IEP team like? Which service providers do they have on staff? Who would be team point person be?

Parent Involvement: What is your sense of how active the parent body is? What is the PTA like? Does the school seem welcoming to parents? How do they address family communication and classroom updates?

Other details to consider: What is lunch like (Read: The Lunchroom)? How often do they have recess? Do they allow children to go out for lunch? Do they take class trips? What are the extracurriculars? After school? Sports program?

Open houses for many schools begin in the fall (sometimes you can find some in the spring though they are mostly for admitted students. But if there is one, you should go). It is good to even start them a year in advance in possible and there is room. At times, there are also virtual tours posted as well. Regarding high school, if your child is taking the SHSAT or other tests they can begin studying now and if they are applying to art programs they can be also working on their portfolio now as well. You can start following the schools you're interested in on social media - maybe go to the performances, end of year shows and other openings you see being promoted to give you a sense of the school community.

I hope this is helpful. It is difficult to check all of the boxes so think about what matters the most - rank your priorities and use that to create your list of schools.

As always, reach out if you need help with the process.

Good luck!



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