School Open Days - The other questions parents should be asking

Posted 5 months ago

March is often the month when many high schools roll out the welcome mat for prospective students and their parents. Open days are essentially just as the name suggests - days when schools open their doors, when the school principal is available for questions, when teachers get to showcase their classrooms, when senior students act as guides, and academic accomplishments are touted.

There’s no doubt that these days are incredibly valuable resources in that they give you and your child an idea as to what their potential ‘second home’ looks and feels like. They also provide parents the chance to accumulate information beyond what is available in school documentation and on websites. Open days are opportunities for parents to ask specifics about educational record, sport and other extracurricular programs, pastoral care and community spirit.

That being said, there may be a few more important questions that are missing from the obvious. But before we get to them, perhaps we can take a step back in time and remember when we first chose our child’s primary school.

Research shows that most parents choose their child’s primary school with an eye to their secondary education. They look at primary feeder schools into high performing high school companions, they examine a primary schools educational record with their senior school options in sight. In other words, they think ahead, seeing beyond the first stage to the second in an effort to assure their child’s most rewarding, long-term academic and extracurricular journey.

Now back to those high school open days...of course the obvious questions about academics and extracurriculars are important - as are those about the school’s class sizes, mission statement, costs, staff and support systems. But keeping in mind a kindergarten parent’s desire to think ahead, perhaps the other significantly important questions high school open day attendees should be asking are:

How diverse are the courses and universities your students get into? Do you know how many of your students drop out or transfer during university? What is your record for getting your students into top universities - both domestic and international? How does your careers advisor support students who may wish to pursue an education overseas?

On the last two questions, it is important to note that most schools express their ability to prepare their students to be ‘global citizens’. But if this is the case, parents need to know that their child’s prospective school expands their focus beyond the often singularly prioritised ATAR or IB score. There is no doubt that academics are important, but so are a student’s extracurricular passions, leadership accomplishments, prowess in personal expression (as displayed in personal essays), self-esteem and ability to see their possibilities beyond the high school classroom.

Of course, in Year 7 many students may not be sure what kind of post-school educational opportunities they may want to explore. They may be unclear as to where their talents can take them, how their extracurriculars will enhance their academic journey and how their passions will develop as they grow into young adults. But perhaps this is one of the main reasons why asking post-school questions are so important, simply because as parents, we want to make sure that all university study options are available to our graduating children.

If you have a child who is already expressing a desire to study overseas in primary school, then perhaps it might be worth booking a meeting with your prospective high school careers advisor. This may be seen as ‘jumping the gun’, but in the very least you will get a chance to inform the advisor of your child’s potential US/UK study interests and provide you with the opportunity to get to know the staff member responsible for fostering your child’s post-school interests.

As most people are aware, the UK and most significantly, the US university application processes are well-rounded and holistic. Admissions officers in both cases are obviously interested in an applicant’s academic record, but they also want to know about each student’s extracurricular activities, their leadership record, their passions as expressed in their personal essays and how they have engaged themselves in the classroom (as expressed in teacher recommendations).

Of course, Crimson Education is there to help with all aspect of their students’ application processes, but having ‘the school on board’ is a real bonus when it comes to application crunch time.

So, when it comes to high school open days, perhaps some questions about university study and careers guidance are not so premature after all?

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