Virtual School Events: Strategies for Parents & Students
As we head into what could be considered the most unique school admissions season in recent memory, families will be faced with a new question: How should we prepare for what’s likely to be a slew of virtual school events, tours, open houses, etc? For those who are inclined and motivated, below are some simple tips and strategies to effectively and efficiently get the most from these events.
Note: These steps should take approximately 20 minutes per school not including the event itself, but consider this an investment of time that will pay huge dividends!
- Understand yourself, and then your list of schools. Before putting together any kind of list of schools and events, it’s important to know yourself, your child, and what could represent the best fits for him/her. Without that kind of self-assessment, the school list can quickly devolve.
- Plan ahead. Once you have some kind of working school list, be sure to bookmark school websites, set reminders for yourself to monitor these sites, submit inquiries as directed and per school directions, check event notifications, and register for any events.
- Practice. Plan to attend an event for a school in which you have little or no interest, and encourage your student to engage and practice asking questions, if possible. This will help tremendously when it comes to the real thing.
- Organize. Start to lay things out on a calendar. Have a system to take notes and a separate place to develop your list, including space/columns that include the key school traits to which you are paying most attention. It doesn’t matter what kind of system, as long as it works for you and your child and effectively captures the key information that will serve you later on.
- Understand. Prior to each event, understand the structure of the event (tour vs. open house vs. presentation, etc), required technology, likely participants, etc. Don’t be caught by surprise by things that are completely within your control.
- Have an “agenda,” and don’t assume. Many families and students assume the impetus is completely on the school to present information. Don’t assume you won’t have the chance to be recognized and ask questions, and don’t assume there will be a lot of other families attending the event. There may not be, and in fact, you may get much more individualized attention than at an in-person event. Better to over-prepare than not, and seek out specific information relevant to your family.
- Prepare. At least 48 hours prior to each event, check your technology platform to make sure everything is in place and functioning. Have your note taking system ready to go (can be paper or on your computer, whichever you prefer). Select appropriate clothing for you and your child – think business casual, i.e. button down shirts; this is not an interview, there is no need to wear a jacket or tie for these events.
- Research and ask. You and your child should have conducted at least a cursory, 10-15 minute review of the school website, along with perhaps another online or offline source of information (do you have friends or neighbors who know about this school?). You won’t know it all – and that’s okay – but be prepared to answer some fundamental questions, such as: a) Why does this school, at least initially and based on what I know so far, appear to represent a fit? b) Beyond academics, what can my child potentially add to the school community (interests, passions, viewpoint, etc)? c). What are 2-3 genuine questions we are curious about, if the opportunity arises – ideally questions that are not easily answered from the school website or other marketing materials.
- Show up. Be ready with your note taking system, show up early, have questions ready, and double check your technology. If it helps, put a sticky note on your desk or computer with your key bullet points or questions. Choose a quiet space with no distractions and an appropriate background (non-virtual backgrounds are best for these events), and turn your phone off. Like in-person events, you are making an impression.
- Engage. Listen and ask questions, when appropriate. Again, don’t assume you won’t get any personal attention or have a chance to speak. It’s okay to jot down notes, just keep your attention on the speaker. It can be tremendously valuable to jot down 3-4 brief bullet points for things that really make a positive impression so you can refer to them later on (see “Follow Up” below!). If it helps, take a screen shot of relevant screens/visuals during the event – even if it’s just to help you remember the key players!
- Non-verbal communication. It’s not just important when meeting in person. Active listening, smiling naturally, eye contact (know where your computer camera is), and posture send an important message even online.
- Document. Within 24 hours of the event, you and your child should regurgitate as much information as possible into a note sheet. Don’t screen out your thoughts – get everything down on paper for now, even typing as many thoughts as possible in 5 minutes – the good, bad and ugly. You will be thankful you have all this later on.
- Follow up. A quick, customized thank you note from you and your child (even separately, depending on the child’s age) can leave a positive impression. Generic notes that are used for multiple schools don’t.
- Contextualize. Within 48 hours, update your list of schools or spreadsheet with relevant information gleaned from the event, including what you learned, outstanding questions, new overall rating for the school, updated rank vs. other schools, etc.
- Leverage. Your updated notes, questions and school list can and should play a significant role later on in latter parts of the application process. You will be thankful you did this legwork early on, as it will come in handy with interviews, applications, essays, deciding which schools represent the best fit, and all other parts of the application process.
Finally, if you have a motivated student interested in how to effectively prepare for virtual school interviews, check out our upcoming online training in late August. Capacity is limited, and fees, details and registration are here.
Of course, we help many families navigate and effectively implement all aspects of the items outlined above. Contact us for a complimentary, introductory admissions consultation to see how we can help your family or school.