I realize I am asking you to do something that is extremely hard to do. When you meet a boarding school admission counselor on the road, they are the school. I experienced this in my 7.5 years as an admission rep and in my 2.5 years as a volunteer with the admission office at Westtown School.
If I was friendly, warm and caring than people thought Westtown School would be warm, friendly and caring. If I was professional and returned calls and emails promptly, than the students and parents assumed that this was a defining characteristic of Westtown School.
This is true also of private day schools but it is even more true of boarding schools. With day schools, normally when a student meets the admission counselor it is after they have already visited the school. This allows the student to have multiple points of reference, various factors that influence how they perceive the school. Because these are local schools, a student or parent may have been on the campus multiple times over the course of many years. They usually know multiple students, parents, alumni and faculty and their perspective on the school plays a pivotal role in shaping the image of the school.
With boarding schools it is common to meet the admission rep in your city before your visit the actual boarding school. Parents and students are looking for a school they can trust to protect their child and to provide a world class education for their child, but the school is the people who work there and the boarding school representatives character is the school.
I knew all of this when I was in admissions but now that I am in placement it is even more apparent. I routinely have families tell me, I am very interested in _________school because I really like/love that representative. The converse is also true.” I am not feeling that school at all; I just did not connect with that admission rep.” This is why the interview is a two way street. Schools may think they are evaluating the applicant but the applicant is deciding how much they like the school, largely based on the rapport or lack of rapport they established with the boarding school admission officer.
I am sure some of you are thinking, “What is wrong with seeing the school through the prism of the personality and character of the boarding school counselor”? The first problem is that sometimes an Admissions Director and a Head of school just make a great hire. They recognize that an interviewee is professional, articulate, responsible, hardworking, great at communication and great at rapport building with strangers and they hire them. Their personality and character may have absolutely nothing to do with the character and personality of the school.
The second problem is that boarding school admissions counselors move on. There are several that I know that are already on their fifth and even their sixth different institution since I started doing this work. If you are relying on that individual you met being there for you for your child’s four years, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
People are not robots. What I am asking you to do is somewhat akin to asking you not to laugh when you hear a joke or wince when you feel pain. I know it is hard if not close to impossible but I do believe if you constantly tell yourself, I am not going to assume that everyone at this school is like the boarding school counselor I met, it will go a long way to you being able to more properly evaluate the character and personality of the school you are considering for your child.
I do believe you can make a conscious decision to meet a larger sample of students, parents, graduates and faculty at a school and reserve your final judgment of a school until you get to meet a larger sample of the type of people that an institution hires and produces. I am challenging you, for the sake of your child to do just that.