Choosing a school: mistakes parents make

Expert advice and insights into mistakes to avoid in your school search

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We provide all the information you need on choosing a school on Here we focus on mistakes parents make in the school-choice process. We asked education experts to weigh in on this question. What follows are numerous valuable insights.

For expert advice on a wide range of questions related to choosing a school, read our comprehensive choosing guide. You can also read our parent interviews on choosing a school, as well as our in-depth advice guide on getting into a private school.

On mistakes parents make

“Many parents have a long checklist and they expect to find a school that has everything on their list. I tell them that looking for a school is like looking for a spouse, job, or the perfect home—it’s a compromise or trade-off. No school will have everything that’s on your list. If you get 75% to 80% of what’s on your list, you’re doing great. What do you do about the other 20% or 25% that’s on your list? These things you can often find outside of school, through after-school programs, travel, volunteer opportunities, or elsewhere.”
Janyce Lastman, Education Consultant, The Tutor Group

“Some parents don’t look at their children as learners and pick schools based on other priorities. They might look at the prestige, name, or reputation of the school, which are variables that don’t often contribute to success. Some parents also have preconceived ideas about what’s right for their child, which may or may not be correct. It’s important to go into the process with a open mind, and think carefully about what type of educational environment will work for your child.”
Ann and Karen Wolff, Education Consultant, Wolff Educational Services

“It’s a mistake not to give schools an honest and complete picture of who your child is. This will interfere with their ability to determine whether they’re the right fit. Other mistakes include not visiting schools in person, going strictly by a school’s reputation or others’ opinions, relying on outdated stories of schools, and not having ‘back-up’ schools.”
Jane Kristoffy, Education Consultant, Right Track Educational Services

“Not all parents know the value of getting through the door of a school and talking to people. Go to open houses, fairs, and school events. Put your ear to the ground and talk to people. This is the best way to learn about the feel of a school, as well as the opportunities that are available to students.”
Joanne Foster, Education Consultant and Award-Winning Author

“You should never select a school for life anymore. Your child will change over time: his or her learning needs and styles, social needs, personality, and more. Ideally, a learning environment will meet your child’s social, emotional, and academic needs. Since these evolve over the years, you may need to consider making changes to his or her educational environment or switching schools at various points.”
Irina Valentin, Psychologist, Valentin and Blackstock Psychology

“If there's a core issue that you're not addressing, changing the school may not change the problem. So, you have to get to the core of it. Is the child frustrated in the classroom, not doing well in the classroom, not doing well socially? Is that because of something that is going on with that particular child, in which case if you move them from here to here to here to here, it's not not going to change anything?”
Ruth Rumack, Director, Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space

“One mistake is applying to only one school. I used to have families do that, it was no problem because it was a perfect fit. Not anymore. Number two, not preparing the child for interviews. The third thing is, letting the child in on what the admission process is. Not just, "Oh, it's Saturday morning. We're dropping you at a school for a while to have a talk." Explain everything that’s going on throughout the process, so your child has the knowledge to succeed.”
Elaine Danson, Education Consultant, Danson and Associates

Child-specific advice on school choice
For child-specific insights on choosing a school, read our guide. We explore how school choices crucially depend on kids' unique traits, such as their mental and academic focussocial tendenciesactivity level, academic interests (such as art and STEM), and other attributes (such as giftednessspecial needslearning disabilities, and social issues).

To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account and read our seven ways to choose a school based on your child's needs (i.e., overall fitmore academic challengesocial strugglesacademic strugglesintensive learning interestsuniversity preparation, and special needs.). 

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