Should I attend a School Fair?

I attend a number of school fairs every year in Canada and around the world. They serve a very important purpose but you must take in what you learn and afterward evaluate all that you have been told.

Yesterday, in Mexico, a woman arrived at my table and said “every school I have visited so far has told me they are the best, are you the best too?” My reply was, “that depends on what you are looking for.” Was it an ESL program? No, we offer ESL support instead of full classes. Was it the best boarding program? Maybe, tell me more about your child… Remember, it is all about finding the right fit and the ‘best’ program for your child.

At this fair, there were public school home stay programs for $20,000, private for profit boarding schools with almost entirely international student populations for $36,000, then there were the not for profit CAIS boarding schools from $50,000 to $60,000 per year. Most of the high schools were from Canada and it was clear that with everyone saying they were the best, it had made it difficult for this mother the tell the difference between the options being presented to her.

As an aside, in my seventeen years in Admission things have changed on the marketing front for Canadian schools as we assert our quality in the world education market. It is not very ‘Canadian’ to claim you are the best. It is more appropriate to let others tell you “you are the best” than claim it yourself. Why? Because “the best” is relative, personal, and student specific. Beware the school that claims they are the best. In Canada, it is more acceptable to be “one of the best” or one of the ‘top’ schools.

In this case, the mother needs to assess at least three factors:

Her child
What is her level of English fluency? Does she need ESL? How much? Would extra help be enough?
What is her academic level? Does she need tutoring or extra help? Does she have an identified learning difference? What supports does the school offer?
What is her personality? Is she shy? Would a smaller school, smaller residence be better? If home stay, how are the appropriate families chosen for her personality and her family’s values? Will the school draw her into new activities and experiences?
Is she outgoing? Does the school offer enough cocurriculars to keep her engaged?

The Academic Program
Does the school offer ESL? Is it required?
What is the school’s graduation rate?
Where do the school’s graduates attend university?
What is she looking for? The two year IB, APs or the Canadian curriculum qualifying her for universities around the world? (See earlier blog post “To IB or not to IB”
What is the measure of art, music, drama, languages, science, maths and social sciences desired?

Her budget
Is this an investment in her academic future or a right of passage “language experience?”
How much could she afford? Keeping in mind that many CAIS schools offer scholarships and need-based financial assistance for good students (often making the cost of boarding equal to one of the cheaper options).
How much supervision and outside of class time programming is desired? In this regard, often, you get what you pay for.

Sifting your way through the missions, curriculums and value propositions presented by schools is not an easy task. Attending a school fair cannot hurt and invariably a parent and student will leave wiser and better equipped to ask the right questions of the schools on their short list.

I look forward to meeting you at a school fair in the near future.