8 mistakes you should avoid
when choosing a private school abroad
When you start the process of searching for schools abroad, aligning your priorities with those of your child is essential. Over the many years of educational consulting, I have noticed several mistakes that parents tend to make when choosing the right school for their child, which I will point out below.
When it comes to choosing a private school abroad, talk to your family and try to create a list of the most important criteria you should take into consideration, in terms of the academic programme, type of school, location, facilities, extracurricular activities, subjects etc. Think about whether you should apply for a scholarship to fit your budget and what would be the perfect amount to be covered.
But keep in mind the 8 big mistakes you should avoid when looking for the right school for your child.
1. Having league tables as the only source of information
These are useful tools, as long as you can read between the lines because league tables do not offer you a comprehensive perspective on a school. They are built based only on few data, and most of the times they are the results of the public exams. But a lot of information is lost on the way.
I do not discredit league tables, they can be useful indicators, if you got the big picture, only that to me it happened many times to consult some of those I considered to be credible sources and I found much inconsistent information – such as a league table of the best IB schools in the UK, which included schools that did not even have the IB school system.
Also, what is in the first positions may not fit the child, as would fit the next ones in the table. Because, beyond the academic results (which are very important), other aspects should be compatible with the child and the family, such as gender structure, educational concept and style, class sizes, pastoral care, extracurricular activities, personal development opportunities etc.
2. Speeding up the process and taking hasty decisions
Finding the right school for your child is far too important, so making sure you have enough time for the process is crucial. Understanding academic programmes, types of schools, different styles, the internal organization of the school, the ethos and opportunities offered to students, the financial aspects – all these require time for clarification. In addition, understanding all these will help refine your search criteria. This clarity will give you an invaluable feeling of peace when you need to finally decide.
In addition, there are schools where the selection process starts a few years in advance, and others have a very clear admission calendar, so it would be good not to limit the options due to the time factor. The admission process is long. And let’s not forget about visas, when it comes to the UK, USA and other study destinations.
3. Relying only on your friends' recommendations
I know, friends’ recommendations weigh the most because they already have the direct experience of a certain school, but it’s very possible that what is suitable for your child’s friends won’t be suitable for your child at all. Or the type of experience they’re having to be completely different. Keep your options open and your mind the same. Decisions must be made according to your criteria, and their combination is unique.
The article I wrote recently, “11 Essential tips to choose the right school for your child” may be helpful for you
4. Looking beyond the prestige of a school
There are many more variables that are more important than the name of a school and its prestige. The most important thing is to find a balance between everything, and the educational environment should be the right one for your child. Indicators such as the high degree of selectivity of a school do not necessarily express the quality of the educational activity. Some children need a less competitive environment, with a softer pressure put on academic performance, because they need a friendly environment to help them thrive, where individual needs matter.
5. Skipping the stage of visiting the chosen schools
All the information gathered from your research can often be out of date and often contradictory or embellished through marketing tools. When browsing school websites, it’s easy to be captivated by presentations, highlights, photos, but do not let these aspects shift your attention from what is important to you and your child (curriculum, the school ethos, the quality of teachers, development opportunities etc.).
That’s why visiting schools is so important. You can raise the wave of marketing, through direct interaction with the environment, with school staff, with students, teachers. The moment of the visit frees you from the factual data accumulated until then about the school, offering you an immediate experience that can invite intuition in the game. And this is important in making a decision, completing all the rational analysis done before that.
Observe, interact and get as many insights as possible. In addition, during the visit, you have the opportunity to ask all the questions on the list and beyond the list, about how your child will be stimulated from an academic, social and emotional point of view.
It has often happened that families who left with a personal ranking of schools in their mind, returned from a visit tour with a completely different ranking.
So, visit them. If the context doesn’t allow it, then your educational consultant can help you arrange virtual school tours, discussions with teachers, students or parents in the chosen school communities.
6. Having only one private school option
Families who came with only one school on the list often crossed my threshold. Either because the school was first ranked in the league tables, or because a friend of the child or a child of acquaintances was already studying there and they recommended the school. I had children who went to one Summer camp at a boarding school and really wanted to study at that school and that school only.
This often happens because a connection, an attachment, a sense of familiarity is installed. But I always propose, with all the arguments on the table, how important it is to keep their options open and to explore other schools before making a final decision. Many times I was surprised that at the end of the admission process, they chose a different school than the one they had in mind at the beginning. Why? Because following the experience of sitting the entrance exams, being interviewed, visiting schools and interacting with students, teachers and school staff, criteria that didn’t seem relevant at first, gained great relevance.
7. Thinking that academics are everything
There is still a widespread belief that academic performance will guarantee a secure future to ones child, a good job, great income – hence the tendency to choose the most highly-ranked schools, based on the exam results obtained by students, the number of Olympiads in which students participate, prizes won in various academic competitions and so on.
But the school should provide “the whole package” and stimulate both emotional intelligence, social skills, critical thinking, creativity, physical tonus and other soft skills so important for a child to develop harmoniously so that he can become a well-balanced adult.
The school must be a space for exploring passions, keeping curiosity alive, of practical learning to stimulate all forms of intelligence.
Because there are 9 forms of intelligence! I wrote an article about these here.