Finding the right school

5 Mistakes Parents Make When Picking a School

By Geri Coleman Tucker

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Choosing or changing schools is a big decision. Which one will be the best fit for your child? Here are five pitfalls to avoid as you consider your options and plan your school visits.

294Found this helpful
Parent and child with a backpack walking down a hallway on their way to school
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Mistake #1: Visiting Only Once

First impressions are important. But if you only visit a school one time, you run the risk of basing your decision on too little information. For example, if a teacher seemed unenthusiastic, it will be hard for you to tell whether she was just having an off day or if her attitude is a sign of bigger problems at the school. Visit more than once. Ask to spend time in a classroom so you can observe the teacher interacting with students. Ask several parents whose kids attend the school what they think of it.

Blurred motion of high school students walking quickly in the hall between classes
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Mistake #2: Judging by Appearances

Sure, you want to pick a school that is clean and attractive, with all the newest technology. But remember that looks aren’t everything. Some schools might not have the latest and greatest equipment. But they have engaged and well-trained teachers who can bring out the best in their students—including those with learning and attention issues. The teachers are the most important element. Watch them interact with kids, and ask parents of current students for more insights.

Parents standing outside a school building reviewing paperwork
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Mistake #3: Not Asking Enough Questions

It’s helpful to know if a school has a good reputation or gets high marks from other parents. But their children may have different needs than yours does. Use school ratings tools, online communities and other means to try to find parents whose kids have similar issues. Take your child to visit the school and make sure it’s a welcoming place. A school’s culture can make a big difference in how accepted your child will feel. Ask the school lots of questions, including how it will support your child academically, emotionally and socially.

Back view of a Mother and young son walking to school along a highway
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Mistake #4: Forgetting to Factor In Location

A great school is worth a long commute. But the same may not be true for a school that seems only slightly better than the one in your neighborhood. Lengthy rides to and from school might limit the amount of time your child has for homework, afterschool activities and sports. Living far from school can also make it more challenging to arrange playdates and other social events. That’s why it’s important to factor in time and distance when choosing a school.

Smiling students playing  on an asphalt playground at recess
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Mistake #5: Focusing Too Much on Academics

Yes, academics are very important. But your child’s social and emotional development is very important too. A preschool that puts a lot of emphasis on reading skills may sound great. But make sure there’s a big focus on social skills as well. Likewise, high school is a time for identifying students’ strengths and passions—not just where they will go to college. Pick a school based on the richness of the experience it provides.

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About the Author

Portrait of Geri Tucker

Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for USA Today.

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Portrait of Ginny Osewalt

Ginny Osewalt is certified in elementary and special education, with experience in inclusion, resource room and self-contained settings.

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