Tips for a stress-free school search [includes downloadable guide]

Written by: GEMS World Academy Chicago

GEMS World Academy Chicago


For parents considering independent schools, open house season is well upon us. Whether you are looking for preschool for the very first time or for the perfect spot for your kids as they wrap up their last years before college, these next few months are an exciting time, to say the least. But, these next few months are also often filled with that little six-letter word that tends to loom large for us parents: stress. 

The biggest question parents often have is when to start looking. The answer depends on the grade level but it is good to start researching to narrow choices and determine application and admissions timelines about two years before your target time to enroll your child. If you feel a cold sweat coming on, don’t worry. If you are reading this blog post, you are not too late for the majority of the city’s independent schools. 

We’ve put together some tips and advice we have after our nearly three collective decades working in independent school admissions. This is by no means exhaustive, but should help you find the best possible option for your child. Don’t miss the downloadable guide at the end of the post to help you keep track of your visits.

Identify your target list. Keep an open mind and remember that the search is about what is best for your child. Parents often think they know what they want based on what they have heard on the news, heard from friends, family, and reputation. There are seemingly endless choices in Chicago: public, independent, faith-based, charter, selective, classical, and more. It helps to sit down to have an open conversation with your family about what schools you would consider. In this process, write down some of the priorities you have in a school. Is it location? Montessori versus International Baccalaureate? Also, remember, this search is about what is best for your learner. You might be a mathematician, but if your child is a voracious reader who needs some extra support in math, take that all into consideration. 

Get organized with dates and deadlines. You’ve got your list, so the next big task is to take note of admissions deadlines and dates for visiting. Often parents will visit schools separately, but there is a lot to be said about the shared experience of a school visit. Take note that deadlines and process often vary quite a bit between schools. Feel free to reach out to schools if you are confused or need clarification. They should want to help you stay organized and, most importantly, not miss the chance to explore their school for your child. 

Take the time to plan your visit so that it provides the information you need to know to make a decision. You have limited time, we know! Sit with your family to come up with a list of what you want to keep an eye out for on your visit and questions to ask leadership, teachers, and, if possible, parents and students. If your child will participate in a visit, discuss the visit beforehand and make sure to ask follow-up questions soon after the visit. Our downloadable guide has dozens of questions for you to think about! 

Above all, try to relax and enjoy the ride. Chicago is filled with incredible schools and this process will all be worth it when you watch your child settle into an amazing program in just a few short months. 

Downloadable guide to your school search.

Ms. Mourgelas is the Director of Admission at GEMS World Academy Chicago, a preschool–grade 12 independent school located in the heart of downtown Chicago. Their International Baccalaureate framework inspires students to learn locally and think globally, using the entire city of Chicago as an extension of the classroom. They are part of the renowned GEMS Education network and offer exchange and collaboration to inspire new perspectives, challenge convention, and develop the resilience to embrace a future of unknowns.


Posted on October 15, 2019 at 12:32 PM