Open houses have always been a vital part of the high school selection process. This is especially true in New York City, where students are able to visit dozens of different schools before deciding which they should apply to.
Finding the right high school is a daunting process, but open houses offer potential applicants a better chance to get a feel for each institution.
These tours help eighth-graders decide what they want out of the high school experience. Do you prefer a single-sex or coed school? What sports or activities should you participate in? Do you like the location? Can you picture yourself as a part of this community?
Yet, like all aspects of life, the high school open-house process was fundamentally disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Instead of visiting school buildings, potential applicants clicked on links to join Zoom meetings with school faculty and current students.
Despite these challenges, out top high schools worked to make virtual open houses as engaging as possible, allowing eighth-graders to still answer that vital question: Is this school right for me?
Last year’s virtual events were remarkably flexible, giving applicants and their parents ample opportunity to speak with teachers, admissions officers, and students. If anything, the online format allowed for more in-depth conversations, as guests were able to join one-on-one breakout rooms with school representatives to discuss questions in more detail.
This year, school administrators are excited to return to in-person open houses. However, they also don’t want to forget the important lessons that flexible and dynamic virtual open houses provided last year.
The Martin Luther School in Maspeth will be holding an in-person open house on October 16, as well as a virtual open house on October 7.
“We are looking forward to sharing our mission, educational intentions, and enrollment process at both open houses,” said Principal Donna Younghese. “We embrace the opportunity to show our facility to our prospective families while providing them with the option to meet our teachers, administrators, coaches, staff, current students, and parents.”
Martin Luther’s in-person open house will require all prospective students and their families to complete a health screening and temperature check upon arrival. Masks will be required and tour groups will be kept intentionally small.
The virtual open house will largely resemble the event last year.
“Since our parents found our virtual open houses to be convenient we will continue to offer them,” Younghese added.
Martin Luther is not the only school offering hybrid open house formats. Last year, a number of schools — including Msgr. McClancy High School in East Elmhurst and Holy Cross High School in Flushing — successfully hosted both in-person and virtual open houses.
“It was a terrific, more intimate experience for our faculty and guests,” explained Anthony Olszewski, director of Admissions at Msgr. McClancy. “We had such tremendous feedback regarding the attention and care each potential student and family received, we decided to keep the framework of last year’s event as our baseline for this year.”
Msgr. McClancy limited tour groups to 25 people and spaced them out every 15 minutes across two days. The school utilized a pre-registration system to limit wait times and the number of guests per session. This year, a limited number of walk-in guests will be accepted on the day of the open house.
“We were able to have practically the same number of families a traditional open house would have,” Olszewski said. “This year’s open house has more families pre-registered than last year and we are still a week away from the event. The excitement level is high.”
Similarly, Holy Cross is working to perfect its hybrid open house offerings this year after a successful pilot last October. The school is requiring pre-registration for tour sessions and all guests, faculty, and students on campus must wear masks.
“As life continues to return to pre-pandemic routines, Holy Cross plans on keeping several of the virtual options that were implemented last year due to the positive feedback from our families,” said assistant vice president and Class of ‘00 alumnus Robert Botero. “These events include virtual admissions interviews, information sessions about the admissions process, school presentations, as well as other virtual events.”
In addition to open-houses, prospective students can get a feel for each school by visiting their websites and social media accounts. Many schools are also still offering campus visit days that allow applicants to spend a day shadowing current students as they go to classes and after-school activities.
Students should email admission officers with any questions they might have after the open house. The admission officers we spoke with were more than happy to speak with students at any point during the application process.
It is also important to note that another important aspect of the high school application process — the TACHS exam —will again be administered as an online, remote, at-home test. A full list of computer system requirements for the TACHS is available online at tachsinfo.com.
Registration for the exam closes on October 24. After registering, students may rank their preferred high school choices. Applicants are encouraged to take open house experiences into account when ranking schools.
Despite the many changes that COVID-19 has brought to the high school application process, prospective students should not be daunted. More than anything, the pandemic has taught school administrators and admissions officers to become even more understanding of the needs and concerns of applicants.