How To Find Your Secondary School During COVID-19


It may not be as difficult as you think...

Applying to secondary schools can be daunting. There are so many schools to learn about, so many things to remember to do- keep your GPA up, participate in extracurriculars, write good essays, manage different school deadlines, testing, school visits and interviewing... all of which takes time away from other activities you do. And now with the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you even manage all the things you are supposed to do?  

In some ways, COVID-19 has made it easier to research secondary schools. Many schools have developed a variety of different ways to connect with families virtually and many have created virtual opportunities for applicants to “feel” what it’s like to be a student at their school. 

When in doubt, having a designated Secondary School Placement Office at your school, as we do at Derby, will help tremendously. Even if you don’t have a placement office at your school, following these steps will make sure you are ready to begin the secondary school application process and help you navigate your search through the pandemic.

Helpful steps for navigating the placement process through COVID-19

Make Your List

The list of schools you will consider applying to is the most important starting place when going through the secondary school placement process through COVID. With the pandemic, you can no longer attend large school fairs and summer open houses to learn about schools. It’s important to have an initial list of schools that will narrow your focus and help guide you in finding the right fit schools. 

Work with your school placement office to develop your list or come up with your initial list of schools. AISNE, (Association of Independent Schools New England) as well as NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) have listings of schools. Make the list long enough that it captures a variety of schools that fit your interests, learning style, and needs in a secondary school. It’s ok to have as few as two or as many as 20 schools on your list. If your list is long, it will narrow as you find out more about each school. Don’t be afraid to add or remove schools from your list as your search continues.  

When formulating your list of schools think about:

Size and location

Are you someone who likes to be in the countryside, near the ocean, or the mountains? Do you need access to public transportation to get to and from school?

Day or boarding

How long are you willing to commute to school? How far away from home are you willing to be at school?

Proximity to a town, city, or airport

Do you want to be at a school where you can walk downtown and grab a snack with friends? Do you need an airport or train station to get home?

The kind of classes available

Does the school offer classes in areas you are interested in? Do they offer classes in subjects you are a little curious about and may want to learn more in the future?

Availability of athletics

Are athletics required? Can you play sports you like or learn a new one at the school? Are the school’s sports teams competitive or are they easy-going?

Availability of arts

Does the school have drama, theatre, music, dance, architecture, jewelry making, woodworking, or studio art classes? Is that important to you?

Extracurricular activities and clubs, or volunteer opportunities

Does the school offer ways to do the fun things you like to do during your free time? Do they have interesting activities you would like to try?

Internship, independent study, travel, or “Winter Term” opportunities

Will the school provide you with opportunities to pursue things you are really passionate about? Will they help you find internships or research opportunities during the summer or school year?

It’s important to consider how these offerings could be impacted by the pandemic. Are schools continuing to offer these opportunities, or have they been canceled or adapted to remote learning?

Thinking about all these things will help you create a good list of schools to apply to, where you could be a happy student and thrive!  

Ways to “Visit” and Learn More About a School

If it were a non-COVID year, in order to start the secondary school placement process, you would attend a secondary school fair or open house on a school’s campus in the spring and or the fall. These events would let you interact with students and faculty, learn more about a school, and meet admission representatives. With COVID-19, large events on school campuses may not be possible this summer or in the fall. This is not bad news— there are many ways to get to know a school, its admissions representatives, students, and faculty to see if the school could be the right fit for you.

While on-campus school visits with COVID-19 will vary state to state(schools will follow the protocols dictated by the states in which they are located) there are several ways to dive deep and really get to know a school. Using your list of schools as a starting place, you can learn a lot if you:

  • Attend a virtual mini fair. A virtual mini fair is when a group of schools tells you about their schools via a virtual session. Typically one person is a moderator who will speak in general to the advantages of independent schools/ boarding schools/ day schools and then each school will talk about the benefits of their school. Sometimes schools take Q& A and other times they do not. Mini fairs are a great way to hear a 5-10 minute presentation about a school from one of their admission representatives. Derby hosted mini fairs in June and will do so again in the fall.

  • Go to the schools’ websites on your list of schools. First, you should read the school’s mission statement and welcome letter from the head of school. A school’s mission statement will let you know what a school values and believes in. A school’s mission will influence every aspect of its community. The head’s letter will set the tone for a school’s community.
  • Visit the admissions page. Visit this page second and learn more about what is important to the school, different programs, and who their students and alumni are. Watch the different short videos they provide. The Admission page will also list updates and all the information you need to know about applying to the school. 

  • Visit all the other areas of a school’s website- academics, athletics, student life, and the arts. Learn all the different things you could do if you were a student at that school. Watch all the videos you can and soak in the school’s culture. Can you picture yourself as one of the students in the videos?

  • Read their distance learning pages. Is how they taught during COVID-19 and distance learning a way that you would be comfortable with? Being familiar with each schools’ program is important.

Once you have gotten to know the school through its website, decide if it’s a school you are interested in keeping on your list or if it’s one you would like to remove. If you want to keep a school on your list or if you’re not sure, follow these 2 steps:

  • Fill out the Inquiry Form for all the schools you liked. Filling out this form will put you on a school’s radar and begin a conversation. Just because you fill out an inquiry does not mean that you have to apply. It only means that you are interested in learning more about the school. Be sure to include your interests and passions. Schools will have the right people reach out to you to answer questions and help you learn whether the school is the right fit for you.

  • Circle back to admission pages a few times throughout the summer. The Admission page always has the most up to date information about the process. Depending on the limitations placed upon them by the states they are located in, the layout of their campuses, or the makeup of their community, schools are figuring out how to make the experience for prospective students as authentic as it can be. It takes time to do this. The first week of August will be a great time to check Admission websites to learn the most up to date information.  

It’s in the best interest of all schools and prospective students to meet in person and have prospective families visit their campuses. As we gain clarity and understanding about COVID-19 and schools determine when and how they can safely bring prospective families to their campus, they will let families know. In the meantime, know that secondary schools will provide you with the best possible virtual experiences they can. Following the steps outlined above will ensure that, come fall, you are in an excellent position to begin applying to schools.