Opening Doors
An open house offers an intimate look into a school’s ability to prepare children for the future.
by Jill Lupine

As August marches toward September, and summer vacations reach their end, parents with school-age children turn their thoughts to serious business: planning for their children’s future, educationally speaking, by attending open houses of nearby schools.

As classes resume, schools will open their doors so families can tour the facilities and grounds, speak with teachers and administrators, and try to understand if the school is best suited to prepare their children for the next phase of their lives. Families, for their part, should arrive prepared; too often, administrators say, parents waste precious time at the open house asking questions that could have been answered by visiting the school’s website.
“An open house visit, or personal visit to campus, is one of the most important things a parent and child can do in the admissions process,” says Abby Parish Moser, director of admissions and financial aid for the Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, which enrolls middle and high school students. “Attendance at an open house sends a strong message about a family’s interest in the school. Doing your research before a school visit also signals a family’s interest in the school, and process. Admissions staff will notice if you prepare questions that show interest and investment.”
Moser recommends that parents attend an open house with their child, especially if they intend to give their child a say in which school they attend.
“Most often an open house will have an agenda and scheduled events, unlike the name suggests,” she adds. “Parents and children are provided a ‘guided’ introduction to the school, usually hearing from school administrators, teachers, coaches, and students on formal panels or in the classroom. There is usually time during the program for parents and children to connect to folks in an area of interest, whether that is an academic, art, athletic, or other area of interest. If parents have an agenda in advance of the open house event, and that time is not scheduled, admissions staff will be eager to arrange a personal meeting before, during, or after, if scheduling allows.”
For anyone who has never attended an open house, Jennifer Gentleman Rose, director of enrollment management for Villa Maria Academy High School in Malvern, describes an open house as both “energizing” and “overwhelming.”
“Families will hear from various speakers and students about the school while exploring the campus,” she says. “It is a great deal of information to digest. I would recommend that the parents familiarize themselves with the school via their website, so they have a sense of the mission, academics, and extracurriculars the school offers so the information they are hearing is not new.”
While on campus, families should closely observe the environment and sense of community. Rose recommends speaking with school leaders in the areas that are most important to the family’s decision making—a coach, a department chair, a college counselor, etc.—to make sure the family’s goals for their child align with the school’s priorities.  
Alexandria Derassouyan, director of admissions for Nazareth Academy High School in Northeast Philadelphia, agrees.
“If the family is most focused on academics, speaking with the principal or assistant principal should be prioritized,” she says. “If athletics are important to the student/parents, speaking with an athletic director or coaches should be prioritized. If affordability is most important, speaking with someone from the finance office should be prioritized.
“In general,” she continues, “I would say that the family should make a point to speak with the admissions director or someone from the admissions office because this individual can likely answer many or most of their questions or introduce them to the appropriate person to do so. From experience, during an open house, I have found that prospective families benefit the most from speaking with current students and parents about their experiences at the school.”
In its purest form, an open house offers an opportunity to better get to know a school in an efficient manner: one visit to tour school spaces, learn about the curriculum, listen to panel discussions from current students and teachers, and “peek behind the curtain” in regard to the school’s culture. Ryan Coffey Keaton, assistant head of school for The Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill, cautions against getting caught up in the “impressive packaging” of glistening labs, exceptional performances, and other things that might distract them from measuring the school against their own priorities and student needs. That’s why Keaton says families need to “shop with a list.”
“Before attending even one open house, take a moment to sit down and collaborate on the short list of needs and wants,” she adds. “Identify and, when possible, quantify what has served your student well at their current school, and what is missing from the experience. Instead of ‘good learning support,’ a family may list ‘opportunity to work with a learning support person one-on-one each week.’ Make the list brief but as specific as possible. … Shopping with a list will allow you to enjoy all of the exciting features of the open house, while staying grounded in collecting information that suits the family’s specific needs.
“As you encounter all the unique facets and programs of various schools, it can be hard to compare ‘apples to apples,’” she continues. “Use the same list of questions/priorities as you visit each school, even if the list is refined from one school to the next. This ensures that you can appreciate the features and uniqueness of each program, without superseding the priorities you have established as a family. When it comes to decision time, you will have the data you need to feel confident in selecting the institution that checks the most boxes in terms of ‘fit’ and, as a bonus, has a charismatic mascot.”
How many open houses should a family attend? The answer will likely differ from one family to another. For families who do not have a clear idea as to the type of school they want their child to attend, Rose suggests it may make sense to visit at least one or two independent schools, coed and single-sex schools, and religiously affiliated schools. For those who have narrowed down the type of school they have in mind, she recommends visiting a minimum of three or so within that scope.  
“If parents are only considering one school for their child, one visit could be fine,” Moser says. “My advice would be to visit each school a child plans to apply to so that, when it’s time to consider offers of admission, you have the information you need about each school.”
Peek Behind the Curtain
Open houses, whether virtual or in person, enable families to determine which school feels best suited for a student’s development. Tour the campus, ask questions, and meet the educators and administrators tasked with preparing students for college, the working world, or whatever life has in store for tomorrow’s leaders. We have done our best to confirm the following information, but we suggest contacting the schools directly for more information and, when applicable, registering for the events in which you may have an interest.
Archbishop Wood High School
Fall Open House: Oct. 22, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Conwell-Egan Catholic High School
Fall Open House: Oct. 12 and 26, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Holy Ghost Preparatory School
Fall Open House: Fall Open House: Oct. 22
Plumstead Christian School
On-campus tours by appointment
Solebury School
Virtual tours available; on-campus tours by appointment
Villa Joseph Marie High School
Fall Open House: Oct. 1, time TBD

Bishop Shanahan High School
On-campus tours by appointment
Delaware Valley Friends School
On-campus tours by appointment
Malvern Preparatory School
Fall Open House: Oct. 14, 9 a.m. to noon
The Phelps School
On-campus tours by appointment
Villa Maria Academy High School
Fall Open House: Oct. 1, 9 a.m. to noon

Academy of Notre Dame de Namur
Fall Open House: Oct. 1, 10 a.m. start
Archbishop John Carroll High School
Fall Open House: Oct. 22, noon to 2 p.m.
Delaware County Christian School
Lower School Open House: Oct. 31, 9 a.m. start  
Upper School Open House: Nov. 7, 9 a.m. start
Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School
On-campus tours by appointment
Sacred Heart Academy Bryn Mawr
Fall/Winter Open Houses:  Date and time to be determined
The Shipley School
On-campus tours by appointment
Valley Forge Military Academy & College
On-campus tours by appointment

Abington Friends School
On-campus tours by appointment
Academy of the New Church
Fall Open House: Oct. 28, 9:45 a.m. start
AIM Academy
Fall Virtual Open Houses: Sept. 22, 9 a.m.; Oct. 13, 9 a.m. start; Oct. 25, noon start; Nov. 3, 9 a.m. start; Nov. 15, noon start; Dec. 1, 9 a.m. start; Dec. 13, noon start
The Agnes Irwin School
On-campus tours by appointment
The Baldwin School
On-campus tours by appointment
Center School
Contact for details on upcoming open house events
Dock Mennonite Academy
On-campus tours by appointment
Friends’ Central School
Middle and Upper School Open House: Aug. 24, 9 a.m. start
Lower School Open House: Sept. 27, 9:30 a.m. start
Germantown Academy
On-campus or virtual tours by appointment
Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School
Fall Open House:  Date and time to be determined
The Haverford School
“Look & Learn” sessions by appointment
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Contact admissions office to visit in person or virtually
La Salle College High School
Fall Open House:  Sept. 24, 10 a.m. to noon (9 a.m. Mass)
The Meadowbrook School
On-campus tours by appointment
Merion Mercy Academy
Fall Open House: Oct. 15, following 11 a.m. liturgy
Mount Saint Joseph Academy
Fall Open House: Oct. 1, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., following 9 a.m. Mass
Perkiomen School
Fall Open Houses: Oct. 12, Oct. 20, and Oct. 27, 10 a.m. to noon

The Crefeld School
Fall Open Houses: Sept. 28, 6 p.m. start; Oct. 28, 10 a.m. start
Father Judge High School
Contact for details on upcoming open house events
Nazareth Academy High School
Fall Open House: Oct. 14, with six tours from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Roman Catholic High School
Fall Open House: Oct. 8, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
St. Joseph’s Preparatory School
Fall Open House: Oct. 15, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
West Catholic Preparatory High School
On-campus tours by appointment

Archmere Academy
Fall Open House: Oct. 22, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Salesianum School
Fall Open House: Oct. 1, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Tatnall School
Lower School Fall Open House: Oct. 1, 11 a.m. to noon
Middle and Upper School Fall Open House: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Ursuline Academy
Upper School Open House: Oct. 1, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Lower & Middle School Open House:  Nov. 10, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

The Hun School of Princeton
Upper School and Middle School Fall Open House: Oct. 15, time TBD
The Lawrenceville School
On-campus tours by appointment
Notre Dame High School
On-campus tours by appointment
The Pennington School
On-campus tours by appointment
Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart
Fall/Winter Open Houses: Oct. 15, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Nov. 18, 10 a.m. to noon
The Wilberforce School
On-campus tours by appointment
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, August 2023.