high school fairs and touring

Someone asked today if the citywide and/or borough high school fairs were worth going to.

Good question.

The fairs are a good opportunity to talk to a bunch of different schools in one shot. If you’ve got conflicts (inevitable with multiple school events happening plus regular life), that could be a way of fitting more in. You might discover schools you hadn’t heard of before. It’s good to be able to ask questions in person - especially if you’re dealing with IEPs or services or any extenuating circumstances. From what I remember it can sometimes feel like a pep rally - people excited to sell you on their school. Having said that, it’s CROWDED. Tens of thousands of people go to the citywide fair, which is generally split by borough - one per floor. It’s held at Brooklyn Tech so that’s an opportunity to be inside that building and the crowds give a somewhat realistic sense of what it can feel like between classes on a school day (that comes from my son who calls Tech the gauntlet of humanity). 

If you know there are schools you’re interested in in more than one borough, then the citywide fair would be a better option. If you live in Brooklyn and are only interested in Brooklyn schools, perhaps the borough fair is a better fit.

I also thought I’d share some thoughts about touring, as the season is upon us and I know some schools already have their tours up and running: 

I learned not to go on tours with friends - it provided a welcome distraction for my kids that made paying attention to the school secondary. This isn’t always possible and seeing familiar faces may work for some, but it didn’t for us.

Think about what you want to know in advance. These things move quickly and you might only have a few moments of someone’s attention if you have a specific question.

Keep an open mind. You might be pleasantly surprised or disappointed when you least expect it.

Think about what the school will be like for your child. I remember the principal of Eleanor Roosevelt driving home the point that your kid is the one spending 4 years at school, not you.

Pay attention to the students. I generally found kids leading tours and answering questions to be engaged and outgoing. But I remember one tour where neither tour guide knew the answers to basic questions, another where a tour guide fell asleep on the stage behind the speaking principal, another where our guide was chewing gum so hard everyone was talking about it afterwards. Things add up in how you feel about schools.

Commutes, neighborhoods, extra curriculars, college readiness, facilities, trips abroad, community service, arts programs - all these might count in addition to academics - depends on what you’re looking for.


And remember not to get hung up on one perfect school. There are no guarantees in this flawed system. Your child might seem like the perfect candidate and then they don’t get matched. My son got his first choice specialized, third choice main round. Great school but it wasn’t one we’d spent a lot of time thinking about. And they didn’t host a spring open house for accepted students so he had to make his choice a bit in the dark.


It’s hard to remember and keep places sorted out as you see more and more. I’m attaching my tour log below. It might help to print out and use or to use as a guideline/template on things to think about and ask when checking out schools. It’ll help, when you’re putting together lists on applications, to have notes to go back and consult, as this all merges together a bit in your memory.