Some questions you can ask include:
- How many applicants were there for how many open places? If the ratio is 4:1 or higher, the school is very competitive. If 1:1, much less so.
- Where did last year's graduates go? Most schools will gladly give you a list to examine.
- What about faculty turnover? A 10-20% turnover is fairly normal. But telltale signs of potential problems would be a high rate of turnover (40% or higher). A school which treats its faculty well is going to have a relatively low turnover rate.
- Are you serious about getting your child into a top tier college? Ask about AP courses and the IB if offered.
- Find out where the faculty studied. How many have advanced degrees?
- How long has the current Head been at the school? It is a perfectly legitimate question to ask. If there have been several Heads in recent years, make it your business to find out why.
- How large is the endowment? A small endowment means the tuition hikes are going to be needed to offset budget shortfalls.
Don't make notes during the interview. That's just not good form. As soon as you reach your car, make notes about the answers you got to all your questions.
Evaluating schools is like picking stocks. The financials may look fine at first glance, but you must insist on knowing what is really behind the figures. Being able to look an admissions staffer in the eye and ask your questions all the while gauging their response is a very useful exercise. It is another reason why you must visit schools which you have on your short list.