PCS orders for a move to the DC metro area can be daunting, especially for first-timers. The good news is there are many wonderful, military-friendly neighborhoods to be found in Northern Virginia. The key is to find a community that fits your family.
At the top of the “must have” list for parents is finding the school well-suited for their child’s personality and interests. Northern Virginia school districts all have excellent reputations when compared nationally and that is a relief for a lot of parents.
Whether purchasing or renting a home, you’ll want to research the schools as best you can. By law, real estate agents are not allowed to recommend a school or school district but they can provide resources for you to make a more informed decision.
Having worked with many military families, the best advice is, once you’ve identified a school, find a parent with a child in the school and ask as many questions as you can. There’s nothing quite like getting real-time feedback about a school.
The market for rentals and homes for sale can be especially competitive during the spring/early summer moving season. It’s wise to identify more than one school/neighborhood to look at, but if you have your heart set on one particular school, you will have to make quick decisions if you find the perfect home for your families needs. Rentals and Homes for Sale will go quickly during the high season.
If at all possible, visit the school with your child and go on a tour. If it’s a high school, visit the College and Career center and speak with the center’s director. This will be an important resource for your child during college applications, essay writing, SAT/ACT prep, scholarships or if they decide to job hunt. Depending on your child’s interest in sports or performing arts, you may also request to meet with the coach or program director.
Should you home school your child, there are many resources available to you and proximity to your preferred program may influence your neighborhood choice. Many homeschool groups take advantage of being so close to Washington DC. There are many programs and tours offered free (or at a reduced group cost).
Checking the scores on Great Schools might give you test results rankings but doesn’t give the complete picture of the teachers, administrators and fellow students. Be sure to check the parent reviews, if the school has highly rated programs and also other reasons the test scores may be lower than other schools. Is there a high student population of English as a second language?
Some schools are known for particular programs. The school might win Webby Awards for theater performances or have a excellent Football team. An example of a stellar program is the Dance Team at West Springfield High School. The team has won the National Dance Competition in Florida year-after-year and, in 2011, competed on the show America’s Got Talent making it to the semi-finals. For a look at one of their most memorable performances, click here. But if your child doesn’t desire being on an intense team, there are several schools which provide dance classes and also have competitive dance teams.
For students interested in music, several schools in 2016 received the coveted Blue Ribbon Award in Music which means Band, Chorus and Orchestra all received “superior performance as evidenced by district festival rating from each of the performing groups.” If your child is musically inclined, check if the school you’re interested in is on the list by clicking here.
Some of the schools have an Academy attached to them. For example, West Potomac High School is next door to West Potomac Academy which is a Governor’s Health Sciences academy offering courses such as Biotechnology Foundations, Dental Careers, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Pharmacy technician, etc. A student doesn’t have to go to West Potomac High School in order to take classes at the Academy but transportation to the Academy is up to the student/parent. For a complete list of courses, click here.
Whether they’ve been turned down because of their three cats or just couldn’t find the right home to rent in the school pyramid they desire, some would be renters become house hunters. If you find yourself in this situation, choosing a buyer’s agent who knows the area well, is a full time realtor and has experience working with military families is vital to finding a great home in a competitive market. Working with an agent who keeps both short terms goals (right school, community, commute) and long-term goals (becoming a landlord) at the forefront is critical to having a good experience as a househunter, homeowner and eventually a landlord or seller.
Understanding the unique situations and time constraints which inevitably arise during a PCS is something I’ve learned from helping military families. Give me a call, I’d love to chat with you about your home buying goals.
- Fairfax County Public Schools (Alexandria VA)
- Alexandria City Public Schools (City of Alexandria)
- Arlington County Public Schools
- Loudoun County
- Falls Church Public Schools
- Private Schools in Fairfax County (there are over 200 in the area)