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Picking a High School? Forget about College (for now)

Question: My child is in 7th grade right now and my husband and I are trying to figure out which is the best high school for him to attend so that he can get into the best colleges? If he attends a private school, does he have a guarantee at one of these schools?

 

Answer: As the parent of an almost-teenager, you should be asking instead, “how do I choose the school that is going to provide the best environment and opportunities for my son to be successful?” At this age, your son is still getting his academic footing, exploring different fields, dabbling in various extracurricular activities, and navigating more complex social scenarios. He is not, I guarantee you, thinking about college. While I understand the stress of being a parent and wanting the best for him, take a breath and a step back and think about what is best for him right now. By doing so you are going to set him up for success and happiness, both keys to college admissions half a decade from now.

 

So, let’s first tackle your question about having a guarantee into a specific tier of colleges by attending private school. Short answer – there are no guarantees. Even the most qualified applicants are often denied admission into the top schools and no school or person can guarantee your child anything. If someone tells you the opposite, be cautious. If you are comparing offerings and environment, you should consider different school types in addition to private schools.

 

Keep in mind that the high school experience is what your son will make of it, so make sure to involve your son in the selection process. These questions can serve as a guideline as you and your child pick a high school together:

 

  • How accessible are the teachers?
  • How demanding are the courses? What is the average homework load?
  • What extracurricular opportunities are available and accessible?
  • What is the general student body like? Is it diverse? Too focused on academics? Too focused on sports? Well-balanced?
  • How flexible are the curriculums and can students take double math, English, or science courses?
  • How do students fare on standardized tests?
  • Will the school help students plan summer activities?
  • How does the college admissions process work? How regularly do students meet with their counselors?
  • What types of social activities are available for students?
  • And for the time being, you should think about issues related to the pandemic – How are courses working online? What is your timeline for going back to school in-person? How has the school experience been impacted?

 

First, go to your local high school and ask these questions. Have your son walk around, talk to current and past students. You also should talk to parents about their experiences at school. But always take everything with a grain of salt.

 

Repeat the same for the private, charter, magnet, or other public schools you are considering. The only additional question you should ask a private school is anticipated versus actual costs. Are families expected to make contributions to the school? Are there additional expenses like computers or iPads that are mandatory? And are books included or an additional cost? You don’t want to sign up for a private school and then get saddled with unexpected costs that may have swayed you toward a different school.

 

Once you have done your due diligence. Sit down with your son and ask him his thoughts and share yours. While he may be less focused on the academic opportunities and you less focused on the extracurricular and social opportunities, you want to find a happy middle ground. Chances are you will both have felt at home at one of the schools you visited. Pick the school that you feel will best nurture your son’s potential and still challenge him to beyond his limits. Pick a school that shares your philosophy on helping children to be successful. Pick the school not because your son has a guarantee of a college, but because it is going to give him the tools to be successful no matter which college he will eventually attend. 

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