Choosing the right high school can be an overwhelming process – private, public, magnet, charter, or parochial – how does one decide?
The most important factor when choosing a high school is to find the “best fit” for an individual student. This can be challenging, as each school offers unique opportunities and teaching approaches. Before making this important decision, parents and students should understand the range of available options. Also, know that some schools offer financial aid and others award merit scholarships.
- Look at the School’s Mission Statement
A school’s philosophy is often stated in a vision or mission statement and is articulated in many ways online and through print materials distributed by the school. When visiting the schools and talking to educators, parents and students, see if the school’s practices actually align with that philosophy.
- Check out the School’s academic track record. Whether or not a child is a top academic performer, an academic program with proven results should be a priority. Consider: (1) SAT, ACT and other test scores as compared to other schools in the district, state, and nation. (2) Awards for excellence won by students. It is important to understand the academic environment your child will enter. Look at any measurement over a period of several years.
- Know what learning programs are in place and related results. Schools offer different programs such as dual enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. Other schools offer programs geared towards specific interests like dance, theatre, broadcasting or marine biology. Find out what classes are offered. Then ask about the level of student participation in the programs/classes and what percent of students achieve success. For example, what percentage of students who tried scored 4 or 5 on the AP test or gained entrance into a specific arts-related college program.
- Determine the culture of the school. In other words, what does the school truly value? Does the majority of praise and recognition go to athletes, students who achieve academically, or students of parents who donate the most money? Ask teachers, parents, and students for their points of view.
- Ask what colleges students apply to and gain acceptance to. Students at strong schools are accepted to a variety of quality colleges, including highly selective universities and programs. Students should also have gone to a diverse range of schools. This may indicate that a School is treating and helping students as individuals. Parents will also want to look into the process in place to assist all students and their parents in making postgraduate plans.
- Ask how the teachers engage with students. Important things to know are the student/faculty ratio at the school and average class sizes. Then, are teachers regularly available before school and at times during the day? Schools that facilitate student-teacher relationships are generally well-regarded.
- Know the school’s commitment to holistic development. A well-rounded school offers a wide variety of extracurricular activities. For example, schools should have programs in the arts and athletics, as well as a broad range of active teams and clubs. School-related activities are an important part of a student’s development and can also be a significant factor in college admissions. If your student has a particular interest, ask if students can initiate their own activities and clubs.
- Know what technology and resources are available. At some schools, students have computers, tablets, etc. At other schools, technology may just be there for show. Look into how students are utilizing the technology in class and at home. Then, at schools that use technology, ask about the level of tech support.
- Meet the school’s leaders. The leadership at a school should be strong and stable. Meet the head of the high school and the administrator responsible for your student’s grade level. Ask parents at the school about their interactions with the leaders, their level of trust in school leadership, and what opportunities they have to interact. A high-level of turnover in a school’s leadership is not a good sign.
- Find out what opportunities parents have to be involved. Good schools communicate with parents and students. Find out how, and how frequently, this occurs. Ask what opportunities exist for parental involvement. A PTA or other parent group helps parents know more about the school, the administration, and the teachers.
- Look for diversity. Knowledge of different cultures and exposure to diverse backgrounds and opinions will be a critical success factor in a student’s future.
- Address special needs. If your student has special needs, ask to talk to other parents who have had students at the school with that special need. Special needs also includes students who tend to underachieve. Find out what extra support these children receive, how they are accessed and if there is an extra cost. A school’s positive results with similar special needs students help ensure that your student’s needs will be met.
- Inquire about areas of excellence. If your student has a special talent and passion in one academic area, find out from principals, counselors, and teachers about the practices, the classes offered, and the records of excellence for that specific interest. For example does the school encourage and/or facilitate independent research, working with mentors, internships, dual-enrollment, participating in science fairs, or entering contests such as the Westinghouse, and/or taking college classes.
- Feel if there is a positive energy throughout the school. Happy, engaged students and teachers typically work hardest and perform best.
As you look for the right high school for your student, keep in mind that you are a customer. It’s your job to ask questions. Quality schools and educators will appreciate that you’re trying to truly understand schools you are considering. For help navigating the high school placement process and for flexible SSAT testing to private schools, contact the experts at International College Counselors.