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Does Your High School Impact Your Chances of College Admission

Yes.

That’s an entirely unsatisfying answer, so let’s go into more detail.

Which high school you attend correlates with how likely you are to graduate, what scores you’ll get on standardized tests, whether you’ll go to college, and if you do, which you’ll end up attending. Some of these are unrelated to the high school itself, while others are causative relationships. In this article, we’ll explore how your high school impacts your future, and what it means to attend a “good” high school.

Public vs. Private High Schools for College Acceptance

A recent article by Slate discusses how private schools advantage some students in the college admissions process. The main takeaway from the article is that a plurality (though not a majority) of students attending Ivy League and Ivy+ colleges attended private high schools. 

This is notable because the percentage of students at Ivy League schools who attended private high school is far greater than the overall percentage of students who attend private schools vs. public ones in the US. Approximately 10% of students attend a private high school. This is far less than the 40% of Harvard undergraduates who attended a private school.

This does still mean that the majority of students at Ivy League schools attended public high schools, but raises questions as to whether or not private high schools do a better job of preparing their students for college and positioning them for success. While some of them do, there are numerous factors to consider.

Student writing on whiteboard in classroom
Young man writing solution of equation on whiteboard at school during math lesson with professor. Side view of college student writing on white board under the supervision of the teacher. Close up of smart guy using marker to write on white board in university class.

The Benefits of Private School

Just because private schools seem more likely to send students to a top college does not mean all private schools are better than all public schools. The top private schools have more resources and offer more opportunities than the top public schools, but most private schools are not substantially better than the public schools they replace.

What makes one school better than another? The resources they are able to provide. What determines these resources? Money. Money, as the Simpsons so eloquently put it “can be exchanged for goods and services.” 

A school with more resources will have smaller class sizes, more options for courses, more advanced courses, more elaborate art, music, and specialized programs, more educational trips, better materials in the classroom, and more extracurricular support and options.

These all add up. Smaller class sizes and more academic support lead to increased academic performance. More advanced courses prepare students better for college and standardized tests. Extracurricular support and options give students more chances to explore their passions and to demonstrate their inherent talents to colleges. These all line up well with what colleges are looking for in applicants.

Thus top private schools are designed to prepare students for college and to shape them into the sort of scholars and people that colleges are eager to admit. This does not mean all private schools are created equal, however.

How Top Private Schools Stay That Way

Top private schools often have strict requirements for admission, requiring proof of maturity, academic preparation, and capacity. Many of these can be overcome by enrolling children in school early, but low-performing students will be shuffled out eventually. 

Top private schools are also very expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars per semester, and often fundraising on top of that. While it is possible to buy your way into some of these schools, money alone is often not enough, especially for the highest performing schools. This doesn’t mean that being rich doesn’t help, merely that the entire group of people competing for space at the school is rich as well.

Lower-ranking and achieving private schools are far less selective, though still are more selective than public schools, which take every student. The top private schools provide a major boost to college admissions chances, while those in the middle of the pack and below don’t perform any better than public schools.

Not All Public Schools are the Same

Public schools are funded by local property taxes. Thus, in areas with higher real estate prices, the schools are better funded. As with private schools, the more funding a school has, the better it is able to prepare its students for college. 

That said, public schools must take all students who live within their zoned district. This makes them (generally) far less able to control which students they serve than private schools. The exception is selective magnet schools, which are able to take the cream of the crop, and which generally have remarkable resources and student success.

The best public schools, either magnet or otherwise, are equal to private schools when it comes to preparing students for college. Thus the perceived benefit from private schools in college admissions is one of correlation: schools with more resources are better able to prepare students for college, and private schools are more likely to have more resources.

While some schools truly are better than others, in the end, the average success of a student comes down to how many resources are invested in them. Turning a child into a scholar is a long process, and requires patient work from skilled educators. The more resources these educators have to work with, and the fewer students they have to focus on, the better the end results will be.

What Parents Can Do

All parents want to set up their children for success, and getting them into good schools is a great first step. In this section, we’ll describe the concrete steps you can take to ensure your child gets a great education.

Your first step should always be your local public schools. Your tax dollars pay for them, and many public schools provide a wonderful education. Not all public schools are great, however, as we discussed above. If you want a quick overview of a school, search for “School Name school report” on Google.

This will take you to a school’s report, a document the school counselors create and send to colleges. It includes an overview of the school’s standardized test scores, how many students graduate, and how many go to college. While standardized test scores are not a perfect measure, they are a good way to quickly get a sense of a school’s quality and to compare schools.

If the public schools local to you are not up to par, then you should consider magnet schools, charter schools, or private schools. Each of these has pros and cons but can provide a great educational experience.

Public magnet schools are incredibly competitive, but often provide some of the best educational opportunities in a city. Charter schools can be great, or terrible, just like public schools, so you should look into them carefully before taking the plunge. 

Some private schools are better than others, and the better they are, the more competitive admissions can be. Many private schools are also religiously affiliated, which heavily impacts the culture of the school. We recommend making sure you are ok with a private school’s culture and values before enrolling your child.

We’ve created a guide to the best high schools in Houston, in order to help you know what schools to look at. While the guide is not exhaustive, it covers regional public schools, public magnet schools, secular private schools, and religious private schools. We recommend you research schools on your own as well, because you know your child and their needs best.

Final Thoughts

There is an advantage in college admissions for students who attend elite private schools. The amount of resources these schools have to invest in educating and preparing students for college is immense, and this in turn greatly increases these students’ chances of admission. Public schools are able to do this as well, but again, the amount of resources these schools have access to is generally the best predictor of the outcomes for their students.

Applying to college is stressful for students and parents alike, but parents often start worrying far earlier. Finding the right high school can ease this stress, letting parents be confident in the knowledge that their student is being prepared for college by experts. We’ve created a guide to the best high schools in Houston, in order to help parents know what schools to look at. If you want more advice on finding the best high school for your student, schedule a free consultation today. We’re always happy to hear from you.

5/5
Wendy Y.
Parent
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
5/5
Arda E.
Student
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
5/5
Samson S.
Parent
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!