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College Counselor: Applying to high school

Q: We are trying to decide between two high schools for my son, who is a bright and articulate young man with very strong science and math skills. Both high schools stress science. One has been around for 50 years, a "specialized" high school with a very good reputation. The other is one of the newly-organized programs in an old neighborhood high school. Which school will college admissions offices look at better? What are the benefits and negatives of each program?

A: For the benefits of each of these high schools, you ought to go to the information on the individual school page on Insideschools. There is no "right" answer for all students. Which school will involve more commuting? How large are the classes? What is the overall atmosphere of each school?

In terms of college, the answer is this: when college admissions readers look at your son's application, they will look at what he was offered, and what he classes he took.

If, for example, a school offers 15 AP courses, and he took only two, they will not be terribly impressed. They will see a picture of academic fear, even if his grades are strong. They will not compare your son's record, say, at the specialized school with applicants who chose to attend the neighborhood school. They will only look at him in the context of his own school.

To better inform colleges, every high school in the U.S. prepares a document called the profile. A "profile" can range from a slick, full-color brochure to a simple photocopied sheet. But the information contained is always standard: the size of the school, the number of students, the number of teachers, the courses offered, the grading scale used, the percentage of graduates who go on to higher education, and the colleges and universities where the students have been accepted and enrolled. More elaborate profiles will also contain information on average SAT scores, Regents scores, AP statistics, clubs and other extra-curricular activities and any special distinctions the school has earned.

Here are some other questions to consider: What are the average Regents exam scores at these schools? Where have the recent graduates of each school gone on to college? Which school offers more of the extra-curricular activities that will give your son the opportunity to shine? If he is a math-science kid, does the school have a competitive math team?

Beyond looking at college acceptances, remember that your son will be in high school for as long as he will be in college. These are important years, and he should enjoy them. Visit each school and think of where he has the better chance of having an exciting and stimulating and happy four years! It might help him to be able to speak with currently-enrolled students in each school. He has a little more time now that the due date for high school applications has been pushed back a week to Dec. 10.

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