Q: I'm applying to high school. How much does a student's high school affect college admissions? Do colleges look only at the big name NYC high schools? What chance does a senior have at one of the small high schools or a neighborhood school that colleges have never heard of?
A: We have heard the same question being asked about public vs. private schools. If I go to a private school, won't I have a better chance of getting into the University of X? And the answer is no. Depending upon which high school you choose, your experience will be different. You may be exposed to a greater variety of extra-curricular activities, or not. You may be in smaller or larger classes. It may take you 20 minutes or and hour and a half to get to school. But students at all high schools have a chance to get into their choice of colleges! Simply attending a school with a well-known name is not – by itself – an automatic guarantee of admission. This applies to all schools, public or private.
Likewise, attending a smaller, even a brand-new high school will not condemn you to being rejected everywhere. Please remember that at most colleges and universities, applications are read by committees of human beings who look at all the details. If you are a strong student, you will shine wherever you go. In fact, you might shine more brightly at a small high school. Some factors will remain the same, wherever you attend. You still need to have SAT/ACT and Regents scores. You still need to have a compelling personal statement. Your choice of classes may differ according to what is available at each high school – but admission officers examine applications in the context of the individual high school. A student at X H.S. may have more AP courses on the transcript than someone at Y H.S. – but that's because X offers more. That does not affect the student from Y.
You may think, sure, but Cornell will take more students from Stuyvesant than they will from, say, the Museum School. For one thing, Stuyvesant is much larger. It simply has more seniors, so a larger proportion may be accepted at a certain college. It bears repeating: colleges will assess applicants in the context of their own high school. There is no quota system by which only a certain number from each school may be admitted. You will have an equal chance of getting into Cornell from wherever you apply IF you can demonstrate intellectual curiosity, academic excellence and commitment to activities and community
Every high school should have a "profile," which explains the curricular offerings, the school mission and program, and facts about the school. Each high school is responsible for conveying to college admissions offices the individual nature of the school. If your high school is not that well known, it is your school's job to make itself better known to the colleges.
Another thing: high school is NOT just about where the seniors get into college. You have four years ahead of you that should be exciting, rewarding, stimulating, and enjoyable. You should enjoy all the challenges and discoveries of your teenage years. You will never be this young again. You may flourish at a huge high school with all its offerings, or you may be happier in a smaller, more personalized environment. Choose a place where you feel you will thrive; do not go for a name or a size in itself. You can make yourself into a compelling college applicant no matter what school you attend.