Comparing & Choosing a High School: Interpreting the Data

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The school visits are behind you. Now you have the notes, emails, brochures, comment cards, and memories to process. How do I help decide the destiny of my child? Educational Planner Jeff Knox has some suggestions for making the most sense of all the information you have collected.

Trust Your Evolving Perspective 

When the high school selection process begins, mom and dad (or granny and granddad) may have ideas about where your student should go. Of course, the student may have his or her own ideas based on friends, siblings, or classmates. An initial list or ranking of candidate schools is formed from these sources. Please note that as you progress through the process, the final list may look different than this original ranking. Think of the process as evolving and not set in stone. As you learn more about the schools, and learn about other schools, your list may change. Be open to this and take in all information. Once you enter the decision stage, then you can reconcile your final list with your first take. Only then, you will be armed with many more data points.

Separate Facts from Emotions         

During the course of your visits and research, you’ll be flooded with many pieces of information. It is important to separate actual information from the emotions that may have been intentionally or accidentally infused into this process. Is the environment actually a good fit for our son or are we ignoring something because dad went there 30 years ago? She may like that part of the country, but will the school allow her best self to develop? The school may have a great reputation, but has my son or daughter flourished in the type of culture that exists there. Was it great visit, but the campus was gloomy because of the rain or snow? Similarly, was an uncomfortable afternoon overshadowed by the bright light and refreshing breeze of a fall day? Sit down with yourselves and with each other, and really evaluate what each program will offer your son or daughter over the course of 3 or 4 full years, not just one afternoon or one meeting.

Put the Cart After the Horse

It is a common error to build a school list solely or primarily based on where your student would likely get admitted. This method does not take into account the truly variable nature of the secondary schools admissions process. Remember: your student has not been admitted yet. I don’t want to limit my daughter’s options based on where I think she is most likely to get in. Instead, we want to keep our options open. Let’s build a list of schools we will have the option to say no to, as well as where you may finally go. Is the school a good fit for my student? If we could set the scores aside, where would you choose to have your daughter or son spend the next few years? It can be helpful to avoid making decisions as if you’re already accepted. Instead, put together a group of schools that all work for your student.  

Hopefully, these reminders can help your family sort through the schools and experiences with even more direction and perspective.