The College Conversation: Private school won't secure success

July 23, 2010|By Lisa McLaughlin

There's a prevailing myth that a private high school experience, one that offers small class sizes, an intimate school setting where everybody knows your kid's name, and more opportunities for leadership, "looks better" when students apply to college.

Marketing efforts in our local private schools drive up this belief. In the summer months, advertisements boast the Ivy League and selective college acceptances of recent grads.

"Look where our kids are going," the ads imply. "We know how to get your kid in!"

Is it really easier for private school applicants to gain admission to a highly selective institution simply because they attend a school with a stellar academic reputation?


You might be shocked to learn that when vying for top spots at the nation's most selective colleges it's actually better to come from a lower-performing public high school. And I mean bottom of the heap.

All right, let's put this one in context.

It's impossible for colleges to compare apples to apples when evaluating applicants from thousands of high schools. Consider the types of high schools in and around our beach cities within a 25-mile radius. Independent schools will be compared with parochial schools to public schools among several school districts, etc. How do colleges level the playing field to equalize the opportunities for admission?

The first piece of information the college reviews is the high school's profile. Within a two-page document, some formatted as glossy brochures with fancy clip art (there will always be those overachievers in the school profile category), certain information will be glaringly obvious to the college as they work to understand the applicant in context.

The data should provide the college with everything it needs to fairly evaluate the opportunities the student had at his or her high school and then, what she or he chose to take advantage of.

From the school's mission statement to the enrollment by grade level to the average class size, every statistic is scrutinized in order to make better sense of the file that lay before the admissions reader.

Some of my favorite key facts within the profile are the percentage of students at the high school who earn a specific grade-point average. Twenty-five percent of students earn higher than a 4.0 from The Best Private School Ever? That reeks of grade inflation.

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