Beyond the Rankings: 6 Things to Look for in a High School
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
The number of Honors, AP or IB courses offered at each grade level: It is important if you have a high performing child, that the student be challenged by the curriculum, teachers and peers. Honors courses starting in 9th grade in most subject areas are key. Colleges love to see AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses on a student’s transcript because they reflect a uniform, challenging, college-level curriculum. Most admissions offices will use a factor of 1.25 for these courses when calculating high school GPA (i.e. a 4.0 becomes a 5.0).
The extra-curricular offerings and number of participating students: Extracurricular leadership roles and awards often help differentiate the most attractive college applicants. From visual and performing arts facilities to the Lacrosse and soccer fields, activities must be abundant, well-organized and have significant participation. National clubs like Model UN, Future Business Leaders of America and Mock Trial are important indicators that a school reaches beyond the classroom to educate students. Colleges love math teams, debate teams, student government, school newspapers, music ensembles and cutting edge community service organizations. Pay particular attention to the number of state championships, national competitions and awards that the school and students have won.
Teacher credentials: How many of the teachers hold advanced degrees in their field? Where did they attend college or graduate school? Do students talk about how the teachers are inspiring or make learning fun? What percentage of teachers act as a leader or advisor for a club or extracurricular organization? Are teachers willing to stay after class to help students?
College placements over three years: It is important to understand what percentage of students graduate from the high school, how many go on to a two-year college, and how many go on to a four-year college. Most importantly, ask for a list of where students matriculated for college over the last three years.
LD and Academic Support Services: There are two basic types of academic services that you should look for. The first is LD (Learning Disability) diagnosis and support. In the face of the economic downturn, many schools have diminished testing for LDs and dropped support staff. Ask how the school diagnoses LDs, under what circumstances they offer testing, and what services are available. For non-LD students, parents need to understand the level of academic support that is offered. Some schools have extensive professional and peer tutoring programs, other schools have relatively little. If your child struggles with Calculus, Physics or Writing, is there adequate help available?
School culture: Is academic excellence the #1 priority of administrators, teachers and parents? Does the principal have a five-year plan for the school with clear priorities and aggressive goals? What avant-garde programs, innovative learning methodologies and new technologies are being invested in? Is there school spirit and are the sports games, theater productions and concerts packed? Are strong, written anti-bullying policies in place? Is there vibrant parent and community involvement?
Perform your due diligence as a parent in these six areas and then combine the information that you gather with the data points used in the rankings to determine the #1 school for your child.
Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC, a private college admissions counseling company based in Providence. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com
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