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In order to get into a selective college, is it better to send your smart student to a HS with good students or to a competit...


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pjanos January 25, 2013


If your smart child goes to a standard high school, he/she could be in the top 1-percent of his/her class. If your smart child goes to a super-competitive, highly-academic school, he/she could be in the 50-percent of his/her class. Do colleges look only at GPAs or do they give weight/merit to the grades based on the high school's academic rigor?

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MagnetMom January 26, 2013


Hi pjanos, and welcome to the Parent Community at GreatSchools.

It's quite a conundrum, isn't it? And it goes both ways. Colleges look at GPA, they look at SAT scores, and they look at the courses available at the school. Selective colleges want to see that a student took the most challenging coursework available to them. I'm not sure I believe, though, that a child in the top 1% at a regular high school would suddenly be at the 50th percentile at another.

Things to consider with the competitive school: More rigor means an easier transition to college, regardless of the college. Some well-regarded high schools do seem to have direct access to certain college recruiters. But a 4.0, incredible extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation may not be enough if there are a dozen kids ahead of your child's rank and your child is applying to all the same schools as the ones ahead.

A less competitive high school might not offer the full complement of coursework to make the child attractive to the colleges he or she is interested in. And if the child were to get into a really competitive college, without the rigor, the transition might be a very big hurdle.

All things being equal, I'd send my child to the most competitive school with courses in his or her area of interest. It might not be the most competitive high school but it would be comprehensive and offer a full complement of courses in the area of his or her interest.

Good luck, and let us know what you decide.

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TeacherParent January 28, 2013


They absolutely give weight to the high school's reputation for academic vigor. They keep an eye also on the high school's performance on SATS and on Achievement tests. Last but not least at all, they keep a close eye on the school's overall GPA - which is arrived at by averaging all the students' GPAs together.
And actually a very high overall GPA for a high school is sadly not a good thing - colleges then leap to the assumption of 'grade inflation' and discount the good grades a student earned there.

That's a dirty secret at the heart of American education - the higher the grades in a school, the less favored the school is by colleges. When I taught high school, our college guidance counselor was always harping on us to NOT be generous with grading. In other words, some kids need to do poorly so other kids can get into the big name colleges.

Nowhere is there a more delicate balancing act then in the private schools where parents send their children to have them do well. Yet if the private school somehow does have all its students do well, that school will be thought to have 'grade inflation' and a college looks less well on that school's graduates.

In short, where a student goes to high school does matter to colleges.

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MagnetMom January 29, 2013


One other thought, pjanos. I live in an economically deprived area, where so many of the students come from challenging backgrounds. The overall test scores aren't necessarily the greatest.

These kids do get into selective schools--from Ivies to UCs (UCLA received 90,000 applications in November). And they do graduate.

So they do look beyond grades, and look at what courses are available, compared to what the students took.

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modance January 29, 2013


To add to Teacher parent's comments...
If you send your kid to an elite academic school all of the kids will be college bound overacheivers. If you send your kid to a solid high school there will be a mix of kids. The Ivies don't want 20 kids from the same small elite school, they want diversity. Better to be the top one kid applying to a top college than one of 20 kids applying to the same top school.

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pigtoria January 30, 2013


Hi Pjanos....

You've asked a question that I actually have very strong opinion about - one that not everyone agree with. Yes I strongly believe that college looks at class rank. In fact, it may be one of the most important factor - alongside with GPA and standardized test scores. So start strategizing in high school. I'll share two stories and you'll see how strategy really works for one family. These are sons and daughters of my friends.

Family 1: The son is very smart and decided to go the most competitive high school in SF (GS rating: 10). He thrived in high school - began taking all AP classes in sophomore. He got all A's in his AP classes and passed the AP exams with flying colors. He graduated with a GPA probably near to 5.0 than 4.0. He got almost a perfect score on his SAT. But the bad news came around March of last year when he got rejected to all the universities he wanted to get into which included UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Davis.

Family 2: The family lives within walking distance to a solid high school (GS rating 7). But the mom decided to send her two daughters to a low performing high school across town (GS rating: 3) The girls graduated with a GPA around 3.6. They both got into UC Berkeley. In the low performing school, the 3.6 definitely put them in the top 1% percentile.

I totally agree with "modance' above that elite universities do not want all their students from the same high school. They would take someone with a descent GPA from a low performing high school than someone with a perfect GPA from competitive high school. Above are just two incidents that I am sharing but there are tons more of these that I've heard and know of.

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tkpasq February 3, 2013


Go to the high achieving school, a selective college recognizes the academic schools. (many admission reps have a relationship with the high academic schools anyway) Have you asked each school you are interested in how many colleges visit their schools? also ask to see a list of the colleges. Some schools will put JC's and for profit schools on their list, so be careful.

Colleges visit schools they are interested in, a good example is Lowell High school. If you look at their website, on their VICCI calendar you will find loads of colleges who give presentations to Lowell students ~ both high ranking colleges and international ones as well.

As a Lowell VICCI volunteer, I always ask what other high schools the college reps are visiting in the bay area, and it's usually Lowell, other high achieving public high schools and "certain" private schools.

The bottom line is send your child to the best "fit" high school, they will go on to a great college. It always works out for the best.

Another note: Many colleges use the holistic approach in accepting students, at some of the UC's, the holistic points makes half of the total points.

Good luck
PS, sorry for the typos, my keyboard is acting a bit strange right now.

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chrisea13 February 4, 2013


I have to agree with pigtoria.

Im a parent of 4 in an area with "good" schools and I have seen my child and her friends' (all honors students) and their experience with college searches. High school counselors advise kids to take on extraordinary courseloads and extracurriculars to show that they are 'well rounded' and colleges repeat this fallicy by saying they look at the 'whole student.'

I can attest to the salutatorian with amazing extra curriculars and awards, perfect sat scores that did not get into a single IVY, and applied to 6.

Or, the above average (3.7) student who took multiple AP and college level classes thinking the rigor of the coursework would show. A community leader, classical music performer and athlete that did NOT have stellar SAT scores, and did not get a single acceptance to a large university that was applied to.

The list goes on. The pressues that are put on our children to be amazing and spectacular to "stand out" and shine above their peers is overwhelming, when it basically comes down to test scores. Test scores and demographics.

Colleges want the most diverse, and the smartest. Plain and simple. It increases thier profile and marketability.

It is SO frustrating to put your child in the 'best' public school you can, advise them to take honors and AP classes, excel in extracurricular activites, have that "diverse college portfolio" (as quoted by our guidance counselors) and have them get rejected by school after school. This causes them to be disenchanted and disbelieving of the entire college process.

Save your stress over which school is better or whatnot.

Im not putting that pressure on my next college bound child, and this one will still get into college and probably be much happier.

sorry for typos :)

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tkpasq February 4, 2013


Pigoria and Chrisea13,

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when the high achieving students filled their college apps and supplement who were rejected. Year after year I witnessed the same as you both. However, I am finding a pattern with the students who did get accepted to the top tier schools - Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UCB etc...
Great small top tier schools - Swarthmore, Amherst, Williams etc....

GPA (both weighted and unweighted), test scores, rigor of coursework always are a huge component in your college app, however there are so many other things you have to nail.
Like a great interview, solid correspondence with a college rep., excellent letters of recommendations from your teachers, councilors, volunteer agencies and most of all ~ the dreaded essay and supplements.

If they did take AP classes, what score did they get in their AP tests? what did they get in their Subject test score? (esp. if it's connected to their major) If a high school offers many AP classes, did the student take enough? Or just enough? compared to the other students in their school and the pool of applicants to that particular college that year. Did they take classes at a college in the summer? On the students EC's was there depth? and a solid story behind why he/she volunteered at this agency?
I can go on and on about what college readers look in a college application.

Let's not forget there are many private college councilors that cost thousands of dollars who are helping high school students with their college apps - I feel this really hurts great students who do not have the money to pay for the extra help.

Finding a college shouldn't be this way, but until our society changes their values, we will continue breaking so many hearts each year.







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