Finding the Right High School, Part I: A Student’s Guide

January 12, 2016

By Bonnie Raskin
Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship Manager

 Each high school has its own values and culture, and your best school fit will be one that matches yours. Even before you visit an open house or begin your high school research, take some time to really think about what values are important to you, what are your learning goals, and what type of environment do you want in your optimal high school experience academically, socially, extracurricularly, and as a building block for your next educational steps.

THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT IN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL:  If you want to participate in competitive programs—whether debate, mathematics, or robotics for example—make sure the school offers these electives. If you love art and doing hands-on projects, look for a high school that has lots of opportunities and depth of course offerings in art. If you’re big into sports, look for a school with a good athletic program. If music is your thing—is there an active orchestra, band or chamber music group? Will your passion for drama and performing arts be fueled at this school? Does this school offer its students opportunities to create new clubs, to participate in regional/national competitions, to create policy within the school, to have a voice in the school’s governance?  If you are the type of person who wants leadership opportunities and the ability to foster and enhance existing passions—as well as try new experiences—make sure the school you’re interested in offers these student-directed options.

CONSIDER WHERE YOUR FRIENDS ARE GOING, BUT DON’T LET IT DICTATE YOUR DECISION:  Be confident that you will meet and make friends with like-minded peers if your high school of choice fits your needs and the person you are—or want to grow into throughout your high school experience. This is YOUR decision— and if you are mature enough to be proactive about your high school placement, YOUR needs should be your primary imperative.

SHOULD EVERYONE BE LIKE ME? THE DIVERSITY QUESTION: While you’re going to want to attend a high school where you will find like-minded classmates to befriend, high school should also be a time for you to expand your horizons—to meet, interact with and get to know a diverse student body.  High school is the ideal time for you to become culturally aware and literate in order to become a successful global citizen. You should feel comfortable asking about class content. Does it include other cultures, as well as student experiences such as school-sponsored international trips, exchange programs and digital cultural exchanges (e.g. videoconferencing involving multiple schools, sharing student work with a sister school abroad or using Skype to link different international language students together for conversations)?

DISCUSS YOUR CHOICES WITH YOUR PARENTS:  Dialoguing with parents is a key element of this process. Granted, you may have differing thoughts and opinions about a particular school, but this is a time when the more feedback you have, the better it will be when it comes to assessing all elements of this major decision. Even though YOU will be the one attending a particular school, this is still a decision that will impact other members of your family, and they should be included as factors and a reality check when it comes to funding your education as well as being your transportation to many school-related scenarios. It sure makes things a lot easier when all of you are on the same page and comfortable about your decision.

WHEN YOU GO ON A TOUR ASK QUESTIONS:  Ideally, your tour guide will be a current student at this particular school, and you should be able to ask him/her questions and get honest, direct feedback (understanding, of course, that this will come from their perspective): What electives are there? How are the teachers? What are the clubs? Are there community service and internship options? That’s what tours are for—not only to familiarize YOU with a school, but as an on-site information gathering tool for answers that aren’t always found on a website or viewbook.

DON’T LEAVE A TOUR WISHING YOU ASKED SOMETHING: Remember—you will be spending the next four years at this school. Be sure you want to attend HERE and are able to verbalize why, both to yourself and your parents.

DON’T RULE OUT A SCHOOL FOR ONE THING: Try to look at a school OVERALL and not just for one area of interest of yours.  There are virtually no 100% perfect placements… but you can absolutely get close to your optimal wish list.

TRY TO IMAGINE YOURSELF GOING TO SCHOOL HERE EVERYDAY:  How does it feel walking down the halls? What’s the cafeteria culture like? How are the classes taught? Are the students engaged? Is the teacher engaged? Can you envision yourself there for four years—fulfilled, learning, challenging yourself? If you’re comfortable and happy with many aspects of a particular school, then definitely make it an option.

P.S. HIGH SCHOOL IS NOT JUST A STEPPING STONE TO COLLEGE: It is a profound mistake and misstep to select a high school thinking that ANY school will up your chances to get into the college of your choice.  First of all, you are not the same person you’re going to be four years from now when you apply to college, and these days in the uber-competitive college application process, there are no guarantees regardless of how exceptional a person/student/story you bring to the admissions table. Far better to put college aspirations on the back burner and aim for future success through finding the right high school match that will allow you to put your best self forward in ALL aspects of developing yourself as a student and multi-dimensional person of interest and accomplishment.

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