One of the most common questions we get about high school selection is – “which high school should I go to maximize my chances and prepare my child for admissions?” This is a good forward-looking question, with lots of potential answers. We are going to answer this question with our 7 years of experience seeing thousands of students and from the answers of actual deans from top university.
Private vs. public doesn’t matter as much as you think
We like it when parents approach us asking about middle school vs. high school. It shows a tenacity and forward-thinking nature, and the willingness to provide the student with what they need. On the other hand, students need to be given structured freedom to pursue activities. This means at first putting them into a variety of activities, seeing what they like, and pursuing that. The decision to pursue an activity should come from the student themselves, as they are the one who knows if they like it or not!
So Should It Be Public or Private?
Private schools have more resources. Everyone knows that, including admissions officers. The students we see coming out of these schools often have a well-tailored resume with a set of solid extracurricular activities. What really varies though is the student maturity and thought behind why they are doing these activities. And that maturity shows up in essays, and we can pick up on it immediately. You can bet admissions officers can too.
Acceptance rates from private schools are about equal, if slightly higher, than public schools from our student group. We attribute this small increase – not enough to be a statistically significant standard deviation on a school-by-school basis, to the fact that private school students apply to more schools, have more resources, and are motivated to perform more on average than their public school peers with the same grades.
Public schools have a wide range of qualities. Elite public schools in New York offer more resources or opportunities than most private schools. So it depends on a case-by-case basis.
However, this statistical significance breaks down at the Top 20 schools. At these schools, the number of students applying from private schools negates any systematic effect as well as the fact regional admissions officers know the dynamics and can weight all of these factors.
In the end, students and parents should choose a school at which the student feels comfortable and can excel. We have found no systematic advantage to going to a private school over a public school, and we really believe what the Stanford Dean of Admissions recently said:
“Focus on the student, not necessarily the school”
The Stanford Dean of Admissions recently spoke about focusing on students vs. the school. In the end, if you are aiming for a Top 20 university in the US, chances are against us. They receive tens of thousands of applications and have to choose a bit over 1,000 normally. So they have the pick of the lot. But is it all up to chance? No.
What makes a student really stand out is their extracurricular story, their ability to articulate themselves, and a baseline of test scores. The first two are accomplished from this internal introspection. About 60% of the students who approach us do not have a story or have not thought of this first step. We guide them to blog posts like this to get them back to step 1.