The Blacktop Blog

Selecting the right high school doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Doing your homework early on can provide you with all the information you need to analyze and review all the school options. Here’s how to make the most of the experience so you can make the best choice possible when it comes to high school fit.

1. Get to know the school well

Starting in seventh grade, attend high school open houses, plays, sports events and visit days (if available) as well as other school community events to get a feel for the school culture and student body as a whole. This is true for both private and public schools. Visit the school multiple times at a variety of different days and times. Document your initial reactions and things that stick out for you. Some students find it helpful to keep a list of pros and cons so they can refer back to their list after all of the school visits. Don’t forget to spend time reviewing the schools websites to learn more about their programs, philosophy and culture. Websites usually have lots of in-depth information for students and parents alike.

2. Shadow if possible

A shadow visit will give you the best illustration of a day in the life of a student at that school. Shadow visits are available at almost all private schools and at some public schools. Start looking at the schools’ websites in early August to get your shadow dates scheduled. Some schools are completely booked by the time September begins.

3. Look at the whole school

If you are able to shadow, make sure to look at the school as a whole and don’t focus solely on your shadow buddy’s experience. Your shadow buddy may not have a lot in common with you but the school may still be a great fit.

4. Decide what’s most important to you

Think about what you need at the high school you choose and what you want to have at that school? Needs and wants are different things. Think about what these needs and wants when you visit schools and ask questions. The high school administrators and current students have a wealth of information to share.

5. Do you have any special circumstances that need to be considered?

If you have a learning difference, does the school have a program for you? Look on the school’s website or ask the admissions director to find out more about programs that fit your needs. All schools want their students to be successful so they will be forthcoming about what supports they have for you.

6. What are you really looking for in a school?

Ask yourself what you love most about school? As an Almaden Country Day School student you’ve been exposed to opportunities, enrichments and electives which may have uncovered a special interest or passion. Make a list of your interests and look at what the high schools offer. Do you enjoy music, theater, art, coding, science, or math, or a combination of these? High schools have a reputation for excelling in specific programs. If you are a student who knows what you might like to study (perhaps even in the future at the university level), or if you have a passion for a particular extra-curricular activity, look at schools that have strong programs in those areas. If you don’t have a particular passion (yet!) look at a school with a wide variety of activities and clubs so that you can get involved and try new things.

7. Students should consider these attributes:

  • Competitive sports teams - Is my sport available and, if so, will I be able to play?
  • A drama department, visual arts - Will I be able to participate?
  • Community service - Is there a requirement?
  • Religious affiliation - Are you comfortable with the way religion is presented and the expectation of a student’s participation in faith-based activities?
  • Use of technology and resources - How is technology used?
  • Extracurricular activities such as competitive sports teams, clubs, speech & debate team, band - Does the school offer activities that you are interested in or is there a chance to start your own club?
  • School newspaper or publication - Do these exist and when can a student participate?
  • Student government - How is that organized?
  • Foreign language - What languages does the school offer?
  • School culture - Do you feel comfortable with the school culture?
  • Approachability and accessibility of teachers - How accessible/approachable are the teachers?

8. Parents and students should consider:

  • Commute and distance from home. Is transportation available?
  • Uniform school - Is this important?
  • Parent engagement - Are their opportunities to volunteer if parents want to?
  • College attendance rate - What percentage of graduates attend college?
  • Student-teacher ratio - What is the average student-teacher ratio?
  • School size and class size - How large is the freshman class and how many students total?
  • Diversity - What is the breakdown?
  • Honors and AP classes offered - How many honors and AP classes are offered and what are they?
  • Support as students apply to college - What kind of college counseling is available?
  • Curriculum - Does the school offer a college prep curriculum. If not, what is the focus?
  • Cost and financial aid - Is there a required service component to the aid?

9. Who should make the decision?

When visiting a school, ask yourself if you can see yourself as a student at the school? Trust your feelings. In addition, parents may think they know what’s best for their future high schooler and should be responsible for this important decision. Time and time again, however, we have seen how critical it is that the student weighs in on the decision and, in fact, is the primary decision maker. The decision about where to study for four years in high school is an important and personal decision. Classmates may try to sway you but you know what fits you best. Trust your instincts.

10. How can ACDS help?

Like other schools, ACDS offers informational nights to help families understand the high school process, to hear first person testimonials from our alumni, and to hear from admissions officers from neighboring high schools. Middle schoolers and their parents should attend as many of these as possible to learn up-to-date information about not only private schools’ admissions and transitions but also public schools’ enrollment and transitions. Attending these sessions and reviewing the high school application information on the ACDS website will also help outline the process during the seventh and eighth grade years. Knowing what to expect can ease any concerns for the student and the parents.