4 years ago
Admissions Advice

Are going to private high schools worth it?

I'm in a private school system. I'm wondering if attending a private high school is worth it; if I go to a public high school, it'll be easier to have higher tiers for extracurriculars, but someone said that colleges consider private high schools impressive. So, does going to a private high school mean lower tiers are just as important? Should I attend a public high school, meaning I'll get higher tiers, but will this mean colleges won't be as impressed?


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2 answers

Accepted Answer
4 years ago

Hello! I think @annaitem has given you some great advice so far, and I'll try to add to it a bit and maybe approach from a different perspective. A lot of this really depends on the specific schools, not just public vs. private, because there are a lot of public schools that are better than/have more resources than a lot of private schools. I'll try to break that down for you.

First, an important piece to this answer that a lot of people don't realize is that colleges will always, without exception, judge your accomplishments and profile in context with the school that you go to. So if you go to a school with a lot of high-achieving students (as you likely would at a prestigious private school), you may get added consideration by having that school's name on your resume, but you'll also be competing with all those other students for the same set of spots at that college. In some ways, that means the advantages and disadvantages of these options will equal each other out, and how you perform at each place is really what matters (which is why fit is definitely very important).

I'd also say that it heavily depends on your public school options. If your local public high school is well-funded and well-regarded, offers lots of APs, and generally has students applying and getting into these colleges you're interested in every year, it probably wouldn't make much of a difference to attend most private schools instead. On the other hand, if your high school doesn't have a lot of offerings or opportunities for students to do those things, even though you'd be compared in either situation with the students around you, you might end up with more opportunities if you were to go to a private school. (At the same time though, people do get into Ivy League schools from low-ranking or underfunded high schools—it's not impossible from anywhere.)

Some schools will also "feed" into specific colleges, often because they're located nearby and have a lot of students applying to that school every year. If you see a school with an extremely high number of students attending a certain college every year, then it's likely a feeder high school for that college—it means that there's a pre-existing relationship between that college's admissions office and that high school, and that it's probably easier for students there to get into that college than elsewhere.

Also, as a sidenote, I want to clarify what the process is for studying medicine. "Medicine" is not an available undergraduate major at any colleges—it's something you would study in medical school, which is a kind of graduate school. Undergraduates in college do what's called a "pre-med" track, which means that they take the set of courses required for admission into medical schools (often while studying a major like Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Public Health, or something similar), and prepare to apply to those MD programs in their senior year or after they graduate. The full experience, from starting undergrad to finishing medical school, usually takes at least 8 years (if not longer), so you have a long road ahead of you still. As a high school student, if that's the path you're interested in, you should try to volunteer (if possible) in hospitals or clinics and gain experience shadowing doctors and physicians. This will be hard to do for a while, and many internships will not be available until you're 16 for legal and safety reasons, but that will give you the best preparation for pursuing a pre-med track in college.

You could also look into BS/MD programs if you're really serious about medicine. BS/MD programs are combined degree programs where you'll be simultaneously admitted into a college's undergraduate and medical programs. That means you'd spend 7-8 years at one school, first completing their undergrad requirements for your Bachelor's degree and then going through their medical school. Out of the "top" schools you're interested in, Brown University, Northwestern University, Rice University, and Washington University in St. Louis have these types of programs, as well as schools like Case Western Reserve University, Boston University, Penn State, the University of Miami, and RPI. These programs are extremely competitive—they are more or less the most difficult undergraduate programs to get into anywhere, and getting into the BS/MD program at Penn State or RPI is still more difficult than getting into Harvard. But if you're really serious about medicine, you should look into them.

Back to public vs. private schools, it really should come down to fit and which school you think would offer you better opportunities. Ending your private school career with lower tier activities and fewer accomplishments than a potential public school career could actually end up disadvantaging you in the end—because while you do have the private school's name on your resume, you're competing with all the other students there, and that would make having lower tier activities actually worse. But, a high-achieving student at a well-regarded private school will usually have a great shot at most colleges—just as a high-achieving student at a well-regarded public school will.

4 years ago

Great question! I'm currently a junior at a public school, and I chose to attend my school over a private school. I'd say it ultimately comes down to which school is a better fit for you personally. See if you can "shadow" at each school and see which one has a better "vibe" and would fit with your personality and desires better. You can specifically ask for a student to host you who is interested in medicine or science especially so you can experience those classes during your day shadowing at the school. Typically private schools have a more competitive environment, but certain public schools can be very competitive too.

Look at the course offerings as well-- see if you can get a list of all the AP classes each school offers. (AP classes stand for Advanced Placement and you can earn college credit if you do well on the course's national exam. Colleges love to see AP's on your transcript.) For a medical major, you're going to want to take the highest level science courses possible, and also challenging math courses. The school with more AP's definitely should score more points. IB is also very impressive-- that's like a whole program version of AP. Not many schools have it, though.

You can also try and find what's called a "list of matriculated students" for each school-- this is a list of where their students get into for college. This can give you better insight on the academics there. If you can't find it, you could e-mail somebody at the school and ask if they have one to share. Also ask for/try to find average SAT scores if you can.

The cost of private high schools oftentimes does not match up to the actual quality of education and especially opportunity. You should probably have a lot more opportunity, similar to the awards and competitions you've already done, in a public school. All the "state level" accomplishments are sometimes not available at private schools.

Now, if you have a very prestigious private school that you're looking at, now we're talking. Check out the rankings for the schools you're looking at on greatschools.org, niche.com, and usnews.com. These sites can give great insights onto the stats of the students there. It is true, however, that unless you're at a very good smaller school, a high ranking at a larger school looks better than a high ranking at a smaller school.

In terms of what to do when you're actually in high school, making a club sounds great. Keep partaking in state level competitions. Those can be really important to set you apart for the Ivies. Take the most challenging classes available to you (Honors and AP) and consider taking extra science and math classes each year. Internship programs may be available depending on the school in your Senior year. Take as many medical-related classes as possible.

The fact that you already know what you want and that you're trying hard to get it already is such a good sign! I'm sure you will do great things. Good luck and feel free to ask me any more questions!

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