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Articles / Applying to College / 4 High Schools in 4 Years--Will This Hurt or Help My College Admission Chances?

Jan. 29, 2009

4 High Schools in 4 Years--Will This Hurt or Help My College Admission Chances?

Question: I have been to four different high schools in four years. How will this affect my application in the eyes of admissions committees?

In the admissions world, there are both pros and cons to your situation. In the plus column, this will give you the chance to show admission committees that you are flexible and able to adjust to changing circumstances (assuming, of course, that you are). If your moves involved relocating to different countries--or to very different places within the same country--then this could work in your favor, too, because, again, it will allow you to show off uncommon adaptability and varied experiences. (This could be brought out in an essay, in a supplementary unsolicited essay or letter, or in your school counselor and/or teacher references.)

Of course, depending on why you moved around, there could be a down side to your nomadic life. If you were bounced from school to school due to academic, social, or disciplinary problems, then--in the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo (whom you are way too young to remember, unless you watch old 50's sitcoms on cable TV)--you're going to have "a lot of 'splainin'" to do.

In fact, even if you were a top-notch student and model citizen at each of your four schools, there are probably some irregularities that will require an explanation. For instance, did you have to change foreign languages because a new school didn't offer what an old one did? Or did you take math classes out of sequence? Did you have to give up any other class you wanted to take because you arrived at a new school too late to take it? Did you leave or start some of your schools in the middle of year? That can cause extra transcript confusion, too. Don't be shy about writing an extra letter or using the "Additional Information" space that you'll find on most applications to provide details of all anomalies.

Finally, take heart: Most admission officials will be very sympathetic to the disruption in your life. They realize that being the "new kid" over and over can be tough, and they'll be even more sympathetic if your relocation was due to family problems, illness, death, etc. And, even if you loved moving from school to school and are happy that you had the chance to have varied adventures and lots of different friends, they will still understand the challenges these transitions posed. So don't be afraid to point out the problems your frequent school moves may have engendered, but also do your best to put a positive spin on all of it ... highlighting the ways in which it helped you to learn and grow.

Good luck with your college outcomes. (But, if you're not happy where you land, you probably won't be afraid to transfer ;) )

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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