Itâ€™s hard to answer your question without knowing a lot more about the specific schools involved. That is, there are some very good, well-regarded parochial schools, and, likewise, some public counterparts that can hold their own with even the tip-top prep schools.
When college admission officials evaluate a candidate, they pay close attention to the school he or she attends. Often they have visited the school, have seen numerous applicants from this school in the past, and are familiar with its standards and the type of student from that school that they have previously admitted (or denied!).
When admission committees donâ€™t have that sort of first-hand information, they rely heavily on the â€œSchool Profileâ€ that is submitted with each transcript. From this, they can learn something about the schoolâ€™s admission standards, its course offerings, the percentage of students who head off to four-year colleges after graduation (and often where they go), how the school â€œweightsâ€ grades and ranks, etc. Thus, your sonâ€™s 3.5 GPA might indeed be considered by admission officials to be equivalent to the same GPA at your local school â€¦ or not. It depends very much on the schools in question.
In general (and this is a very broad and probably not very fair generalization) good parochial schools do not garner any more respect in admission offices than good public schools do. In some instances, I've even sniffed out subtle prejudices against parochial school students among "elite-college" admission officials who may feel that these students are taught to obey more than they are taught to think for themselves (though I bet that few admission folks would go on the record to admit this!) So perhaps your wife wins that round.
However, some Catholic schools offer smaller classes, far fewer discipline problems, and a solid grounding in religious and ethical issues that the public schools donâ€™t cover, which may be what you seek for your son. While the top public school students can certainly hold their own against the top Catholic school students--and may even best them, too--the bottom-of-the-heap parochial school kids tend to be stronger than the bottom layer at most public schools, where the range is wider.
If the school your son attends has a good reputation, then college admission officials should be well aware of its rigor and will accord appropriate respect to your sonâ€™s transcript when the time comes. You should feel free, even this early in the process (if you have not done so already) to talk with guidance counselors about the schoolâ€™s college admission track record, and see if students are applying toâ€"and getting intoâ€"the kinds of colleges you hope your son will attend.
You should also ask for a copy of the aforementioned â€œSchool Profile.â€ Make sure that it clearly designates which classes are advanced, honors, or Advanced Placement level. If students are ranked, does it explain how their rank is computed and how grades are weighted when students elect the challenging classes? If students are routinely accepted at Ivy League and other highly competitive colleges, is that indicated on the profile as well? If not, you should urge your school officials to revise the information they send to colleges or at least you should make sure that, when it comes time for your son to submit applications, his counselor recommendation makes mention of the demands of the curriculum as well as any special efforts your son has made to meet these demands.
Although I said your wife may be right about how your sonâ€™s parochial school grades stack up against those earned in top classes at a good public school, donâ€™t let her claim a true victory on this one because, depending on the actual institutions involved, you may be the one whoâ€™s really right when it comes to deciding where your son will get the best education. And how about your son himself? If he is happy and engaged, challenged and successful at his current school, then it sounds like itâ€™s the right spot for him, regardless of how admission officials may view it when compared with the public alternative.
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